Barely Better Than A Poke In The Eye With A Sharp Stick

At least for now.  It’s going to get better real soon.

It’s 2:30am and I am sitting here, outside, at domestic terminal #2 of the Manila airport on a metal bench, basically in the dark, waiting for the terminal to open so I can catch my 4am flight to Davao. What about waiting in the Admiral’s Club you ask? Ha ha. That’s funny. I ended up taking the bus down here. I usually walk but everyone said it’s too dangerous this time of night.  After 40 hours of travel so far I needed to knock out the cobwebs [Springfield > Chicago > Hong Kong > Manila > Davao]. I took a minute to duck into a restroom to deploy one of my travel secrets (acquired from my Africa travel partner Dr. Tom Prater): put on a fresh shirt and socks. I wish there were words to describe how good those socks and shirt made me feel. A “new man” as it were for at least a couple of hours. The humidity is thick. It’s almost the point in the trip when I say to myself, “What the hell am I doing this for?” but that will come in a few hours when I have arrive at my hotel and check in around 7am. Then I will start my work day. Unpacking my little carry-on in my room, that’s when I will say that.

I often talk about the mashup between suffering and joy in the book. The almost mystical nature of that recipe can really get you down and then take you up to the mountaintop in one fell swoop. There’s a catch. Most of the time [read: never] we don’t get to decide how much of either to put into our concoction. Don’t get me wrong this is not full on suffering. It’s low grade uncomfortable.

[This part written during my 16 hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong]. This trip marks my 10th year of visiting Davao and working with the same lead farmer all of these years. I know his wife, kids, and grandkids. I’ve been to church with his family and I know his pastor. I have had many many meals with him. Everyone who knows me knows that I love this kind of travel. I still stress out the week before I go with all of the things to do piling up before I leave. Even after more than 10 years of sitting on these benches it remains exciting.

I can think of two reasons why I still do this and they both might apply to your business too.

First. Quality: I’ve written extensively about the inseparability of the way we are as a company and the quality of our chocolate. The same applies to your work too. Who we are and how we behave in 90% of cases is inextricably bound up in the thing we make or service we provide. Pretty soon I will have meals with farmers, inspect the next crop of beans I am currently buying, give feedback on last years crop, test roast some beans over open fire, check moisture content and distribute a profit share on our last crop. All of these things impact the quality of the beans that we will receive in a few months. Some might say, “Sheesh Shawn, do you really need to go every year? You’ve been doing business with the same folks for all this time. What could possibly happen? Couldn’t you just skip a couple of years?” The answer is an emphatic “no” that I need to go. The minute we let our focus drift from quality then the end of the slippery slope is a product tasting like sawdust. After a few years we’d all be scratching our heads at the factory asking “how did that happen?” We know how this happens! It happens when we no longer practice the tough stuff because we listen to a little voice in our heads (that sounds an awful lot like our own voice, which is very persuasive) and says “You’re an expert, you’ve seen these beans for 10 years, it’ll be fine, your body is not as young as once was and when you’re sitting outside the domestic terminal in Manila you’ll beeee soooorry.” But, the question is: are we professionals or not? Are we going to run wind sprints or not? Are we going to do one more pull up or not? Yes. That’s what we do. That is how great chocolate is made. How do you think it is that we’ve made great tasting chocolate CONSISTENTLY for over ten years? This is how. I am not saying there’s never been an off crop year. What I am saying is that we’ve been doing wind sprints consistently for over ten years. I am certain that if you’re making something great then you’re doing them too! Almost anyone can make a great thing or have a great service for a year or two. Pounding it out through many batches of suffering and joy year after year after year means you’re doing the hard work even when you want to ask yourself “Why the hell am I here?” It’s not lost on me that our farmers might have thought this same thing to themselves toiling, struggling in sometimes physical pain and exhaustion only to do it all over again tomorrow. We do our level best to make it worth their while (read more about that here).

Second. Another no less important reason I do all of this, go to the trouble, endure, is that it’s a tether to my vocation, the work that drew me to starting a chocolate factory so many years ago. Sure I could send someone else to do this. And I have taken others from my factory to other countries. I am not the only person in my factory who knows what a great bean looks, smells, and tastes like. But, as I said in a keynote talk I gave on Friday at 417ThinkSummit, I know something good is going to happen on this trip. I don’t know when, where, or how this will be but I know that I will have a glimpse of my true self here. The reason I know it is because it’s happened so many times and I am open to it. I am open to encounters of joy and sorrow. So being here is one of my tethers to this work. It means that I won’t float off under the disguise of scale and growth and delegation and management disconnected and unable to the reach human connection that brought me to this place in my life. I know you can think of examples of tethers in your business, those things that brought you there. They’re still there waiting for you. But you’ll have to re-establish the habit of returning to this discipline of staying tethered. No matter what.