The Relentless Drops Of Water

 

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“Water is the softest thing, yet it can penetrate mountains and earth.  This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness” — Lao Tzu

I love this quote.  I love thinking that relentless softness can erode what appears intractable and immoveable.  The visual of solid ground acceding to the dampening of the earth, redefining its crags and layers of stubborn solidity by the insistence of water, becoming a rivulet and ultimately a stream.

And then there’s the old water torture visual (drops falling rhythmically and slowly on one’s forehead) which is far more reflective of my state of mind at the moment.  And may I say?  The drops aren’t particularly doing much except making me feel like I’m getting a dent in my head.

Over the past two years, I’ve been contacted by executive recruiters asking about my interest in C-level positions – law firms, professional service firms – and I’ve never considered pursuing the inquiries.  Last week I did, and yesterday I withdrew my candidacy.  It was the drops you see.  The persistent drops – “Do you have the chops to do this again?”   “You don’t have the chops to do this again”  “Do you want to do this again?”  “Wanting is irrelevant – what if they find me too old (that’s illegal and I’m way too immature, but…), too irreverent, too out there, not out there enough”  “But do you want to do this again”  “I want parts of it and I don’t want parts of it”  “That’s no answer, Mim”  “Can you repeat the question?”…and so on.

And so it went until I was desperately seeking a xanax or at least someone to turn off the faucet.  Oh, did I mention that I have a skosh of a problem calling a plumber when I really need one (figuratively speaking of course)?  “My family will think less of me for walking away”  “They will not, you doof”  “Yeah, they will”  This is ridiculous.  I am ridiculous.  Full stop.

I write Andy and the boys, send an email to two of my dearest friends.  Aaron writes back first – “You’ve earned the right to be whatever you want to be…therapist, elephant hygienist..” (I love that kid).  Paul chimes in next – “I think you should get re-accredited to be a therapist”..and paraphrasing here, ‘so happy you will pursue what you want’ (I love that kid too).  Andy, oh Andy – with his platitudes and deft application of the cliché, rejected both and just reminded me that who I am makes him proud enough.  ‘Do what you want, and if you don’t know what that is just yet, that’s ok too’ (I don’t feel that it is, but may I say that he’s a rock star).  And my friends..”I’m so happy you said no;  I didn’t want to have to share you with that many people” (she’d never have to).  “You made the right decision – besides, I think you should write a book!”  And here I sit, with a different type of water – the kind that traces down one’s cheeks, gracing each wrinkle, tickling my jaw as they meander down my neck.

How bewildering to be in my renaissance and discover that I am still arguing with these voices of doubt?  How breathtaking to realize that with a little effort, I can change a path that has been shaped by years and years of the drip, drip, drip, drip of my own design?  I am changing the flow, I am going to try to be more purposeful with this one life I have.  Remember my passion, follow my fascinations, remember that it was my sense of integrity and what I believe to be right that prompted my decision to turn around and re-route.

There’s a place for me – little, idiosyncratic, idealistic, sometimes-savvy me.  I’m not sure where just yet, and I have to be okay with that for now.  For with absolute certainty I can tell you, within me there’s a river.

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The Color Of Money Can Make You Green

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today by Greg Smith titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs”.  After an impressive career with this professional services powerhouse, Mr. Smith found that the values he embraced, touted and evangelized for the firm now rang hollow.  He speaks about the erosion of a culture that embraced the priorities of maintaining client trust, reflecting a “spirit of humility” and teamwork.  Those were the big draws for Mr. Smith when considering his professional options.  I don’t want to sound naive – Goldman, as any other firm of its kind, will always reward rainmakers with additional compensation and bonuses, and though it may downplay the ever-present eat-what-you-kill undercurrent that permeates much of the professional service zeitgeist, it is certainly a widely accepted approach.  All professional service firms do it to some degree.

What has happened at Goldman is also not unique.  I think it is indicative of the cultural shift that occurs when firms move farther and farther away from the tenets that made them great.  Organizations that were seen as formidable now seek to become formidable-on-steroids.  Firms that aspired to greatness – and achieved it – through the principles of trust, team effort, shared focus, may no longer be practicing such fundamentals of good business.  These are still the words that are espoused, but the authentic practice is devalued – and certainly no longer rewarded.  The most foreboding harbinger of all is that some who excel at making money, used to be content with increasing monetary rewards.  Now they are expecting to be provided positions of leadership as part of some perceived additional entitlement.  I have been in the world of professional services for more than twenty five years (true, I started when I was three :-)), and it is undeniable that Mr. Smith’s observations reflect a train that is racing out of the station.  Firms like these will always compete with each other based on their financial results; perhaps in the past they compromised less on the collective ethos upon which such success was founded.

I do believe there is good news for those of us who forlornly watch the Kool-Aid we drank becoming increasingly rancid.  I think firms will return to their basic values over time.  Firm will become indistinguishable from each other for awhile, distinctions only made my profits and global reach.  Each organizations’ Web page will speak to the brilliance of its teams, state-of-the-art-technology, ability to respond to client needs in real time any where in the world.  Ultimately though clients will demand the return to an organizational philosophy that is evidenced in action as well as word.  Clients will drive the pendulum back to the values of trust, quality and collegiality, for the color of money will be making them green (with figurative nausea).  Profits per partner may go down – and they arguably should if it means a return to humility, shared effort and collaborative success.  Perhaps this is the dark night of the soul for firms like Goldman.  Perhaps it is the only way they will again experience the dawn. (more…)