In his book, How to Win at the Sport of Business, Mark Cuban tells a story of when he was building his software company. Everything seemed to be going along fantastically, until someone threw a curveball into his life. His secretary emptied the business’ bank account, stripping Cuban and his business partner of $83,000. This didn’t even happen to me and I was frustrated – so frustrated, I remember exactly where I was when I heard it. I was listening to the audiobook version in my car driving north on I-95 from Miami to Fort Lauderdale to visit my then-girlfriend (now-wife), Lindy, for the weekend. That’s the impression it left on me; but for Mark Cuban, he calls it “a footnote.” How do you see through adversity?
What I found both appalling and impressive was that Cuban and his business partner didn’t go after her. As he details in his book, it would be a waste of his time because in the end, that money wouldn’t matter and he knew it in his heart at the time. At the time of this writing, Cuban is worth around $3.3 billion; I’d say he was right.
So how does Cuban’s situation relate to perseverance? That curveball tested his resolve and willpower. The amount of perseverance it took to keep going was not something he necessarily knew he had or could develop. Who would want to test their willpower by having their business revenue stolen from them, just to see if they could keep going? This wasn’t, however, Cuban’s first curveball. He had been tested time and time again before this. With small increments, he was ready to deal with a situation as seemingly insurmountable as what happened, where others (whose name we have never heard of) decided to quit.
Let’s say you’re not an Olympic sprinter or NFL player for the sake of this argument. If I asked you, right now, to go outside and run 40 yards, how long would it take you? Now what if I said, “Run it tomorrow in less than five seconds and I’ll give you $10,000”? I’m betting I’ll be keeping my money. Perseverance works the same way. You aren’t going to take on a soul-crushing curveball tomorrow and expect to still be standing. By slowly increasing your perseverance, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the bigger curveballs. This isn’t to say you can deal with all of them. But if you’re destined to get 50 curveballs thrown at you in life, do you want to be prepared for 5, 10, or 25 of them? The better question is, when you look back at your life, what curveball do you want to be the that broke your willpower to keep going at that moment?
Curveballs also affect productivity. When you’re unproductive, you feel like there’s never enough time to get things done. I was working in a country club in November 2014, managing their communications. I had more than a handful of projects and was simultaneously training for a marathon. One night, I went out to one of our local favorite burger spots in Miami. I know, marathon training doesn’t line up with burgers, but you’ll see why it doesn’t matter in a minute.
I ended up getting food poisoning, or so I thought. After two days of squirming and convincing myself I was fine, I woke up and felt miserable. I didn’t get out of bed all day except to go to the bathroom; I’ll save you the details, but suffice it to say things were coming out of everywhere. I called out of work begrudgingly, knowing I wouldn’t be able to catch up for the time lost. The next day I went to the doctor. In a calm, but matter-of-fact way, he said, “I need to send you to the emergency room. Right now.” I remember thinking, “This is it. This is how I die.” I can also be a bit dramatic. He told me my symptoms seemed to signify appendicitis.
Turns out, symptoms of appendicitis present very similarly to colitis, which I came to find out is an oversimplified version of food poisoning in your large intestines. I was in the hospital for three days with all sorts of liquids running through me. Lindy (the saint) had to drive the 60+ miles every one of those days to take care of my dog and come visit me in the hospital.
My life was put on pause. I had no control. I hated it. I was now hyper-focused on my health, but the rest of the world was still moving. When I got out of the hospital, I was a week behind on marathon training and work projects. I still had to be focused on my health because I couldn’t just get back into the swing of things. I had to change my diet for a while, refrain from exercise, and take it easy at work. This was a curveball in my life.
Wake-Up Call or Improve
There are countless books out there that will tell you that this situation is a wake-up call to slow down, but I think that’s a bit misguided, or incomplete, in its intention. It’d be nice to think that you can just put your life on pause, but let’s be honest: We don’t all live in a world where we can just say, “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll just stop my life for a month and take this all in.” I respect this ideal concept, but I think it needs expansion. By being more productive, we are actually lowering our stress level. You don’t harbor feelings of guilt for any pleasure-time you indulge in, feelings of anger towards others for slowing you down, or feelings of anxiety for not getting everything done.
When you’re more productive, you build in buffers to your life. It’s like a savings account of time and stress-free feelings. The time you earn by being more productive lets you make the choice to get ahead of schedule or use the time to relax. If you choose to get ahead on whatever is next, when the curveball comes (and it’ll come, don’t you worry), you’ll have the time built-in for it. It’s hoping for sunshine, but planning for rain. Or a hurricane. If you choose to relax, you are reducing your stress level by granting yourself intermissions of play-time between endeavors. This reduces the stress you will ultimately feel dealing with your curveball. Do you want to deal with colitis and four projects at work, or colitis and 1 project at work? Or no projects at work? There are schools of thought for each of these options and that’s really up to you (or another book) to decide. The point is that you need to build up these savings account of time and stress-free feelings.
One of the main debilitating elements of curveballs is the lack of knowing how to handle it. If you have the time or decreased stress, and your willpower is fortified, you don’t necessarily know what to do. Perspective provides an ability to connect dots where you might otherwise see a big mess. Diversifying the ways in which you can see circumstances will give rise to more options. Every option is a possible solution.
Let’s look at Sherlock Holmes. I realize he is fiction, but not only is he one of the most well-known fictional detectives, he has inspired the creation of countless movies, television shows, video games, and books beyond what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle originally created. People are fascinated with his uncanny ability to solve crimes. What is truly remarkable about his stories is that all of the evidence in a crime is presented to the reader the same as it is to Holmes and he proceeds to solve the crime, where most readers are incapable. Why is it that he can solve them and we cannot? Simple: he has perspective. Not only does he fill his memory with relevant information on forensic science and criminology, but he studies various other subjects such as the studies of body language, hand writing analysis, and martial arts. By honing his powers of observation and logic, he combines his vast library of studied subjects to see connections where others do not. Similarly, in studying past crimes, he recognizes patterns when they occur in new crimes, allowing him to make deductions.
With newly acquired concepts and tactics to gain perspective with, you can equip yourself with similar abilities to find hidden connections to deal with curveballs when they are thrown into your life. I’m not promising you’ll be the next Sherlock Holmes of solving your life’s problems, but with a new system of practice, you’ll be better prepared to find those patterns.
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” -Thomas Edison
Your life will invariably and inevitably have curveballs. By stretching yourself a little bit now, and continuing that process each day, you’re preparing your future self for the unknown. When you see other people go through things and say, “How do they do it? It seems so easy for them,” you’re neglecting to recognize the tiny steps they took. I’ll leave you with this, if you see someone standing at the top of a staircase, do you ask yourself how they got there, or do you make some wild assumption that they just jumped over all the steps and landed on the top one?