A life spent in a number of unusual but meaningful pursuits has left me wondering how our society ended up embracing the concept that for one person to win another person has to lose.
I realize that as a society we are infatuated with sports where normally one team wins while another team loses.
Certainly there are people who embrace the idea that life is like a game with only losers and winners. The concept of life with only winners and losers might unfortunately be the norm in our society. However, I am really proud that I wasn't brought up that way. Life is a lot more complex than a sporting event.
There are three things that I learned well when I was growing up.
The first was that winning at any cost is not worth it. What good does it do to win if you abandon all of your principles just for the sake of winning? If the victory costs you your soul, it is a hollow accomplishment. We all know people who will do anything to win. They are among the most dangerous people in our world.
The second thing I learned is that it is far more rewarding to help someone else achieve a victory than it is to have a victory yourself. If I help you win then in a certain sense I have also won.
The third life lesson I picked up is that encouraging words are far more effective in motivating people than threats or embarrassment. In the same line of thought leading by example is far more effective than hollow words.
Ten years of running a farm and close to thirty years in high technology have given me lots of opportunity to observe the truth of these lessons.
In my last years at Apple when I was just another moth circling the bright light of Cupertino, I got to see first hand that many people were willing to push anyone even friends into the light in order to not only succeed but just to survive a while longer at the edge of the light.
That a person would work so hard to see others fail amazed me. Even more astonishing is how some would drop any pretense of ethical behavior just to put a few extra dollars in their pocket even at the expense of others who were in theory their friends.
My sales career was a very successful one, but I take more pride in the awards that I helped other people achieve than I do with the ones that I achieved myself.
There is a great sense of personal satisfaction in helping someone reach a goal that they once might have thought unachievable. I still remember with pride the many team members whom I got to see stand up on the stage and accept national awards.
A recent sermon by Reverend Ben Burrows at Cape Carteret Presbyterian Church reminded me of the power of words. In my days as a manager at Apple my door was always open. Many evenings I worked hard to pick the right word to help a person move forward positively instead of falling backwards into negativity. Even with those efforts, I'm sure that within the Apple pressure cooker that I made my share of mistakes in saying the wrong thing to people.
Unfortunately motivating people with positive words was not the preferred way at Apple. I will long remember the humiliation heaped on my team and myself at the national sales conference in 2003. My team had done an exceptional job selling product and yet at the last minute we were blamed for the company's inability to ship products to our customers. It was a cheap shot designed to undermine the success of our team which had been named team of the year the previous year.
That we went on to have an exceptional year really didn't matter because the goal was to make us look bad in front of our peers during the one time of the year we all got together. Unfortunately there are those whose only pleasure comes from knocking others down.
Apple wasn't the only company that I saw embrace the attitude that someone has to lose before someone else can win. I actually once had a CEO of a company tell me that the only way to get salespeople to do anything is to threaten them. It was probably the most misguided statement that anyone ever spoke to me in the business world.
Sadly the idea of needing a loser before someone can be a winner has also penetrated business dealings. Even real estate transactions have become hostile events where buyers seem to relish how poorly they can treat sellers.
At one time people could have a handshake business transaction where both parties treated each other fairly. Now days, a twenty page written contract will not prevent people from trying to push their edge over another person.
While there is little that I can do about a world that seems to be willing to accept the idea of winner take all, I plan to stay close to my upbringing. To the best of my ability I will try to live a life dedicated to the double win which I heard articulated by Denis Waitley long ago. If I help you win, then we have both won.
I am fortunate that there are places filled with peace where I can retreat to help me maintain my dedication to the double win while keeping me from falling victim to the idea that for me to win, you have to lose.
That I have recovered from the challenges of a long career at a winner-take-all company like Apple is a credit to the wonderful healing powers of North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks.