A Short Story to Transform Wishes into Work
Kevin Turtle began the day as he had every other day for the last two years, by dreading to get up. Each morning he faced the same dilemma. How would he accomplish everything he felt he had to, knowing nearly none of it was what he wanted to work on? He had heard people he admired speak of balance between work and life. He liked the idea but hated the phrase, work-life balance. He did not stop living when he went to work, although he often did feel brain dead. With all the little things he had to do to make everything run smoothly, ‘life’ sure felt like work. That’s what made getting up so hard. But he did — every day.
He never hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. It went off, and he got up, even though he didn’t want to. He would shave and shower without fail and do all the morning routine things like clockwork. His morning commute was methodical too. He knew the best roads to take to get to work faster. If his timing was off and he got stuck at a red light, it risked ruining the rest of his morning. Luckily, he usually had an alternative route, so he was never delayed for long. He took pride in getting to work early, even though it was hard to do, and he didn’t want to. He always got to where he had to be with time to spare.
On this day, however, he had to go someplace different. His work was holding a conference off-site. He called it a Rah-Rah Conference. They held them twice a year, once in the first quarter, to get everyone psyched up, and again in the middle of the year. The second meeting, he observed, was to remind everyone that they had committed to staying psyched and that they were failing in their commitment. Even though it was mid-March, this was the beginning of the year Rah-Rah Conference, and it made Kevin Turtle break out in hives.
He didn’t like rah-rah people; corporate mercenary cheerleaders who didn’t care or didn’t even know what team they were on. These booster club wannabes were bubbly and held bright white, million-dollar smiles, which is probably what they paid for them. He didn’t trust Pollyanna personalities. In his world, the glass was half empty because someone drank his half. In his world, smiles were upside-down frowns because faceless bullies were holding him up by his legs and collecting change that dropped from his pockets. Clouds never had silver linings; they held droplets of cold water, or hail, which would inevitably pelt him when he was least prepared.
It wasn’t always like this for him. He wasn’t born a pessimist. Instead, he would argue he was a “trust-but-verify” realist. He often told people to be realistically optimistic. Some nodded and considered him a sage man, full of wisdom. The Pollyanna People of the world pitied him.
He grabbed a cup of coffee from the cart outside the conference hall and left a two-dollar tip. The coffee cart guy didn’t acknowledge his gesture. Kevin was not a give-to-get kind of man, but when he did give, he liked to be recognized. He was tempted to pull his two dollars back out of the tip jar. Maybe he would take a few more and call it a reverse tax on rudeness. His work friends had arrived and ushered him into the conference hall before he did anything rash.
The room was set up with dozens of tables, and he thought it looked more like a wedding reception than a business conference. There were ten chairs per table, each with neatly aligned little notebooks and pens. Piles of brightly-colored toys spewed from the middle of each table, like unicorn vomit. Small rubber balls, big-eyed squishy toys, and bendable figurines stood at the ready for those with short attention spans or people prone to boredom. He had seen this before and was told they were for kinesthetic learners. He never understood the fuss. He would have preferred being given a book to read and call it a day. At least with a book, he could bring it into the bathroom with him and get two things done at once. Kevin Turtle was an efficient man.
On the top of the hour, music played a string of hits from the 1980s that were cheery, infectious, and got even the most resistant to sway in their chairs. Kevin tapped his toes, almost in time to the beat. He knew he was the guy always just a little bit off with his sense of rhythm, so he didn’t usually participate in dancing or even clapping to a song. He hated events like this. It reminded him of the Hollywood game shows he had been dragged to watch in the past; the kind that depicts the audience hyped up, smiling and clapping like wild fools. Producers of these programs sat him in the back row while the warm-up act urged everyone to smile and keep smiling while the camera was on them. It felt so fake and forced on Kevin Turtle’s face that it would physically hurt him to sustain it. These Rah-Rah Conferences were like that. He recalled the red light on top of the studio camera that signaled it was on. He saw no difference between that and the glare of upper management. He knew he would have to paint a look of enthusiasm on his face whenever they glanced in his direction. It was showtime.
A gray-haired speaker came out onto the stage and received applause. He wore a suit and no tie, which seemed to be the uniform for these types of speakers. The music stopped, and he shouted, “Who’s ready to have their best year ever?”
The participants cheered, like sheep, Kevin Turtle thought.
“That’s kinda sad,” she speaker said.
This piqued Kevin Turtle. That’s different, he thought.
“How many of you are married?” the speaker asked.
About half of the room raised their hands.
“Wasn’t the year you got married the best year of your life?”
Some clapped, and some murmured.
“How many of you have been divorced?” he asked.
The same number of hands but a different mix went up.
“Wasn’t that the best year of your life?”
Some laughed, and a few clapped.
“How many have young kids in the house? Don’t you think these are the best years of your life? Or theirs?”
Some in the audience smiled knowingly.
“How about those with older kids, finally out of the house, how’s your year been?”
A few cheered.
The speaker smiled. “What about money? Will it take more money for you to have the best year of your life?
“Yes!” Someone shouted.
“How much more?” the speaker asked.
The speaker grinned. “Be specific. Will it take twenty dollars more, or twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand? Do you know?”
The audience shifted in their seats. Kevin had never thought about it. He had been making enough money to cover the basics of life, and he was a good saver. After all, he kept putting off his dreams, so he didn’t spend much.
“What is this, ‘is this the best year of your life’ crap? Does that mean all the remaining ones will suck? Is that what you want?”
People chuckled, including Kevin. He did not want any more sucky years.
