January24

Groundhog Day

By Tony Shepley

Groundhog Day is coming up next week on February 2nd. I got an invitation to give a talk to the senior class at my son’s college on that very day. As soon as I checked the date to see if it worked, I knew what I was going to speak about. I started thinking about late adolescence and early adulthood. For most of us, it’s a confusing time. At that age it is easy to be all wound up, with no idea of where to go. It is common to feel quite pressured. After all in three months, you’re going to graduate. Then you have to decide what you will be….for the rest of your life. Just the thought of all this and the family pressure to choose a career is unnerving. At that age, I found myself welling over with impatience. I wanted to get life underway and just couldn’t wait. I was so impatient, I couldn’t even tell you what I was impatient about. I was also so impatient, I could barely pay attention.

A good friend of my parents’ sat me down for a man-to-man conversation. He could sense my level of adolescent turmoil. He asked what I was feeling, and I really didn’t have an answer except to tell him of my impatience. He asked me if I understood what impatience really meant. He said impatience was actually a stall tactic. I told him that made no sense because I was more eager to get things done than anyone I knew. He asked me to explain what I was actually accomplishing. He said my impatience made me look more like a bull, snorting and pawing the ground. He told me I was making noise, but going nowhere. He gave me some great advice that took me the next few years to begin to figure out. If I were serious about getting something done….then I should stop talking and fretting about it and start actually doing it. Find a beginning, make a first step, then a next. It was a light bulb moment, though the bulb took a while to come on.

Groundhog Day is a Canadian and American tradition derived from a Pennsylvania Dutch superstition that if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day and sees its own shadow due to clear skies, it will retreat and spend another six weeks in hibernation as winter will persist. If the groundhog does not see its shadow due to cloudiness, it means that Spring is supposed to arrive early. Actual studies have shown there is no correlation between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the arrival time of Spring, but how convenient to link Mother Nature’s time table to a single event. The kids in the senior class to whom I will be speaking to are just a few months away from graduating from college. Graduation can feel a bit like groundhog day, a big moment in your life, but you may not feel in control of the moment. If it’s any comfort, you can relax, the rest of your life doesn’t hinge on that moment. Your graduation is just the continuation of a series of your life’s events. Just like your birthday, it’s only another day, but we have attached an extra ceremony to it. The same goes for a bad day at work. Whether you see your shadow won’t predict your future. Everything in our life simply leads to other things. What I started to learn about my impatience was that it was not so important what happened as how I reacted to what happened in my life. Even when I could not control what happened, it was still my choice as to how I reacted to what happened to me. Did I learn from my mistakes or did I just beat myself up for making them? Did I choose to move past misfortune or did I simply wallow in it. Little did I know that in my early 20’s I was starting to prepare myself for business. I had started playing in rock bands and learning about dealing with booking agents, club managers, musicians, and occasional quirky members of the audience. I learned about being in the people business. Today I run a business. We employ 160 really exceptional people whom I genuinely enjoy. I couldn’t have told you that Rock and Roll would lead to this. The best part of the story is that as a 25 year old, I decided to start this business from scratch with a partner, no money, and no experience. I had to make the choice to stop playing music for a living and to concentrate on building this business. It was one of many groundhog moments. It put me on a different path that led me to today. The day after these seniors graduate, they will be on a different path too. They will be tempted to boil life down to the simplicity of shadow or no shadow. They will be tempted to employ the stall tactic of impatience. They will be successful if they look beyond what the groundhog sees and they’ll be successful if they learn how to put their impatience to work. So will we. We’re never too old to learn!

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