#82: The Value of Urgency

urgency

I think of chances I didn’t take
  I try to learn from my mistakes, yeah
I’m tired of being pushed around now
Life ain’t gonna drag me down now
Yeah, I’m gonna live before I die…

– Social Distortion, Live Before You Die

I was speaking with my mother on the phone one day, and she was telling me about one of her auditors at work. The guy is about my age, and like me a Yankee who had spent a good deal of time in the South. He apparently went to college in South Carolina before moving back to Pennsylvania.

The auditor then said something to my mother than I had said word-for-word on a number of occasions: “The weather is great and I made a lot of great friends, but there is no urgency whatsoever from most of the people down there.”

I am certainly not a Type-A personality, but one of Jack’s Rules is TCB/ABC, meaning Take Care of Business and Always Be Closing. The mentality is to attack your menial tasks and problems rather than putting them off and allowing them to fester. This rule was made in college, with the rationale being that you need to Take Care of Business – i.e. class or tests or whatever – so you can go back to doing what you consider truly important, i.e. Hockey and the Women’s Lacrosse team.

In my experience, this is not a pervasive attitude in the South. If I had to summarize the overall attitude by comparison, it would be, “I’ll get to it later.” There is no Urgency to accomplish almost anything, let alone a accomplish a given set of tasks. This obviously does not include everyone living below the Mason-Dixon, but I can safely say that the pace of Southern Living is considerably lax, especially coming from the high-tempo Northeast.

Admittedly, since moving to the South, I have become much more lackadaisical. Part of this has been a function of self-preservation: I probably would have had a heart attack by now if I hadn’t learned to accept the slow-paced approach of most of the people around me. During my first several months living in the South, at times I thought my head was going to explode because people would take days or even weeks to return e-mails or text messages. I had to condition myself to accept that the people I chose to surround myself with do not live as ferociously or feverishly as I do.

This is doubly-true in the professional sector. Here is a story about the contrast in Urgency between where I presently live (the South) and where I used to live (the North):

I was driving through Wilmington on a sunny Saturday in May 2012. It was about 4 PM, two days before Memorial Day. Out of nowhere, my car came grinding to a sudden halt, dying in the middle of a four-lane highway. I turned the ignition, and while the car had electric power, there was nothing coming from the engine. As it would turn out, the timing belt on the car had blown.

I pushed the car off the highway into a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. One thing I have learned about myself is that when legitimate problems arise – such as your car destructing 15 miles from your home in a place where you don’t have any close friends or family – I have a striking ability to remain calm. I walked into the Dunkin’ Donuts and got an iced coffee, then began calling every mechanic in the area.

45 minutes of phone calls later, I still couldn’t find a mechanic who works on Saturdays. Eventually, I had my car towed to a more-tenable location (AAA’s service center), but was told that no one could look at it because AAA was closing in 45 minutes and no one would be available before Tuesday due to the holiday.

This was incredibly frustrating. Three days without a car, when you rely primarily on yourself, is a major inconvenience. I don’t remember how I got home or how I eventually got the car to the auto shop I had chosen to use, but I do remember my conversation with one of the proprietors the auto shop. This was the gist of it:

“…Well, with the holiday weekend and then (blah blah blah), and then (excuses excuses excuses), I can probably have the car back to you in 10 days or so.”

10 days or so? Really?

Most alarmingly, I could not find anyone in the area who would trump this estimate, at least without paying less than the purchase cost of a used car.  I realize how crazy that sentence reads, but I was there and I assure you it happened.

It ended up taking over three weeks for the work on my car to be completed. Every time I called the mechanic to get an update or to try to get the work expedited, it was always the same scenario: “Well, I didn’t know you had authorized the work, excuses excuses, we got really busy, excuses, this really good episode of Seinfeld was on, excuses.”

At the time, I was working as a self-employed Personal Trainer. Understandably, about half of my clients decided to work with other trainers due to my extended lack of availability. At some point after the time I learned I would be without a vehicle for three weeks, to keep myself from having a stroke, I said screw it. Life Happens. I adjusted my mentality. It suddenly wasn’t the end of the world if I lost a client or if I missed a session at the gym.

I also became much more grateful for what I had. Many of us take having a vehicle, and the ease of access to goods and services, for granted. I finally internalized a critical lesson, which is that there are not one but two very valuable forms of currency: Time and Money.

