One evening during the summer of 2005, I called one of my clients and asked him if he would come over to my house to fix a problem with my plumbing. His name was Jim, and at that time he was in his mid-50s. We had done business with each other since the early 1990s. I was originally introduced to Jim by another client who owned several rental properties and had hired Jim to work on his properties.
Jim drove an extended van that was loaded with miscellaneous plumbing and electrical supplies. He also had every tool you could think of packed inside his van. Stacked on top of the van were ladders and pipes that were secured to a rack that was attached to the van. Jim was tall, rugged, independent, and rough around the edges. It seemed as though every time I saw him, he had a two-inch cigar hanging out of his mouth.
Jim had inspected my house before I purchased it in 1999, and had come to the house on several occasions to fix various problems that had arisen. On that summer evening when he arrived at my house, he walked through the garage and into the kitchen. As soon as he saw me, he bellowed, “Who owns that Mazda that’s parked in your driveway?” I answered, “My son Harry just bought that car. Why are you asking? Was it in your way?”
Jim glared at Harry who was standing near the kitchen sink, and yelled, “What-do-ya-think you’re doing buying a Japanese car? Haven’t you ever heard of Pearl Harbor? Don’t you know that when you buy one of those cars you’re contributing to the loss of American jobs?”
By the time Jim finished his questions, he was standing in front of Harry, towering over him. Harry, who at that time was 24 years old, looked at Jim in stunned disbelief. Before he had time to respond, I said, “Hey Jim. This younger generation doesn’t have the same beliefs about foreign companies that you and I have. They weren’t around during the 1970s when Japan invaded our country with their small, gas-efficient cars.”
Jim whipped around, looked me in the eyes, and shouted, “It doesn’t matter if he wasn’t around to witness what happened. Doesn’t anyone learn about history anymore?”
I reactively started laughing, which interrupted Jim’s train of thought. I think he was surprised that I laughed at him. Before he could say anything else, I said, “Do you get this angry every time you see someone half your age driving a foreign car? You need to lighten up, Jim. It doesn’t do you any good to get angry every time you see a foreign car.”
Jim realized that his behavior was out of line and said in a calmer tone of voice, “I still think it’s wrong for Americans to buy foreign cars. Now show me where your problem is so we can get it fixed.”
About 10 years ago, a competitor of mine (a lawyer) intentionally did something that was designed to get me in trouble. What he did was unethical, and if his plan had worked, it would have caused great harm to my reputation in the community. I was so furious with him that I wanted to hustle over to his downtown office and beat him into submission. (That’s the way my eight brothers and I handled conflicts that arose among us — beat on each other first, ask questions later.)
I controlled my rage and hired a well-known Chicago attorney to assist me with the problem. About two weeks later, while I was talking to a very successful businessman whom I was consulting with at the time (his name was Dan), I explained what had happened and asked for his advice on how I should handle the matter. He couldn’t help but notice that I was still extremely angry about what my competitor had done to me. Here’s part of what Dan said to me:
It’s been two weeks and you’re still outraged over what happened? I’m surprised that you’re still angry about this. It was okay for you to have an initial reaction of anger, but you shouldn’t have allowed yourself to remain angry for more than 20 minutes after you discovered what he did to you. It’s harmful for you to stay angry over things like this because it hinders your ability to think clearly and move forward. This guy obviously felt threatened by you, and you’ve allowed him to exercise a certain amount of control over what’s been going on in your head ever since it happened. You need to stop behaving like a victim and get busy. Now let me ask you this: Do you think you’re more creative than he is?
After I answered yes to his question, Dan said, “You need to be using your mental energy to develop more and better ways to compete against him, instead of wasting your time on being a victim and letting your anger get the best of you. It may be to your advantage that he feels threatened by you and that he’s wasting his time worrying about what you’re going to do next. You need to do everything in your power to create new ways in which you can outmaneuver him. Does that make sense to you?” Of course, my answer was “Yes, it makes sense to me.”
I followed Dan’s advice and have continued to benefit from it for the past 10 years.
When I received the email from Tony that I wrote about recently, I thought about Jim’s outburst in my kitchen and Dan’s advice. In the email, Tony expressed anger over the fact that I had praised Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. My praise of Bezos was directed toward the fact that he is obsessed with providing great customer service.
I hadn’t seen or talked to Tony for several years. The last time I talked to him, he told me that the local retail business that he was working for was struggling because of competition from the Internet. He was irritated that some of our local businesses were having problems because of the predatory pricing that was occurring on the Internet.
Most people are surprised when I explain to them how the Internet has caused a drastic decline in business and income for lawyers. I may write about it in the future, but for now let me just say that there has been a huge disruption in law practices over the past 10 years because of the effects of the Internet and global competition.
There are times when I become extremely worried and anxious over the instability and uncertainty that exists in our economy. And yes, I also get angry. But when my emotions start running away with me, I try to always remember the lessons I learned from my experiences with Jim and Dan: lighten up — stop getting angry over the same things — quickly set aside anger and immediately start working on creating new opportunities. More important, I pray for the grace that I will continue to develop a more childlike trust and confidence in God that He will always take care of me and my family.
This is a good formula for dealing with the uncertainty that we all face in our modern world.