I recently finished reading Howard Schultz’s book Onward. It is a fascinating look inside the business of Starbucks. Schultz takes the reader through the troubling period in Starbuck’s history when he felt compelled to take back the CEO position of the company he founded many years after leaving that post. Starbucks unbeknownst to many outside observers went through a period where its survival was on the line. Mr. Schultz felt compelled to come back and fight for his company and Onward is the interesting look at that journey back from the edge.
As Mr. Schultz started to analyze his company he found one major flaw in its structure. Along the way to becoming the biggest coffee shop in the world, they had forgotten that connection between people and a cup of coffee. The cup of coffee to many represented a time for human connection. They had grown so concerned with double-digit growth that they had started to embrace practices that were more focused on the bottom line than what had made them great. It was their place in the human race as a conduit for human interaction that had made them great. Unfortunately in life the pursuit of a success can also leave us lost and forgetting what has always made us special to God. Our humanity.
We live in a society that lauds excess. Success for many tends to be determined by the size of the house we live in, what kind of car we drive, or the brand of our clothes. We will spend endless hours chasing these things in the hope that along the way someone will notice and validate our existence by showing envy or at least acknowledging our achievements.
I am finding that the trap in judging my life by the size and quantity of my possessions is soul-stealing.
I find myself in another moment of introspection. As I move solidly in middle age am I still able to connect with my soul? Do I still have contact with the part of my heart that knows my purpose for living? Have I fallen into the trap of trying to just live a bigger life and neglected the part of me that makes me a good person whether I’m rich or poor? Am I only able to judge my life a success because of possessions, or is there a measurable way that I can see value for my life by the good I’m leaving behind?
These are not easy questions. Much as a company like Starbucks had to find its heart again, maybe today you also need to find yours. When was the last time you really looked at the life your building and honestly assessed its value to something besides your own personal gain?
We have so little time in this life to leave a measurable impact. History leaves us with many examples of impactful lives. The common thread is not riches or wealth but impact on humanity. There have been countless rich people throughout history who we will never remember but names such as Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even modern names such as Bill and Melinda Gates will in history’s eye be remembered for their connection to mankind.
Your circle of influence may never measure the size of any of these people but do not be deceived into missing your opportunity to make an impact. Rarely in our world’s history has there been such the urgent need for compassion and kindness to rise up within us. Yes we come to the rescue of those when disasters hit on epic levels, but there are human tragedies being played out all around you if you will open your eyes.
How many children would sleep easier if a parent hugged them today and told them how proud they were of them? I wonder how much the self-esteem of a wife would grow today if her husband would find something to compliment her about. Or maybe a husband would feel like a man if thanked for his efforts and not always criticized for his shortcomings. Maybe you could call your parents just to say hi or commit to be the friend that you yourself have always wished you had.
It’s these connections with each other that are the true sign of a significant life. All the things of the world will fade but the memories we hold of the people we have impacted last far past our lifetime. That is why we have to work so hard to make sure the impact is for good.
Sometimes I get lost in my life. The pressures of living get intense. It’s during those moments that middle age has given me the insight to slow down for a moment and look inside myself and make sure I can still see a me that I’m not embarrassed for the world to know.
What Mr. Schultz discovered as he dug into the reasons for Starbuck’s failings was that as Starbucks grew it lost its soul. No matter how big something looks on the outside without its heart it is only a matter of time before cracks in the surface start to show. It is a lesson that I believe is also vital to living a successful and abundant life. A big life is not about how immense your possessions become but how deep your relationships grow to be.