February 07, 2012

Is It Hard?

Over the nearly 15 years of my career as an entertainment marketer, with each position I've worked at smaller and smaller companies, and have somehow taken on more and more responsibility.

Once just an assistant, then a product manager - a job that seemed overwhelming at the time - I eventually made the transition from VP of Marketing at the record label level to GM of a company where I manage an artist, run his record label and music publishing company, and negotiate new business deals including endorsements and sponsorships.

I'm way beyond my comfort zone, and 15 years into my career, I am doing this without the help of an assistant, coordinator, manager, or any of the other support staff I once knew at larger companies with better-defined division of labor. My access to interns is sporadic, with mixed results.

Unfortunately, this means I cannot do everything. It's just not possible. Some issues will be neglected. Some emails will go unanswered. Some calls will go unreturned.

I have always been of the mindset that not everything has to be attended to as it comes in, that most things can wait an hour or a day or a week or a lifetime. Sometimes, when you decide not to decide something, the Universe adapts around you and the answer just...becomes revealed to you. You just have to wait for it to happen.

Other times, you end up neglecting something that actually does deserve attention, though it may seem so minor that it's easily forgotten.

When this happens, often our colleagues and associates will ask, "What's the problem? Is it hard?"

And the answer is, "Well, no, not by itself. It's not difficult to do. I've just chosen to do other things instead of it."

The answer is also, "It requires time and mental bandwidth that I don't have."

The question "Is it hard?" is aways a tough one for me, because I have always approached business like an SAT test - get as much of the easy stuff done as soon as you can, so at least you're getting something done. Put the ball in someone else's court. Free yourself up to tackle what is hard, during the few minutes you've got before someone replies to you or pulls you into an impromptu meeting or conference call.

So when something that's not hard falls by the wayside, it's hard to excuse it.

But none of these tasks can be judged individually, out of context. They pile up, viciously, systematically. Even if you have someone to whom you can delegate, you have to stay on top of them to make sure it happens (sometimes taking more time than if you had just done it yourself).

This is the stuff that causes many executives to check their emails all night long, to reply late at night and question when they have not received a response first thing in the morning. I used to be that type of person, but at my advanced age, in my years of experience, I have decided that I cannot be judged by how quickly I address the minutia of the daily course of business. I can only measure my success - and the success of those who work for and around me - by the general trend upwards, forwards, whatever direction progress goes in. Just as in my own weight loss journey, one day you're at goal, the next day you're three pounds heavier, the next day you're two pounds lighter, without any real obvious rhyme or reason. The weight will go up; the weight will go down. But as long as the number is generally going down over time - not down every day or every week - then you are moving in the right direction. (Financial advisors say the same thing about your 401K investments.)

Sticking with it, and not allowing yourself to be derailed, is the hard part.

Post Script:
The great contradiction is that in life, it seems that it's the easiest things that dog me: washing the forks, flossing my teeth, getting up in the morning. But I can somehow motivate myself to learn to drive stick shift on a Formula 1 racer, climb a mountain, and zipline across a canyon despite a nearly-crippling fear of heights. I can't quite explain that.

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