Saturday, March 05, 2005

Living large

Kay Redmond Jamison’s new book Exuberance has to strike a chord with anyone who…well almost anyone. The childlike love of the whole wide world blessedly comes to most of us, if not all, and for some of us, it persists throughout out life. I count my blessings every day that I am a person of enthusiasms. As much as my moods can irritate more even-tempered friends and colleagues from time to time, mostly they appreciate my up moods, particularly in contrast to the times my anxieties betray a need to crawl back into my introvert’s shell for renewal.

Some days it seems that being upbeat is a social burden. People like to be around me when I am bubbly and fun and outgoing and extroverted…and not really entirely myself. Or rather it is myself, but it is the version that I choose to show to the world. In astrological terms, it would be the ascendant (Sagittarius) or mask that I must learn to wear as an interface to the outside world. With a sun sign in confident Leo and three or four planets in soupy, sensitive Cancer, I desperately need some kind of mask to interpose between my stormy self and the outside world.

Astrology or psychology or myth, like most people I try on stories (adult child of an alcoholic? Sagittarius rising? smart aleck kid? just plain bad? child of God?) that explain who I am and what I am in the great big world out there. Kay Redmond Jamison’s book is a compelling version: I am a person of exuberance.

I recall the exact moment some twenty years ago or more when I became aware that I simply must leap from passion to passion. A brainy child, I was horrified by this insight into my character. It was as if I inhabited someone else’s life. But I remember the moment, complete with where I was standing in a hallway in my white-painted, parquet floored Brooklyn apartment, the very moment when I accepted that my intellect was not the driver of my life, even if I could count on it as a governor of my wildest urges. And I have been happier since I accepted this truth about myself.

It explains a lot. Like how a kid from a tiny town in North Georgia found herself working on Wall Street. Funny, when I graduated from college, my greatest aspiration was to be competent at something, anything. Now I don’t think it is immodest to claim that I am extremely competent on a number of fronts, not that I don’t fail from time to time, not that I am perfect. But the lessons I learned on Wall Street built on the insight of exuberance as driver: live large, think big, …because what you can imagine, you can build. You start with a plan, a strategy, a concept and you keep putting pieces in place until it is time to change the plan, the strategy, the concept.

An important piece of the puzzle is the b-school concept of option preservation. I have an idea of how things can be, and I know what some of the pieces are, so I work on those. Sometimes I don’t really completely understand how all the pieces fit together, but I recognize that certain pieces keep the dream alive, so I work on those. Thus does faith work in support of passion, even in the absence of intellect.

Another important piece is learning to scope a problem on a large enough scale. As an analyst, I followed basic industries including paper, steel, chemicals, commodities, and I learned how to approach high fixed costs. Old-fashioned industries require major leaps of faith just to make investments to stay even on the competitive front. Hundreds of millions of dollars, recouped pennies at a time. I think of the new air-laid non-woven paper machine that went into one client’s factory and of the product manager’s prediction that over the coming years we would see numerous new products using this technology. And so it has come to pass: Clorox wipes, furniture polish wipes, wipes for nail polish remover, wipes that carry shoe polish, LED screen cleaner wipes, antibiotic wipes…and now the newest Preparation H wipes.

It is truly a big, wide, wonderful world with millions of tiny steps to pay for multi-million dollar machines. It all starts with a concept, a strategy and with exuberant embracing of the dream. It continues with hard work to keep options open, fed every day by more exuberant enthusiasms and passions. This is the stuff that life is made of, at least my life. How about yours?

No comments: