Jerry owns an agency in the Midwest serving clients in three large closely-situated suburban towns.
Jerry loves the money his business generates when it’s working, but he hates everything about how it operates. He tells anyone who will listen about his incompetent staff, lazy agents, useless IMO and rude clients, instead of taking the necessary required actions to get things under control. He even shares his unhappiness with the business with clients and he has no doubt lost some clients because of it.
I asked Jerry to explore with me how his business would look if it was fun and ran in a way that made him love it. He liked this game, and he painted a picture that included getting up late, focusing on strategies and business-building ideas instead of day-to-day disasters, taking lots of time off, and other “perks” of owning an agency. As he spoke his voice became animated and filled with the pleasure of the pictures he was creating.
“Why can’t you set it up, so that you start having most of these now?” I asked him. “Come in later starting this week, empower your staff, make the day-to-day decisions on a trial basis, and focus your personal efforts on sales and marketing.”
As Jerry gave me all the reasons why he couldn’t possibly do what I was asking, it became clear that he was choosing not to fix his situation—choosing to be unhappy instead. So, I called him on it:
“I’m getting the impression that no matter what business you had, you wouldn’t run it in the way you described—in a way that would make you happy,” I pointed out.
“You’re right,” he admitted sheepishly after a long pause.
“It’s a choice you’ve made,” I told him, “You’ve chosen to be unhappy.”
But why would someone deliberately choose to be unhappy? In my book, The High Diving Board, I talk about the payoffs we receive from continuing behavior that actually hurts us. Jerry’s payoff is the constant attention he gets from his complaining: Hearing people say, “Poor Jerry,” and having endless discussions about why things aren’t improving and how to improve them, with no intention of actually implementing any of the ideas he is given.
Sure, the attention is negative, but attention of any kind is a big payoff.
Jerry was embarrassed when I pointed this out to him, and he agreed to play another game this month. When he finds himself going into a “funk” over something in his business, he has committed to making a better choice—looking at the problem as a “systems” problem and concentrating on finding a “systems” solution—all instead of complaining about it.
When you’re complaining about a problem in your practice, recognize that you’re choosing this reaction and unless you crave the attention your tantrums and complaints get you, start working on the solution.
And always, KEEP REACHING . . .