Enjoy Every Sandwich

After reading a particularly apocalyptic article about AI, I texted a friend who is a Futurist and asked, “Are we all going to die?” His response was, “Yes, we are all going to die. Just not from synthetic intelligence killing us. More from bad eating habits, stress, and lack of exercise.” 

I’ve been listening to Warren Zevon a bit lately. He is credited with the quote that is the title of this musing. He said this after being diagnosed with stage 4 pleural mesothelioma and given just three months to live. He outlasted that prediction by 10 months and used that time to write and produce his second-ever gold selling album. The Wind was nominated for five Grammys and won two.

It concerns me how much time I spend fretting about things I have no control over and how little time I spend doing something about the things I do. Maybe AI will be the death of us all; maybe it will be our savior, though the most likely scenario is somewhere in between. The point is, there is very little I can do about it. I CAN change my eating habits, lower my stress, and get a little more exercise—all things that will improve and prolong my life.

What are some things we cannot control but often try too anyway? Change, the past, how other people behave, accidents, getting older, our genetics, and world events—to name a few. Letting go of these things can increase your sense of peace and save you a lot of effort (and pain). Think about the Serenity Prayer (so named because it tends to increase serenity).

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Acceptance, courage, and wisdom—things every community could use more of. So how do we lead our organizations to develop a mindset that is relaxed about things we can’t control and passionately obsessed about things we can? Leaders must encourage and communicate a rational thought process that identifies resolvable issues and reduces the focus on unresolvable ones. 

“The wisdom to know the difference.” The first question leaders should ask is, “Do we really have a problem?” The key here is the “we.” Not every problem is our problem. It is easy to get caught up in the urgency of the “news cycle.” Sometimes the input is coming from actual news outlets, and sometimes it is coming from our own fears and insecurities. Either way, spending a moment to determine if this really is an issue we must address will take many things off our plate.

“Accepting things I cannot change.” The next question to ask is, “Can we do anything about this?” We often spend time and resources without any real chance of changing the outcome. If working on things under our influence (or in rare cases, control) would be effective in altering the outcome, then take the next step. Otherwise, acceptance might be a better plan.

“Courage to change the things I can.” If you have a problem and you have the ability to change the outcome, you need a plan. The benefit of a plan is in the process of breaking a bigger problem into smaller pieces with actions for each. Our brains are not really happy about tackling big complex problems (they make us feel out of control). When we break a large problem into smaller steps, it gives our brain a sense of control that improves our outlook.

Leaders can model this behavior by working these steps out loud when problems arise. It is also helpful to listen thoroughly to team members when they bring up problems and then ask them the same questions; “Is this our problem?” “Can we do anything about it?” “What would a good plan look like to you?” It is cliché but true that if you knew you only had a day to live, you would probably spend that day differently. When faced with a few months left to live, Zevon picked things he knew he could move the needle on and got busy. I doubt he worried about many of the things I worry about. I don’t know how much time I have (I should probably eat better and get some steps in), but I want to work on things I can impact positively. A community that focuses on effectively moving the needles that make a difference in people’s lives also has the capacity to “enjoy every sandwich” and live the Bison Way.