Life is surprising. I never would have guessed I’d be where I am doing what I do. And last week life surprised me again, in big and small ways.
For example, I accidentally spent several hours with Howard Behar, retired President of Starbucks. One of the others at the table with me said Howard was like the ideal grandfather. He smiled a lot and when he spoke it was gentle, pithy, and wise. (Check out his first book here: It’s Not About the Coffee: Lessons on Putting People First from a Life at Starbucks)
How did this great experience happen? Not through any planning or discipline or talent. When I showed up to the leadership workshop, they couldn’t find my name on the registration list. I guess they felt bad for me, because they eventually led me to the back of the large conference center and seated me at a table with some of the event support staff in the back. Events like these are what I do for a living so I was ready for another good “day at the office”. And then an hour later Howard showed up and sat down at our table. He wasn’t expected to be there until just before his special guest section at the end of the day. But he decided to spend his day sitting in the back of the room, talking with us. I learned, I laughed, and I was inspired. And all that was in addition to the insights from the leadership workshop.
In my life, great joy and deep pain have both surprised me. And they will again. No amount of planning or strategy can eliminate surprises from our lives. So now I devote my effort to making the most of the surprises that come my way. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, modeled this well. He said his approach to strategy was to be prepared to take advantage of unexpected opportunities.
This surprise turned out great. Not all of my surprises have been, though. Maybe you’ve been surprised lately. Maybe it wasn’t good, either. If you’ve done what I have before–resist the change, declare that this isn’t the plan and try to get back to normal–I’d like to remind you that’s not your only option. What would happen if you spent the same amount of energy trying to make that surprise work?