What is it that drives those who strike out independently in pursuit of something, risking much – sometimes all - in a gamble to succeed, and why is it that most of the population never even attempt it and thus never know what they are capable of?
As we glide effortlessly (joke) towards the end of the first year of the millennium, I find that my thoughts are no different from those I always have at this time of year. Where the hell did it go, and where am I now? It doesn’t seem more than a month or two since I wrote my last December issue. In so many respects, this last year has really been no different from any other. People are still fighting and dying over land or money or both, CCF are still telling us that in the next 30 seconds x number of children will die despite my miniscule contribution, the US is showing us (at time of writing) that politicians have not changed and are still as cynical as ever, Fiji has just had a mutiny which I guess is at least a change from a coup, and Ruth Dyson did the right thing in politically correct terms if that is your most important criteria. What she offered NZ as a caring, intelligent, able person is now denied us, but hey, ‘form’ has to be obeyed no matter the price. If we are excruciatingly honest, the difference between Ruth and countless thousands of other New Zealanders is that she got caught (Bugger...), and reporters don’t care about the other thousands. Change? As I thrive in my late forties, it seems to me that nothing really changes around me except the thing that is me, and those close to me. I remember a time when I was thirteen, summer lasted for centuries, a year was a thousand years, and my parents (then in their forties) were so incredibly old that we called them ‘crumblies’. Now I’m a crumblie, and this year seems to have gone by in the wink of an eye. On a thirteen-year-old’s Summer evening my best mate and I would talk about the car-case we were going to save up for and buy, made of marine ply and about the size of a modern container, converting it into a ‘den’ with two stories, four rooms, electric light and a telephone. We never did decide whether it would go at the back of his house or mine, probably because at that age material possession of it was immaterial.
The fact that my father would never have allowed it was not the point. It was the dream of it, the planning of it, the vision of it, the pencilled drawings of it (many), which provided the excitement and the fun. It was better than girls – at least we could understand the car-case, it could never reject you, make you feel inadequate, care that your voice jumped several octaves within a single sentence or expect things of you. Puberty is cruel, and although it was a dream, the car-case was a known element.
Somewhere in my subconscious I knew that Dad would never allow it, but that thought always remained a subconscious one, since if it ever became conscious, the dream would die. Perhaps it is a thing of youth, a self-defence mechanism that does not allow cold reality to interfere with a perfectly good dream. The dream was the thing that made me get out of bed at 5.30am and deliver close on 200 NZ Heralds (rain or shine) everyday before school and Saturdays for $2.50 per week. And now I’m getting around to asking two questions – (1) Do most of us lose that defence mechanism as we mature, allowing ‘reality’ to extinguish or mute the dream; and (2) if so, do most of us as a consequence ‘live our lives in quiet desperation’, never brave or mad enough to risk something, in some cases everything, in pursuit of that dream? The scale of the dream is relative and unimportant - thus an elderly Samoan man, seventy-something, last week got his photo in the Herald having completed his university degree simply ‘because he wanted to learn’, Sir Peter sails quietly off on a 5 year odyssey to the remotest places on Earth with a full film crew and a satellite link to broadcast the pictures (what would Scott or Amundsen have made of that), and every day non-famous people with scant resources start up small businesses in the face of entrenched big business and work 14 hour days, seven days a week, because they believe they will succeed. Some of them do. Five out of ten new businesses are gone within the first two years, seven out of ten within five years, mostly because of under-funding and lack of access to experienced advice. Not because they didn’t try hard enough…
Back to youthful dreams. At 14, too young to sit the examination for an Amateur Radio Operator’s Licence, I built my first home-made radio transmitter and broadcast in Morse Code for about 2 days, establishing contact with several licensed operators, until a kindly gentleman from the NZ Post Office took my equipment away and chose not to prosecute. I had a dream, and once I’d achieved it I didn’t bother with the examinations bit and never became a licensed Amateur. The next dream at 16, was the Merchant Marine as a deck officer, and I managed to convince those in authority that I was capable of it and went to sea. At 17 I had seen more of the South Pacific than most ever see in their entire lives, but once I’d achieved that after 18 months, well…. There were so many other dreams… it wasn’t until fourteen years later that I took time off from a Management position, went back to Nautical School, studied, passed my Commercial Skipper’s license, and drove Charter vessels after work most nights and weekends for a couple of years. It wasn’t that I needed the money nor did I need the challenge; in my ‘real’ job I had control of 18 other managers and a seven million dollar budget. No, it was just another dream I needed to do… Those who don’t understand, accuse people like me of being irresponsible. They conveniently forget that it is usually an unconventional risk-taker that started the organization that now provides the accuser with their comfortable, safe salary… I put it to those people that if they live their lives having never tested their capabilities then it is they who are irresponsible. Life is precious and a one-time event - how dare they waste it. A mate of mine went a bit too far in a similar argument when she said “but we’ll always need ‘drones’ dear” (her patience had been sorely tested and she tells me she later apologised to the ‘drone’), but it’s true that anyone can do the ordinary, the possible, the comfortable and the predictable. What is it about Comfort? I well remember a briefing meeting with a Human Resources Manager who made an off-hand comment that she ‘disliked salespeople as a breed’. I so far forgot myself as to point out to her that without those salespeople putting their self-esteem on the line and generating revenue, there would be no pot for her to draw her salary from, and in fact no organization for her to belong to. Kind of put a chill on the rest of the meeting, but there are some times when the most honest place to put your foot is, in fact, in your mouth.
If you’re reading People and Performance, it’s likely that you’re the sort of not-quite-sane person who gets up in front of others, provides them with knowledge, tries to get them to challenge accepted thinking and tries to change their behaviour. That already makes you unusual and decidedly non-drone, but are you still clinging a little bit to that security blanket of convention and conformity? Just a thought. Perhaps you could experiment with the wild side a little, turn up in drag one day or dressed as a Nun, just to see if anyone notices, or tell the Boss that you’ll give up your salary in place of a share of your training’s ROI… Whoa! Too scary… Some can’t handle ‘unconventional’ though, as demonstrated by one of our MP’s going to a Parliamentary Select Committee meeting in jeans and causing (artificial) righteous indignation. Like, we haven’t got more important things to worry about? On TV the jeans looked clean and didn’t appear to have patches, swastikas or holes.
Here’s a couple of clichés, but as is often the case, there’s truth in them…Firstly, there are those who wait for things to happen, those who wonder what happened, and those who make it happen. Secondly, those who wonder whether it can be done better get out of the way of those who are bent on doing it. Many years ago I listened to a man on a stage, who said that the most terrible thing that could happen to you was to realise, at age 65, that you hadn’t done the things you secretly wanted to do, and the second most terrible thing was then to decide that it’s too late. I’ve never forgotten it. Convention and conformity be damned. Up the establishment. Make 2001 a special year. Have a go at your dream. You’re dead for eternity and that’s a hell of a long time.
Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email: email@example.com
© Steve Punter 2000 All rights reserved by the author