I took the three weeks without a vehicle to my get my life in order. I invented and adopted The Walking Dead Diet, which I used to get down below 10% body fat. I wrote a ton. I learned to make better use of my environment and learned to appreciate things I had traditionally taken for granted, such as a lengthy, uninterrupted conversation with someone. Life slowed down for me.

I had been given an opportunity to see how the other side lives. It was very educational. However, as I tend to do, I did not moderate properly. I became so enthralled with this new way of living – as though there is always more time to do things – that I lost some of the edge that defines my character. This more easy-going version of Jack was a refreshing change of pace for the people that know me well, but it was not conducive to the behaviors that have brought me success in Life.

I am here today to sell you on The Value of Urgency. It’s great to be laid-back – to a point. However, like it or not, the rest of the world continues to swirl around us. With the way technology has advanced, the world is moves with a never-before-seen fervor. People everywhere are living not just fast but frenetic, and there are major reasons for this. I will explain these reasons below, as well as why Urgency is a High-Value Behavior.

We’re All on the Clock

Fightclub, nicehed

Not to be morbid, but I’ll quote Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden from one of my favorite films, Fight Club:

…first, you have to give up. First, you have to know, not fear, but know that some day you’re going to die.”

I first saw Fight Club in high school, and most of the lessons of the film have permanently stuck with me. One of those lessons is the constant reminder that Life is finite, and that all of our respective clocks are constantly ticking.

This leads to some of my most distinct patterns of behavior. For example, anyone who spends time with me knows that I absolutely refuse to wait in line for any period of time. If I go grocery shopping and find that there is an excessively-long line at checkout, I will literally put my items back on the shelves and leave the store. Standing in line is the one time in Life that I can acutely feel the seconds ticking away.

This respect for my own mortality carries over into most other areas. I am one of the more polarizing people you will meet because I have no discomfort telling anyone exactly what I am feeling or thinking at any given moment. Many people aren’t comfortable dealing with me because I am completely direct. I keep emotional and social foreplay to an absolute minimum.

While a lot of people love me because they come to understand that I am one of the most honest people they could hope to meet, many people strongly dislike me because I am so callous. As they say, the truth hurts, and many people do not like it when I hit them with it. But I cannot change the way I am for any length of time because I am constantly reminded that Life is a limited-time offer. I frequently say and do things that most people consider crazy.

To cite a memory, I was playing poker with some friends in college, and I bet all of my stack on a single hand. Predictably, I lost, and was out $20 or so. I sat there and watched them finish the game, during which my friend Adam remarked to me, “You’re dangerous to play against because you will play every hand like it’s your last.”

That’s an analogy for how I live. Without the Rope. The most notable example of this is that I packed up all of my belongings and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, a town in which I did not know a single soul, with the only line of reasoning being that I wanted a change from Pittsburgh. Most people simply don’t do things like this, yet my instinct is to live like this every day.

I would never recommend living this way, because my fearlessness puts me into a ton of bad situations. Moving to a town in which you don’t know anyone becomes very inconvenient when you blow the engine on your car and need a ride to the grocery store. As multiple people have pointed out, I have “a hard time playing well with others”. But try as I might, permanently reverting to the methodical, risk-averse approach to Life is something that simply is not within me.

It’s frustrating at times because many of the people in my orbit don’t like being reminded of their own mortality, and thus live in constant states of fear and indecision, or even worse, apathy. At times, I want to shake the unhappy people who know what they want and refuse to aggressively pursue it. Unless I say something like, “You are rapidly aging, and you’re going to die one day,” I often can’t muster words powerful enough to force other people to make major and necessary changes to their lives.

We all have to co-exist, and we should strive to balance our desires with those of other people. After all, if you constantly put your own desires in front of others, you’re just an asshole. But to many people refuse to make needed changes to their lives because of the first rule of inertia, i.e. an object at rest stays at rest until acted upon by an external force. Homeostasis and inaction is much more comfortable than being forced out of your comfort zone.

Many people, nobly, have families that they put in front of themselves. I have tremendous respect for people who are able to sacrifice their own needs for those of their spouses or children. I am not writing this for people who have and uphold responsibilities to their family. I am writing this for people waste time, the most valuable commodity we have, for no greater reason than indifference.

This awareness of mortality is also is one of the reasons that I write, and that I feel little remorse for any of the inflammatory things I may type. After I die, thanks to the boundless nature of the internet, the writing may endure. This only encourages me to write something memorable and thought-provoking, rather than filler.

