“It was the best of times it was the worst of times.” Charles Dickens wrote those ominous words one hundred and fifty years ago.
All of a sudden those small troubles you had last Monday seem as insignificant as Gary Condit.
Everyone has a story about “where they were when…” I was in Las Vegas preparing for a seminar for El Pollo Loco. A California based Mexican fast-food chain with great food, and a team of people greater than the food. My client, Coca-Cola had sponsored me, and I wanted to do them all proud.
I wake up early on the west coast because my biological clock is set for New Jersey. As I dressed for my talk, I turned on the TV to see if the Broncos had beat the Giants on Monday Night Football, and saw the World Trade Center on fire. Nah! The reporter seemed confused. I sat down to watch, and five minutes later I watched in horror as another plane crashed into the other tower.
Terrorist bastards. My mind was racing with possibilities of “what’s next” when I realized that 300 general managers and the entire executive team were counting on me to deliver the “opening keynote.”
I watched the TV until another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and both World Trade Center towers collapsed. I kept hoping I would wake up from this horrible nightmare. My cell phone began to pop. My children making sure I was safe. My wife Teresa calling for reassurance. God how I love them.
I was psyched up and psyched down at the same time.
I decided to get downstairs. There was a hush in the casino at the Rio Hotel. As I headed down the long hallways toward the conference center, I realized that I was virtually alone. Almost 7:30am Vegas time.
The conference room was still. Soon some hotel AV people came in and I “got ready” to do my seminar. The El Pollo Loco management team came in and said they were going to delay the start by an hour or two, and give people time to phone home and gather themselves. They would reconvene and decide whether to continue or go home.
I continued to get ready, although the mood was glum. As I listened, I imagined that most people wouldn’t be in the mood for my rah rah speech, and jokes were not the order of the day.
Meanwhile the Rio Hotel Conference Center had quickly converted to a news center. Most of the TV’s played CNN rather than what event was occurring in what room. The large screen (20 foot) TV in the center hall had 100 people hypnotically staring at the smoke and fire. One horrible story after another piled on the mood.
One of the AV people said that all the events were cancelled and ours was the only one “pending.”
Time went by quickly. At the reconvened meeting, only the area leaders and executive team were present. They asked me to be there as well. I listened as almost every one of the area managers wanted to call off the program based on the feedback and feelings of their people.
Management was willing to (reluctantly) accept, but I was not. I waited until everyone had their say, then suggested that I change my program from “Customer loyalty and how to serve memorably,” to a one hour talk on positive attitude. I reasoned that their team was stuck in Vegas anyway, and better to have them in one room than wandering on their own. Besides everyone could use a dose of something positive.
They agreed to let me have a go at it.
When the decision was announced to the group, people applauded. They were looking for some reinforcement that things could be normal, and that in the middle of the uncertainty, their hopes and needs would be addressed.
I began by telling them that now was the time to gather their strength. That these unspeakable acts would be disrupting their world in a way we do not yet know, but that their success will not lie in what occurs, but rather how they react to what occurs.
They got the message at once and I hope you do too.
In these times where we helplessly sit and watch events occur, our responses are what determines our fate.
Positive attitude is not about what happens to you, it’s about what you do with what happens to you, and how you react to what happens to you, and how you respond to what happens to you.
After about 20 minutes I tried some humor. People responded with laughter. Everyone was relieved.
Laughter and weeping are very close on the scale of emotion. And during this day, people were doing some of both.
I will admit that the talk I gave on September 11, 2001 was the toughest challenge of my business life. I ended up speaking for more than three hours. The people kept wanting more, and so did I.
It all seemed to echo the immortal words of the late great Earl Nightingale from his legendary recording of The Strangest Secret: “You become what you think about all day long.”
And in the end I was exhausted, but the people at El Pollo Loco were in a better place, a better state of mind. And so was I.
And so I return to the last line from the same Dickens novel that is more powerful and more obscure than the first, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
I wish you all peace. Even if it means we have to war to get there.
If you have a comment, it is most welcome. Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will answer everyone personally.
Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Sales Bible, and Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts internet training programs on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to email@example.com