Today’s post is the featured article from the November 2007 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.
This month, I am going to risk sounding old — well, at least, old-fashioned! But I think the truth is — I am a long ways from old-fashioned. Nostalgic, yes — old fashioned, no! I see old-fashioned as the reluctance to change. Nostalgic is about savoring the substance of the past. You might think I’m splitting hairs on this. Maybe. But hang with me as I think there is a point to be made!
On November 17th, I posted a blog about the demise of the oversized “Zenith” sign that had been a landmark on my regular route to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The sign proclaimed one of the most famous slogans in corporate history — The quality goes in before the name goes on. In my blog, I mentioned how much I would miss seeing this large metal piece of history. Shelley, one of my readers, responded with the following: I find it amazing how much we hold onto from the past, wanting so much for life to be the way it was. God’s plans are for the better — besides, my memories of Zenith have nothing to do with quality — what a difference a generation makes. And she was absolutely correct. There is a tendency for many to live in the past — and some people live their whole life there. A reflective perspective typically rolls out with — those were the good ol’ days! We seem to always remember them better than they really were. We tend to remember the good things of the past and focus on the challenges of the present. Maybe the challenges of the past fade away because we survived them — or we failed, but lived through them.
I am not advocating living in the past. I love the present and have great hope for the future. But I do think we have become addicted to whatever is new — whatever is the latest and currently the greatest. And it may very well be undermining our ability to create enduring companies, cultures and relationships for the future.
But “new” better watch-out because next month “new” will be “old” and “old” will be out. My mother-in-law grew up in the depression. As a result, she talks about today’s “disposable generation”. You can see it in music. Books are considered irrelevant if not published in the last few months. Ideas ripen and rot faster than fruit. It is a by-product of the exponentially increasing speed in which we have come to move. It is the numbness that is created in the midst of significant change in constant motion. We live on the surface of life addicted to the thrilling ride of a jet-ski … but missing the adventure of a scuba diver. I think we are evolving into a frightening habit of here today and gone tomorrow. When we come to have no use for what has been — it may be only a matter-of-time until we no longer value what is new. Even the new will simply be temporary and insignificant. Change begins to happen simply for the sake of change.
I only offer this as observation — not as “heady” philosophical brain candy to chew on, but rather because I think it has everything to do with the substance of the culture in a company and the depth of relationships in our lives. Shelley was right in her response to my blog. A life lived in the past is wasted. The past isn’t meant to be lived in. It is meant to be learned from. I’m not talking about going back to the past — but rather about bringing, from the past, what is worthy to live on in the future.
We will soon bring closure to another calendar year. It is a natural opportunity for reflection, recommitment and new beginnings. One question worth pondering might be — are you investing your time, energy and resources into something that is worthy of endurance or are you simply living the latest “flavor-of-the-month”? Those who don’t cherish the endurable things of the past are the least likely to invest in creating enduring things for the future. In the end, a dose of reality will tell you that all you can do is plant the seeds of a legacy. The rest is beyond your control. Those who follow will decide if they will water, fertilize and cultivate your seeds. It seems like the golden rule might apply here. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Whose seeds of the past are you cultivating?