A small scar
“We cannot lose this deal.”
How many times have you heard that?
“I have a big meeting tomorrow.”
How many times have you heard that?
Why is the meeting bigger than normal? Because a lot is riding on it. Because someone important is attending. Because someone important is choosing to stress you out about it. Perhaps all of the above.
But really it is important because you, individually or collectively, decided it is. Because you expect it to be. Because it scares or thrills you and because you have focused on it.
But the reality of it all is that the biggest meetings of your career in terms of their net long-term impact were rarely the ones you stressed about. Rarely the ones you singled out. The moments that made all the difference were rarely anticipated or celebrated and hardly ever enough in themselves.
So a lot.
I have a small scar on my left hand, just below the fold between the thumb and forefinger.
It is the shape and size of a grain of rice and most people miss it.
I acquired it playing a game of chase blended with hide and seek. Essentially, it’s like hide and seek but the person guarding the ‘mother’ (which in our case was a fledgling tree in the middle of our schoolyard) has to first find everyone hiding and then race them back to the mother and touch the totem shouting their name. It’s quite vigorous and appropriately chaotic.
So one day while playing the game, I spotted my little classmate Stelis. I called out his name in triumph.
We started running.
We were nine and he was tall and lanky so catching up to him was unlikely. If it happened at all, it would have been a fluke. But catch up to him I did. I grabbed onto his t-shirt and held on for dear life and as he twisted to smile at me in acceptance of this unexpected turn of events, the back of my hand caught on a loose nail, sticking out of the frame of the sapling we had centred our game around.
It bled like you can’t believe. But it didn’t hurt.
We went to the nurse to get it bandaged up.
It was OK, really. It didn’t hurt. The nail was not rusty and I didn’t need a tetanus shot (or I was already up to date? God knows, I don’t remember anymore).
And as we left the nurse’s office my friend said a very Greek thing. He said it because it’s what our grandmothers would have said, and he said it to make us both laugh. And it worked. He said: “By the time you are married it will have healed.” It’s a stock phrase in Greek and it had the desired effect. We both laughed out loud.
It was also, as it turned out, totally not true.
Years later I bumped into him and he asked me if it had healed. He remembered.
And the funny thing is of course it has healed. But it has also scarred.
And let me tell you, that’s weird. I have had some serious accidents in my life that have left no mark. I have had second-degree burns on my face that have healed fully. I have had deep cuts and scratches after being dragged by the family dog on tarmac that have left no trace. I have accidentally upended a stovetop percolator of boiling coffee on my hand. None of those have left a scar. And yet that small playground incident has left an indelible mark. It really didn’t hurt the most, of all my accidents. In fact, I am pretty sure I’ve had worse in the playground and I no longer remember because those other incidents left no mark.
And that’s the thing.
In life and at work, it is actually not possible to tell what will end up mattering disproportionately. Which conversation. Which day. Which encounter. Which people. Which mistakes. Which flukes.
And it’s important to remember that fact.
Because it’s easy to lose yourself in chasing Moby-Dick deals and treating That Very Important Meeting like somehow it’s the be all and end all. And neglect other things in its name. And in so doing, burn bridges with the people who would otherwise make your future dreams come true. Pass by small chances that could turn into large opportunities. Neglect small things that may matter more for success long term.
You can’t tell which is which in the moment and that’s the point. You have to treat everything as if it’s important, because it may be. You have to treat everyone as if they are important. Because they are. You just don’t know how perhaps, but that doesn’t mean they matter less.
Do your best.
Every time I prepared for The Very Big Meeting – the one you lose sleep over, the one your boss breathes down your neck over – it either didn’t turn out to be anything… or it was followed by a year’s worth of other meetings that didn’t feel as big but actually mattered more.
The things that felt like the biggest opportunity didn’t work out that way.
Buddies were more important to career-accelerating ‘next steps’ than Big Bosses and Senior Stakeholders. Small pieces of work turned out to be more pivotal than the projects everyone was looking at.
At the end of the day, you don’t know what will turn out to be the critical events in your life and career. What will be a waste of time. What will leave a lasting scar and have a long-term impact.
As the song goes, ‘there is a fine, fine line between love and a waste of your time’, and you can’t always see that line.
So if you can’t tell, in the moment, what will turn out to make or break you and what won’t matter one jot, what do you do?
Because nobody has the energy to treat everything as if it were the most important thing, all the time.
So what do you do instead?
You treat every situation like it could be important but also like it’s seriously unlikely to be the end of the world.
Treat everyone like they matter, because they do.
Keep your head and cherish your scars. They are the best reminder that small things may have big impacts and nothing is the end of the world, really.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!
Follow Leda on Twitter @LedaGlyptis and LinkedIn.