In business and in our personal lives we have boundaries. As a child you push against the parental boundaries, which sometimes results in a loss of privileges, grounding, or some other type of punishment. The older we get, the more we understand the boundaries that other people have, that have been put in place for our safety by our parents, or that we impose upon ourselves. We question some, we obey others. We change them as our beliefs change. They come to represent who we are.
Boundaries can be good, but sometimes it is only by stretching ourselves beyond those limitations that we grow. Depending on how you look at it, boundaries can be limiting or they can free us from limitation.
We draw boundaries throughout our lives—ending a toxic friendship, walking away from an abusive relationship, getting divorced, quitting substance abuse, or simply knowing “when to say when.” We draw a line in the sand, a point beyond which there is no turning back.
In business, the line can be tricky. Perhaps it’s a poorly performing employee who must be fired, an abusive boss, a miserable job, or in more extreme cases, blowing the whistle on illegal activity. Sometimes we may not even realize we’ve drawn the line. Other times, we may want to say enough is enough, but our lives, our homes, and our families are dependent upon our jobs and the mighty paycheck. We wish we could draw the line, but life isn’t that simple. There are responsibilities. There are risks.
This week I drew a very important line in the sand. I reached a point beyond which I would go no farther in one direction, and I decided to move in a new one. Without a doubt, things will change. There is risk. It is something I’ve never done before. I am not a quitter, and when I drew this line I looked at my life and realized that I can do this.
But before I tell you about my line in the sand, I want to share with you a story from my old boss, Pat O’Horo, one of the most intelligent men I know, and one of the best people I have ever had the privilege of working with. Pat and I worked together for 10 years, and we went through a hell of a lot together.
In the 1970s, Pat was a professional musician and the manager of the Briar Hill Band. Constantly on the road, playing in bars all over the place, Pat was living his dream. But the music industry wasn’t (and still isn’t) as glamorous as it is portrayed. Being the manager meant you also had to be the bad guy. He was the guy that had to line up gigs, get the band on stage, chase down their money, and deal with all the responsibilities (and hassles) of managing a rock band. Sleeping in a van and waking up in random cities started to get tiring, and Pat realized that to become a professional meant that at some point you also had to sell out. There is a line between being an artist and being a successful artist. We all like to hold onto our ideals, but in life and in business there is compromise. Some artists can live with making those compromises, and some cannot.
After years on the road, Pat woke up one morning with a clear understanding that something in his life had to change. Pat described it to me as a moment when he said to himself, “I don’t know what it is that I want to do, but I know I am not doing this anymore.” That was the moment. That was his line in the sand.
Throughout the years that we worked together and in the years since, this decisive moment from Pat’s life has often chimed as a little voice in the back of my head. To make that statement, to draw that line in the sand, took heart, guts, and commitment. I often wished I was the kind of person to take that kind of risk in the name of self-preservation and happiness.
Well, I realize now that I am. The past three years of my life have been a rollercoaster of change; scary, enlightening, educating, painful, invigorating, frustrating, joyful. But most importantly, fulfilling and promising. I never considered myself a risk-taker, but I know now that I’ve been wrong. I am a risk taker, and I've come a long way, baby.
That’s all I’m going to share for now.
All I can tell you is that I don’t know what comes next. I just know it is something different.
This isn’t the last time you’ll hear about my line in the sand, I can promise that. Because it’s not the first line I’ve ever drawn, and I guess it’s really just another step in this thing we call life.
For now I want to know: what lines have you drawn in your life?