“Maybe some of you worry that you’ve already peaked. Now you’re just coasting, afraid you’ll get discovered. I can’t promise you your best year ever, no one can. Even you can’t. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, and that can be scary. It can also be exciting.”
“I don’t like magic wands much,” the speaker continued. “The ones I’ve tried never seem to work. In theory, they’re pretty cool. Imagine what you want and just wish it into being. But it doesn’t work that way. Wishing is great, it’s emotional and easy,” he said. He pointed out toward the sea of tables. “Write down a wish on the notebook in front of you. Write the first one that comes to you, and just like with birthday cakes or fountains, you should keep it to yourself, but I do want you to write it down,” he instructed.
Kevin Turtle wrote. ‘Be Happy’ in his notebook.
“Imagine what you want and just wish it into being,” the speaker said. “No good, right?”
A few people chortled.
“Imagine what you want and just work it into being … that’s different, right?”
“Some people have grand wishes. World peace. Cure cancer. Bring back grandpa. Make a million or a billion dollars. Others have something different like, get a new car, or start a new business, or to love again.” The speaker folded his arms. “It doesn’t matter; it’s their wishes. You can sit back and wish and wish and wish. There’s no effort in it at all.” His voice lowered and turned mournful. “Some of you have been wishing for a long time,” he said, “and now when you think about your wish, it makes you sad because it hasn’t been granted yet, and you feel like your prayers haven’t been answered. You feel neglected, unworthy, and maybe bitter. A little mad at the world, your family, your God? A.B.Y., Anyone But You.” He paced the stage. “One of the happiest moments in life is when a wish first crosses your mind. You say to yourself, ‘Oooo, there’s something I want.’ One of the sadder things is when a big wish goes unfulfilled … over a lifetime. We like to assign blame in this world, so who’s fault is it?”
The audience was silent for a moment.
“Congress,” someone shouted. It broke the uncomfortable tension, and the speaker laughed.
“That’s easy and tempting,” he said, “But no. It’s your wish. It’s your fault. Look at your wish again and remember this; imagine what you want and work it into being. How can you do that?” the speaker asked.
Kevin Turtle glanced at his notebook. Be Happy. He had no idea.
The speaker shed some light. “Write down three or five ideas of how you can work your wish into being. I’m going to assume you’re confident people. This isn’t for people who don’t have faith in their talents and abilities. This is for people who know how to form a thought and act on that thought. What are the things you can do to take action, today, before you go to sleep tonight, to get started turning your wish into something better than a wish? How can you start turning it into reality?”
Kevin listed the numbers one through five under his wish, Be Happy. His pen froze.
The speaker cautioned the audience. “If you’re afraid of failure, this isn’t for you because you will likely fail once or twice. You’ll need to decide if that failure is a temporary setback, or if you are going to let it define the rest of your year or your lifetime. I don’t want you to have your best-year-ever this year. I want you to have a damn good year, one you’re proud of. And then next year, do it again, plus a little more, and then again and again.”
Kevin stared at his notebook and the words, Be Happy. The letters on the page looked bold and vibrant and seemed to grow bigger before his eyes. In the past, his wishes were disposable, like so many pennies thrown in a fountain. He wasn’t sure what would let him be happy. His thoughts drifted to his daughter and his wife and how he had been taking them for granted and neglecting them. He knew there was no happiness in his job. Too many hours spent on moving papers, and numbers, and product he didn’t like. It wasn’t adding anything to his life except regular money. It would be irresponsible to leave that, right? He thought again of his daughter, and the school plays he had missed. The birthday party he was late for. Wasn’t that more irresponsible?
He had gotten used to saying “Next time” to his family. “Next time, we’ll go out to dinner.” Next time we’ll go to Disneyland.” “Next time, I’ll make it, I promise.” These declarations held their disappointment at bay. It occurred to him that if he kept on saying next time, every time, eventually, he might run out of times. How many times would his baby girl have a birthday celebration where she wanted him there before she started growing up and would prefer him not to be there? How many anniversaries with the person who committed to putting up with him could he forget before putting up with him becomes unbearable?
“You need to know your risk tolerance in life,” the speaker continued.
“Everyone is slightly different. You may be conservative and play it safe, or you may act by the seat of your pants and try something new when the whim strikes you. Look at your wish and ask how long have you had it?”
“Too long,” Kevin Turtle mumbled.
“If it’s been a long time, I’d suggest doing the opposite of what you’ve been doing and see if that moves you any closer. It may not, but at least then you’ll know. You need to be reasonably optimistic. You’re smart. Trust yourself and invest in you.”
Work had provided some successes for Kevin Turtle, but they were occasional exclamation points in his life, not chapters. Certainly not chapters he wanted to write about. There were other things, bigger things. He closed his notebook and stood.
The speaker looked at him and winked. “Take action to make what you want and what you imagine, into being, and then you will have a great year.”
That afternoon, Kevin hugged his young family the tightest he’s ever hugged them. At bedtime, he set his alarm, just as he had every night, but this time he was excited to wake up and start his life.
- Write down your wish.
- How long have you had this wish?
- Imagine what you want and work it into being.
- Have faith in your talents and abilities.
- List 3-5 ideas on how you can work what you want into being.
- Try doing the opposite of what you’ve been doing.
- What can you take action on before you go to bed tonight?
- Give yourself permission to fail a few times before you succeed.
- Be brave.
Make Your Own Great Year!
Karl Bimshas Consulting helps busy entrepreneurs and executives to manage better and lead well.