My model in this respect is actor/philosopher Bruce Lee, who as I have pointed out multiple times in the past was largely a pariah during his time but is widely regarded as a genius in retrospect. Bruce Lee was simply before his time. By contrast, I think I was born a bit too late. Most of my personal values – Courage, Honor, Integrity, Will – seem outdated compared to those of many of my contemporaries. But my hope is that these Values with come back in vogue in the future, and that my writing will have greater value, as Bruce Lee’s writing has.

As I have written before, I write with Urgency because I have been hit in the head repeatedly, and some days I wake up with debilitating post-concussion symptoms.  Sometimes, I re-read my blog, and don’t remember having written something specific. But I am usually pleased with the things I have written, as I believe many of them may have lasting value.

But the attitude is Urgency, because as any writer will tell you, coherently collecting thoughts into writing can be like trying to catch butterflies in a dream. Impressive thoughts come and go like the flickering of lightning bugs. Both in Life and in writing, it’s valuable to try to go after the good things with Urgency – if for no other reason than they will be gone before you know it.

The Monetary Value of Urgency

sterlingsgold

“Enjoy Yourself – It’s later than you think.”

– Roger Sterling, Mad Men

At some point, I became extremely business-minded. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I opened a service-sector business at the nadir of a weakened economy, but since it’s just us girls talking: the truth is that the NHL’s decision to go to a Salary Cap system in 2005 piqued a deep and immediate interest in Economics, because my entire existence revolves around Hockey.

Both consciously and unconsciously, I began to run Value Assessments on everything, and mean everything. Cups of coffee, friendships, gym memberships, Time, you name it. Again, embracing the NHL’s Cap System – in which a premium is placed on cost-effective assets and efficiency is critical – like a new religion readjusted my perspective in all areas. If something or someone was an inefficient drain on my resources or time, I cut ties with him, her, or it immediately.

This explains my…erratic behavior to a large degree. For example, if I get the sense that someone is lying to my face – as is common in sales situations such as negotiating a gym membership or a monthly car payment – I will walk out of the room in the middle of a liar’s sentence. For people with more tact and less-rigid spines than myself, this can make things extremely awkward or uncomfortable for everyone else involved.

I don’t care, at all. My Time is valuable, and I will not have it wasted by humoring someone disrespectful enough to believe they can work me. In my view, social pretense has extremely-limited value, and manners are best saved for people who deserve them.

Having said all of this, something that has a surprising amount of Value is Urgency.

Because everything comes back to Hockey with me: a common cliche among Hockey Coaches is to preach Urgency in play. By this, coaches mean that players need to take aggressive, decisive action rather than allow the opposition to dictate play. Hockey Coaches like the word Urgency because of the negative connotations associated with the word “Desperation”.

This should make sense to most people. Acting with Urgency – having an inherent understanding that almost everything is a limited-time offer – has a great amount of value, for reasons I have explained and explain below. By contrast, acting with desperation does not just lead to poor decision-making; it’s also an incredibly-poor negotiating position.

Real life example: I recently took my car to the shop for routine work. I came to learn that both my radiator and catalytic converter needed replaced at a sum cost of $1200. Even though the auto shop I happened to choose has an oppressive Labor Rate, the fact remained that my options were do the work at 200% Labor Cost or have the car towed to another shop.

Either way, I certainly was in no position to work down the sum cost, and better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.  Factoring in the relative necessity of having a vehicle plus the cost of missing additional work while the car was being repaired, it was most cost-effective to just have the work done at Gestapo Auto at the 200% Labor Rate. That does not mean that it was an ideal scenario, or one that I would look to repeat.

By comparison, Urgency opens up a bevy of options for you. Again using the example of my car, had I made it a point to shop around for a price-effective mechanic before the car started rumbling like a volcano, I could have probably saved myself $200-$400 against the sum total of $1200. Because I was lackadaisical about the car – as I have regrettably become about a lot of things – I backed myself into a corner and ended up paying for it.

You obviously cannot be Urgent about everything all the time. For example, as I write this, I need to take my phone to Verizon to fix a glitch. My car could stand to be washed and vacuumed. I should have gone to the gym an hour ago. There are a half-dozen chores or errands that could stand to be completed. But the Urgency to get this article out – while I am on a roll and the ideas are fresh in mind – takes precedence, as almost any writer will tell you.

