Bruce Case
Sharpe + Harrell Photography Bruce Case

A few years ago, my wife and I bought a large outdoor umbrella; the kind we thought we’d use every summer evening but that we actually use once or twice a year. One of those times was a couple of weeks ago and, wouldn’t you know it, the pull string on the opener broke.

It looked like a simple fix, so I quickly got to work. I measured the rope and noted one or two other missing parts, then jumped in the car and drove off to the neighborhood hardware store. After finding what I needed, I got in the checkout line.

No wallet. (Don’t laugh, because I know you’ve been there.) Everything had been working perfectly and then the train just stopped. Struggling to maintain momentum, I got back in the car, drove back to the house, found my wallet, jumped back in the car, drove back to the hardware store, waited in line again … ugh.

In a Good Place

Sometimes things don’t work out as planned; other times things just seem to work. I like being in that “happy/balanced” place, so I put some thought into what helps me get there.

Urgent vs. important. Sometimes important things are not urgent; other times, we have to drop everything and focus. Today’s quick-response, technology-addicted society can easily blur these characteristics, but making the distinction is critical to my “happy/balanced” place.

Level of control. The less control I have over a specific outcome, the more stressed I get. To counter that, I work hard to focus on what I can control and avoid spending energy (physical, emotional, or otherwise) on things I truly cannot control. I cannot control the economy or the regulatory environment, but I can control what our business does to prepare for and react to them as they change.

Embracing change. When I was fresh out of school, single, and renting a tiny studio apartment, my “happy/balanced” place was working 60 to 65 hours per week and drinking beer on the weekends. Today I am married and have a daughter, and I have a team of people relying on me to steer the company in the right direction. My “happy/balanced” place is a little different now, and it will change again down the road.

Sometimes we are productive; other times we forget our wallets. Sometimes we can keep the big picture clear in our vision; other times we worry about the mule going blind. But as long as we distinguish between what is urgent and what is important, focus on what we can control, and reevaluate as conditions change, we are more apt to find that “happy/balanced” place. (And the umbrella is working again.) —Bruce Case is president of Case Design/Remodeling, in Bethesda, Md.  

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