Several years ago I asked a friend and former senior executive at Markinor, a market research firm, how they came to a single-word mission statement.
Sylvia recounted the following short story, which I paraphrase from memory.
One evening during a private school board meeting she asked one of the members, a dairy farmer from Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal, what or who he credited for turning his near bankrupt farm into a profitable one. She expected any variety of business-type responses, from restructuring to equipment upgrade to marketing. His response surprised her, as I’m sure it will you – and as it did me.
He said, “I tried this and that for a period of time, yet my multi-focused, fix-it management approach only heightened my personal anxiety and stress, leaving unchanged the farm’s dire financial bottom-line.”
Frustration, anxiety and despondency miraculously gave way one day, like a fog dissipating as the sun rises, when he came to the realization that most variables were beyond his control, including weather, drought, market prices, insect infestation, disease, and consumer demand.
One thing, however, was largely under his control . . . grass.
He then began to focus time and effort on his pastures. Before long, he told Sylvia, his cows were producing record quantity and quality of milk, and the secondary result was a healthy profit margin.
A frequent personal challenge of mine these days is focus. After two and a half years of full-time managing our home for three active, school age girls, plus weekly volunteering in client rights at a state mental health hospital, all while my wife completes her advanced practice nursing studies, leaves little time and energy for what is always foremost, yet of necessity, on the back burner of my mind – re-engagement of a full-time job search. Each day’s challenge is identifying the “one thing” that most requires my attention.
When I hear any “one thing” kind of story, I am always reminded of a line in the movie City Slickers.
Perhaps you, too, identify with Mitch’s (Billy Crystal) near state of emotional frazzled-ment, which in effect, pushed him away from work, home, family and city, in a one last-ditch effort to find an inner sense of peace and fulfillment on a dude cattle drive.
One day rough and scary trail boss, Curly (Jack Palance) asks Mitch “Do you know what the secret of life is?”
Mitch replies, “No, what?”
Curly holds his index finger up and Mitch says, “What? Your finger?”
Curly responds, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”
Mitch says, “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?”
Curly answers, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.”
I hope this story of a dairy farmer focusing on his grass can be a visual motivation and priority reminder as you live out each day.
Perhaps if you’re successful in identifying and tending to that one important variable in your life, job, business, marriage, child-rearing or studies, it will – like the dairy farmer – have far-reaching and positive secondary results in other areas as well.