Every day we face the opportunity to meet our needs or indulge our wants. Occasionally the needs and wants turn out to be the same thing but most of the time marketing and product innovation leave us wanting something more than we need. A few years ago I faced a need versus want moment.
One of our toilets had been having problems flushing stuff down. I plunged, adjusted tank water levels, snaked it multiple times and it was still having problems. We had decided it needed to be replaced. Thus the need for a new toilet was born.
I went to the hardware store and examined the selection of porcelain thrones. There were round bowls and elongated bowls. There were tanks with ornate lids. There were tanks with buttons instead of levers. There were tall ones and short ones. I was surprised that there were almost as many choices as there are for desk chairs.
A simple, yet modern, chainless lever tank with an elongated bowl with a taller than standard height toilet was selected and purchased. My over six foot tall frame was excited. It was a bit more expensive than the standard toilet we were replacing but the upgrade was what I wanted. Thus the want was born.
I brought the new toilet home and began taking the old toilet up to be able to install the new one. I turned off the water and then I carefully removed the post caps and unscrewed the nuts from the base. I lifted the toilet and tank up and carefully moved it to the bathtub to drain the remaining water before moving it out to the garage for disposal. Everything was going smoothly and the thought of the new toilet was exciting.
As I tilted the toilet over in the tub to drain the water, I found the reason for the flushing problems-a kids size pair of scissors with nice purple handles wedged in the outlet of the toilet bowl. It was not a problem with the old toilet after all. With the problem now discovered and now resolved, I faced another problem - I now I had two good toilets, one I wanted and one I needed.
I am generally frugal and do my best to make things last and save more than I spend. I really wanted to sit taller but I really just needed a toilet that would flush. The need won and the want went back to the store. Sometimes being frugal leaves you squatting a little lower but a little richer.
Whether it is a new car with luxurious leather heated and cooled seats versus a reliable car that will get you from place to place or the large drink and fries instead of the regular size in the combo meal, we each choose between needs and wants. In our world of first-world problems, our brains get excited for the wants more so than the needs. Having the self-discipline to choose the needs more so than the wants will lead to greater financial security and more options down the road.
It has been said that the two most important parts of every race are the start and the finish. The middle gets left out every time. There are more starters than there are finishers. Why? It is because of what happens in the middle. Finishers by definition have made it through the middle.
Over the last few years I have heard the phrases, “the messy middle” or “it’s a hot mess in the middle” a lot more. It was in the context of parenting originally but then I began to hear the phrase used in business.
In 2018, Scott Belsky wrote a book and gave a talk that was posted online discussing the messy middle. He suggests that to get through the mess, we have to be able to endure and optimize. To endure and optimize he suggests that we have to accept the burden of processing uncertainty and to compartmentalize insecurity work. We have to give up on things we have no control over and only worry about the things that are in our control. I call this the duck principle – If you can’t influence it, let it roll off your back. I know this is easier said than done.
There are things that happen to us. We can’t control everything (or most things). All we can do is have faith, hope, insurance and an emergency kit. There are other things that happen to us that we have something to do with. For those things, we have some authority, influence and/or control. We can change our attitudes and actions and by so doing we change the mess in the middle to things we are accountable for and things we are not. When we are accountable, we can control the impact things have on us. It helps us deal with uncertainty.
Once you are accountable and know what you are accountable for, we can control our response options or become response-able. Knowing your responsibilities gives you more control and allows you to focus on your part of the mess you are traveling through. You are able to look to the finish line and see how to get there.
In parenting, we have to learn that kids are hard. Some kids are harder than others. As parents we have loved, taught and protected (the responsibilities parents are accountable for.) Children, particularly teenagers, still exercise agency and make good as well as poor choices which believe it or not have no bearing whatsoever to the efficacy of your love, teaching or protection. They create messes that you and they have to deal with. Knowing your part in the mess and what isn’t your part, makes the mess more manageable.
In business, we have to learn that _______ (insert an area of business) is hard. Other parts are harder. As business owners, we have many responsibilities that we are accountable for. Working on those rather than the other messes we walk by that we aren’t responsible for helps us see the finish line and how to get there. David Goggins called this process “Embracing the Suck.” We are able to get through the hot mess in the middle with fewer distractions, a better attitude and come out the finish line having learned something.
Someone once said, “You can’t have everything, but you can have anything you want.” I believe this to be true. Besides, I don’t even have room for the things I have. I am not sure where I would put everything.
History has shown us that people can’t have everything but it has also given us many examples of people who wanted something and found a way through the impossible to get it.
Regardless of whether that “anything” is a business thing or a personal thing, as long as it is available or attainable, you can have it. The Wright Brothers wanted human flight. As Charles Kettering put it, “The Wright Brothers flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.” They grabbed the one “anything” they wanted most. How? The answer is sacrifice.
The more unobtainable the thing you want is, generally the more you will have to sacrifice to obtain it. You will have to give up other things to obtain the “anything” you want the most.
Many business owners, including myself, want to grow their business. People want to lose weight. Others want a boat, a new car, a new career, etc. They each can have anything they want but they will have to sacrifice something to get it. For me to lose weight, I have to sacrifice sugar. For me to have a boat or a new car, I would have to sacrifice travel and family time. For me to grow my business, I have to sacrifice some of my free time to spend on my business.
The world is like a giant store and we go through the aisles putting things we want in our cart. We might start a hobby and it goes in the cart. Our businesses, jobs, careers, families, friends, belongings, and more go into our carts. When we reach the checkout stand and it is time to pay, we find that our currency of time is limited. We may find that we are “out of time” and will have to put things back. The world doesn’t give refunds. Once we spend our time, we don’t get it back. Our wants will always outnumber our time.
If we carefully choose the “anythings” we want in our lives and are grateful we can’t have everything, we will find we have the time for the most important things and wants in our lives. You really can have anything you want.
This blog allows you to experience the raw, gut wrenching drama of human conflict through accounting in each of its three stages: preparing to do battle, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.