“The perplexity of life arises from there being too many interesting things in it for us to be interested properly in any of them.” – G.K. Chesterton (“The Secret of a Train,” Tremendous Trifles, 1901)
I am unwinding a complication as I write this. It has involved (a) firing one of my closest friends, (b) telling an esteemed colleague he’s not going to have the opportunity he expected, (c) apologizing to a half-dozen employees who got caught up in the machinations, and (d) risking a lucrative and rewarding enterprise. This all came from the misguided idea that I could force people to cooperate who didn’t trust one another and from my foolish desire to help some friends and colleagues who never asked for help.
If you have the same mental disease I have, you almost never say “no” to a moneymaking chance. You are drawn into all sorts of deals, including those that are clearly clumsy and complicated. You pursue them anyway, because you are focused on the reward. “If I could only make this work,” you think, “It would be great for everybody.”
Complicated deals can be great. Friends can be employed. Colleagues can be connected. Extra cash can appear from the most unlikely places.
And if you’re lucky, all of those things may happen. But when there is a conflict at the core of the relationship, it’s only a matter of time until things start to unravel.
Partner A doesn’t like Partner B’s new promotion. He thinks it will get them both into trouble. Partner C doesn’t think it’s fair that A should get compensated for writing the new promotion, since it was clearly based on an idea he gave to B. But B credits its success to an idea he got over coffee with someone new, who turns out to be Partner D (since B has cut him in for use of his good idea).
It’s nerve-wracking. It’s frustrating. And, in the long run, it’s usually counterproductive.
Resisting such conflicts requires the ability to say “no.” “That sounds like a great opportunity, Jeff, but I’m already involved in the widget business with Karen.” It feels as if you are giving up something valuable when you do it — and perhaps you are — but you won’t have to suffer through the complications later on.
When all is said and done, you are usually better off sticking with one thing at a time. Work it hard. Let it change and evolve. But don’t let it get too messy.
Does this mean that you should never get involved in complicated deals? If I followed that rule, my life would definitely be more serene. But it might not be as rich. (Not money-rich, mind you.)
Maybe the lesson is this:
Ultimately, we are all tethered to our DNA. Our strengths and weaknesses are intricately bound to the same instinctive thread. Mine inclines me toward complications, so my life keeps getting complicated. For you, it may be different.
So know yourself. Understand and appreciate your fundamental nature. Recognize the advantages and dangers of your natural disposition and use discipline to mediate between them.[Ed. Note. Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]