I had a brutal day at the office today. This got me thinking about some important lessons I learned as a kid. I am always amazed at how valuable those life experiences have turned out to be for me as a business owner. Today’s lesson is courtesy of the late Zig Ziglar, who loved to tell a story about how obtaining water from old wells could relate to making a company work. I love his analogy because I lived out the same experience with my grandfather.
When I was a little boy, Grandpa had a hand-dug well in his front yard. It was not unusual for him to send one of the grandkids out with a bucket to get fresh water. If you have never used one of these old pumps, here is how they work: Every time you pull the handle down, water is raised, and every time you allow the handle to go up, the pump is lowered into the water, loading itself for the next push.
I remember one of my trips to the well. Grandpa handed me a three-gallon bucket and to my surprise, it was not empty. Ever the inquisitive kid, I needed to know why he would hand me a bucket that already had water in it. As we walked across the yard he told me, “You cannot get anything out of the well without putting something in first.” The water was necessary to prime the pump for the job.
Another lesson that I learned at the handle of that old pump was to never give up. As a child, I would work up a sweat pumping the handle until I could hardly pump anymore. When I reached this point in the process, Grandpa would encourage me, “You can do it. Don’t quit.” I would try hard but would always have to take a break for a few seconds before I started pumping again. When I stopped, the water would go all the way back down to the bottom of the well and I would have to start over.
Finally, Grandpa told me that when it is hardest to pump, that is when the water is about to start flowing. I was exerting all my effort and quitting just as I was about to get my reward. Once the water finally began to pour forth, something amazing would happen. The hard work was over, and all I had to do was pump slowly and steadily for the well would give me as many buckets as I needed.
You might be wondering why my lousy day at work generated memories of the well at my grandfather’s house. Well, it started when I received our end-of-the-month financials. Our losses were more than just a drop in the bucket. I discovered we had taken some unexpected and significant financial hits making it the worst month in my 39 years of business.
I knew we had some unforeseen issues but was blindsided when I saw the numbers were worse than we originally forecasted. The situation is the result of leadership taking actions that were counterproductive to earnings, which ended up costing us millions.
I was feeling defeated because I knew I could not go back in time and change the moves that had been made. Were these events beyond my control? I would like to say yes. But the truth is, the buck stops with me, so I take responsibility for the bottom line.
As I was still reeling from what felt like a punch in the gut, I received another staggering blow. The president of one of our companies told me that the general contractor on one of our projects put us on 48-hour notice because we had fallen behind schedule. If we did not do something to compensate for the days we fell behind on the project, there would be a substantial penalty for missing the deadline.
The solution required 20 additional employees that we do not have access to without impacting other projects. Normally, we would subcontract part of the work; however, the job was underbid, so we did not have the extra funds to go that route. This was not what I wanted to hear, and I found myself in a funk like I had not been in for some time. I told him about the financial news I had gotten earlier in the day and that we were already taking a beating on the profit and loss for the company.
His response surprised me. He was extremely optimistic and told me, “We got this. Not a problem.” He said we just need to keep pushing and see this thing through. He went as far as to say that once this situation is straightened out, 2024 would be like no other year we have ever had. He then told me that all eight of our companies would be profitable next year, making it the best year of my career.
During my darkest hour, he gave me the pep talk I needed. It was a pep talk that would have made my grandpa proud! I decided to go home, get some supper, and reflect on the day, knowing tomorrow would be better.
Here is the wisdom I learned at Grandpa’s well that helped me through this day:
- You cannot get anything out of life without putting something in it first. You must first prime the pump.
- Never give up. If you quit what you are doing too soon, one of two things will happen: You will either never reach your goal, or you will have to start over, which will delay getting to your destination.
- Lean into encouragement. Words of affirmation, whether we say them to ourselves or hear them from others, serve to give us the strength we need to overcome the obstacles that lie between us and our objectives.
- As another friend shared with me, “Behind every strong person is a story that gave them no choice.” I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself as I am not the only one in this world who has had unexpected problems to solve.
Have you ever wondered why some people enjoy major success while others just get by, or worse yet, do not survive? I can assure you that those who are successful have ups and downs. Like everyone else, they have tough times and struggles.
What sets them apart is their willingness to put in the work while they just keep pumping. They maintain a strong belief in themselves that they can do it. Most important is their determination; they never give up. That is when the water flows and they fill their buckets while reaping their rewards.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, 3 PLS Labor Services, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection, and Safety Company, and EZG Manufacturing.
To view the products and equipment his companies created to make job sites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 740-749-3512.