Archive for February 2016

Save one starfish

There’s a story that I think of sometimes, about a boy and his desire to help even when the need seems overwhelming. A boy and his dad are walking on the beach together, enjoying the feel of sand between their toes. They come upon a part of the beach that is covered with starfish. The boy is shocked — shouldn’t these starfish be in the water, where they can live safely?

He starts picking up starfish, one by one, and throwing them into the sea. His dad notices what his son is doing, and says, “Son, there are too many starfish. This won’t make a difference.” The son looks down at the starfish in his hand and tells his dad, “It will, for this one.”

For those of us who are self-employed, we want everyone to like us all the time for everything we do. If I can help one person, instead of everyone, is it still worth it? I think it is, for the same reason the boy in this story keeps throwing starfish back in to the ocean one at a time. I may not be able to make a difference for everyone, but if I can make a difference to one person, that’s worth my time and effort.

Rory Vaden, author of “Take the Stairs and Procrastinate on Purpose,” struggled and labored over writing Take the Stairs. For a while he couldn’t get any traction despite knowing what he wanted to communicate.

I had dinner with him recently and we talked about his writing process for that book in particular. One day while he was working on the book, his brother called him with a problem similar to what he was writing about. Rory helped his brother out with that problem, and later realized that he didn’t need to write Take the Stairs to everyone — he could just write it to his brother. And that’s what he did.

Realizing that he could just write the book to his brother changed Rory’s perspective. He wrote it really quickly after this discovery and the book became very popular.

It may not seem like much, but helping one person — saving one starfish — can make a world of difference. You never know how much of a ripple effect that one helping action will have.

Success with 3 percent accuracy

Imagine this: an airplane is scheduled to fly from New York, NY, to Dallas, TX. The pilot takes off and gets into the air, and puts the plane on autopilot. How much of the flight time is the plane on course to Dallas? 75% of the time? 50%?

There’s a straight line between New York and Dallas, but usually, planes don’t take that straight line. Other planes and weather can make that impossible. A plane is on course for about 3% of the flight time, and it will still reach its destination. 97% of the time that the plane is in the air, it’s not pointed in the right direction, but it reaches Dallas every time.

Often, we beat ourselves up for being off course. It helps to remember that 97% of the time, that plane is off course, but it still gets to the right place on time. It’s herding itself toward Dallas the whole time with big and small course corrections.

Something similar with happens with apples. Apples have to spend a certain number of hours below 40 degrees, or else they won’t develop properly to harvest later in the year. Apples need to have 40-odd days of uncomfortably cold weather — think 32, 36 degrees — in order for there to be any apples at all next year.

We don’t normally think of cold weather being necessary for fruit to grow, but after a certain amount of cold hours, the tree hits the reset button and we get apples in the fall. It doesn’t seem helpful at first, but the cold weather is actually crucial.

We’ve got to forgive ourselves for making course corrections or being off track some of the time. As long as we’re herding ourselves in the right direction, those course corrections aren’t wrong. They’re helping us make sure we get to our destinations.

Those changes could be huge or tiny, but it seems to me, as long as I end up at my end goal, does that 97% of the time off-course really hurt me? Having a 3% accuracy rate isn’t an indictment and doesn’t mean that I’m not capable — it just means that I’m learning and making corrections so I can make it to my goal.