How Do You Fix A Train Wreck?
Ten years ago I had to SWOT one of my best friends.
This was a guy I had grown close to after college and spent a fair amount of time with. For this reason I was absolutely blown away when he approached me one day with a plea for help.
He said his life had become a “train wreck”. I was shocked as there were no obvious signs of trouble – He was in good health, had a strong marriage and his job was secure. Furthermore, he had all the material things that supposedly symbolize success: nice home, German cars, fancy vacations and all the other stuff that normally comes with the package.
Best of all, he had just welcomed a new son into the world.
Nothing Comes Without A Price
Despite the outward signs of success, there was one problem with my friends lifestyle: It came at a steep price. Most of his time was spent away from his wife traversing the United States on airplanes and spending late nights at the office.
Some people are alcoholics, others use drugs; however, he was addicted to work and the accompanying success.
Trouble Disguised As Success
In a lot of ways his was the worst kid of affliction. If you’re an alcoholic, there are visible signs (hypothetically) of the destruction brought about by your poor choices. However, as a workaholic the damage is disguised behind the illusion of “success”.
The Day It All Came Crashing Down
October 10th 2006 was the day his world came crashing down.
Shortly after coming home from the hospital, his new baby began having difficulty. My friend and his wife rushed to the local Children’s Hospital where their son was placed on life support.
My friend leaned on me knowing I could related. – one year earlier I had been through a similar situation with my baby daughter who was born with an undiagnosed heart defect.
At that moment, nothing else in his life mattered. The only thing he wanted going forward was to spend as much time as possible with his family.
He asked me to help him get his priorities straight.
Where To Start?
Realizing that he needed to get his life in order was the easy part. The real challenge was deciding where to start. Like any addiction, being a workaholic affects a lot of areas in one’s life. Which one needed work first?
That’s When I Gave Him A Good SWOT
Not knowing where to start, I fell back on the one area I knew better than anything-business. If I was going to help him get turned around, I would need to begin with a good SWOT:
The SWOT exercise is used by companies all over the world to determine how they can improve. Here’s how each section works:
Not everything we’re doing is bad or destructive. Even the most messed up company or person has things they do well. It’s important to acknowledge these because we needed to use the strong qualities to overcome the bad ones.
Ironically, in my friend’s case a key strength was his work ethic. Being willing to work hard and long is not necessarily bad. He was just applying it to the wrong areas. The key was to refocus and work hard at being a good husband and father.
These are the areas that needed dramatic improvement. Left alone, they will ultimately lead to one’s downfall.
For him, there were two major weaknesses:
- Neglecting his wife. She spent a lot of her time alone as he flew all over the country playing “Superman” to whatever problem existed.
- Worry. This dude was a chronic worrier – about everything. He worried about his family’s financial future, sending his kids to good schools, having good medical insurance, you name it. To deal with his anxiety he worked, and worked, and worked. In his mind, the more success he achieved, the better he could take care of his family.
The great thing about being honest and acknowledging one’s weaknesses is that they highlight the exact areas that need focus in order to make the biggest and fastest improvements.
Think of opportunities as seeds. They are areas that you’ve never put any time into, but they have tremendous potential to help you grow.
His opportunity was a strong network he had built over the years. As a result, he was able to use his connections to get a position that significantly reduced the amount of time he spent traveling, thus allowing him to spend more time with his family.
We all have “dragons” that left uncontrolled can result in destructive behavior.
For most people their threats are obvious. Addicts have drugs and alcohol-just one use can lead to a downward spiral. For others it’s negative self talk, which can lead to severe anxiety and confidence issues.
My friend’s threat has been ( and always will be) success. Not for achievement’s sake, but because it helps him deal with his worries. However, as you saw in the beginning of this post, it can quickly spiral out of control.
The key is to understand one’s demons and stay committed to positive change.
In business, like life, we recognize perfection as an impossible goal. There is no perfect company. Likewise, there is no perfect person; therefor the goal should be “continuous improvement”.
The SWOT tool is a great way to get you started on your own continuous improvement plan.
Angelo Lombardo is a Fortune 500 executive who is dedicated to giving other business people the mentality, motivation, tools and processes to “Go On The Offensive” to create the career and/or life they choose.
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