One of the joys of fatherhood is discovering the insights and blunt wisdom of children’s books. My eight year old daughter, Truitte Rose, had a favorite book last year titled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I couldn’t read it to her enough. It chronicles a day in a boy’s life where nothing goes right.
I too had a bad day last week at my company, Corporate Rain. I hit my chair dealing with client crises, fighting a cold, losing a valued associate, dealing with a minor credit card fraud, and reading a dense legal contract. On the side of my desk there was a Mt. Everest of overdue sales calls I needed to get to. And this was before 12:00. I was frustrated. I was angry. I was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
As an entrepreneur I’ve learned that a day like this can be dangerous—not because of the circumstantially difficult day, but because of my internal reaction to it.
On such a day I invariably feel I have to push hard—to move, move, move—to rush, rush, rush—to compensate. And when I give in to this feeling, I make poor judgments. I make mistakes. I insult people and lose my temper. My whole mien becomes frenetic, forced, faked and joyless.
As an owner, it’s hard to slow down while Rome is burning around you. You’re responsible. (Only you can prevent this forest fire!) I’ve had to learn the efficiency of hitting the pause button, of not trying to be more than I am, and, especially, not making crucial decisions on such days. For me, when I have a very bad day, everything sort of emanates from a dark, bleak, shrunken part where I exist only as a miasma of cosmic insufficiency; that essential place where dwells the cowed and frightened child, as well as the cornered beast. So my “professional” response is to assume the trappings of a sanguine and competent businessman and push through. But, in fact, the real good me is not present. The fact is that on a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I am in reality one dark, primordial, primal scream inside: a rootless Edvard Munch template, an enraged troll.
Over the years I’ve lost money, sales, friends, and reputation on days like this. While grinding my teeth and determinedly…getting…it …all…done, I have frequently caused myself harm under the guise of mechanically doing my duty to God, country and the capitalist way. Only slowly have I learned to overcome this hubristic folly.
Many years ago, when I was a callow, arrogant, idealistic, difficult young actor (often the bane of my fellow thespians and directors), one of my first professional roles was in a play in Los Angeles called “Darkness At Noon“, based on a novel by Arthur Koestler. I played a tortured political prisoner. It was an especially intense role and my rehearsal process was unhealthily over committed to the point of almost masochism. There was an old Portuguese actor in the company named Lorenzo. He’d had a long and picaresque life and he was kind, wise and a generous acting colleague. One day in rehearsal he took me aside, sat me down, put his hands on my very tense shoulders and said simply, “You can’t push the river, Timothy. Flow with it.” That’s all he said.
I think it’s hard for any entrepreneur to follow that advice. We live to push the river. But the fact is, you can’t.
So what’s the answer to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Well, I guess my answer is just to stop on those days. Go to the movies. Or, as Scarlett O’Hara says at the end of a very bad day in Gone With The Wind, “Home. I’ll go home…After all, tomorrow is another day.”
My special thanks to this week’s blog muse, my sweet daughter Truitte Rose. Thanks, Truitte.