Urgency in business is simply being proactive. It’s a High-Value behavior because it frequently leads to you setting the terms and conditions of an arrangement. By being too Urgent – meaning desperate – you can certainly cost yourself at times, but that cost needs to be calculated against the cost of indecisive or lackadaisical behavior. The tricky part is that very few people take these costs into consideration, and the cost of apathy or indecision is extremely-hard to quantify.

What Do You Want Out of Life?

donpensive3

It’s an easy question, but very few people have an answer for it. I answered it for myself by working backward: what do I want out of death?

I was able to answer this question relatively easily:

1) I want to be cremated, for a number of reasons. I would like my urn to say, “He Lived Hockey”. I don’t care where my ashes are spread, but near a hockey rink or a ladies locker room would be fitting.

2) I want an upbeat, even comical, memorial service. For example, I would like the main speaker to incorporate no less than 25 “Meows” into a three-minute speech ala Super Troopers. I made light of most things in Life, and I would want the same tack taken in death. Ideally, the Laff Riot at my memorial service would be followed by an Irish Wake-type reception.

3) I would like to have left something worthwhile behind, whether it’s a body of work or a business or a beer-league dynasty. This is pretty normal.

4) I would like to be remembered as having done it My Way. I am well on my way to accomplishing this.

So, I’m not looking for an elaborate sarcophagus or a parade. If I meant something to enough people to fill a small room, I would be very content.

Reverse-engineering what I’ve written above, I was able to come up with a list of things I want to Urgently pursue in Life. Here is the PG version:

1) I want be awesome at Hockey for as long as I can. Then, I want to be the Old Guy that nobody messes with because my 50% is better than most people’s 100%. I basically want to do this until I drop dead, ideally at a hockey rink with my gear on.

2) I would like enough monetary success so that I can live this way in peace and take care of the important people in my Life.

3) I would like to be employed as Firefighter because it’s something I’ve wanted since I was five, which I detailed in my article “On Quitting“. I would like to help people as long as I am physically capable of doing so, at which point I want to be able to help people via financial or social avenues.

There are a few material things I would like – for example, at some point I will re-buy my first car/Love of my Life, Serra, the Eagle Talon Turbo – but all in all, I don’t think I am asking anything outrageous. If anything, listing exactly What I Want Out of Life motivates me to more-actively pursue these things. After all, like everyone else, I have no idea when my number is going to be called. It behooves one to get the lead out, and to go after the things that make your heart beat.

Back to the original question: What Do You Want Out of Life?

This is the part where you fill in your own answers. It’s cheating if you fill in things you have achieved or acquired already; for example, if you wanted a loving family and have one, that’s great but defeats the point of the exercise. A better question might be, “What Do You Want Out of Life Today?”

I am not presenting an original idea, just selling you on it. Plenty of people much more talented than me have touched upon the idea of aggressively pursuing the things you want in Life, especially considering Life’s finite nature. Kevin Spacey masters the concept in the critically-acclaimed film American Beauty:

Spacey achieves what I am suggesting you seek in the film. He recognizes his mortality, and with this recognition he decides to Urgently pursue the things that will satisfy him. He does this without completely ruining the lives of all those around him. Most of all, he comes off as incredibly enlightened and novel, when in reality most of us should be living this way. Living with Urgency should be the standard, not the exception.

Once more, ask yourself “What Do You Want Out of Life?”, and go after it. Urgently.

Conclusion

For the reasons written above, Urgency is simply a high-value attitude. By definition, Urgency means being proactive, which again opens up all sorts of opportunities. While it is crucial to differentiate between Urgency and Desperation, it is extremely-beneficial to elect for an Urgent approach over an apathetic one.

There were a number of business-school buzzwords used throughout the article. This article is, in my view, more of an article on Economics than a self-help article. I aim to practice urgency because it’s more beneficial to my bottom line, for reasons explained above. You do not need to be enrolled in Econ 305 to integrate the principles explained above, but ideally those with sharp business minds will understand why Urgency has High-Value.

My final advice to you is this: go after the job or the girl or the opportunity that you want, and go after it aggressively. I would rather make mistakes of ambition over mistakes of sloth any day of the week. If you see something good and let it go past you, I assure you someone else is going to reach out and grab it. Take the Urgent approach, and recognize that everything has an expiration date.

Live Well, and Live Fierce.

Jack

 

Advertisements