Growing up in small town North Carolina during the height of the national cigarette smoking binge, cigarettes were everywhere. My mother didn’t start smoking until she was 39. For the first time in her adult life she had some disposable income and it was the cool thing to do. She took the habit to her grave.
My father smoked cigars until the dentist said the white spots in his mouth and throat were from smoking those things. He quit smoking them and started just chewing them. He was never far from an appealing, chunk of wet brown tobacco that he’d stuff between his lips and teeth. That habit cost him his life.
Both of my older siblings smoked, as did my best friend when he was about 14. I quickly followed. When I came back to the family business at 27, I was still smoking. I didn’t hide it but I didn’t do it too publicly; I was ashamed of the stinking habit. Dad and I talked about smoking and quitting one day when we were playing golf. It was clear he wanted me to quit, but he didn’t press it.
He told me that when I’d had polio as a child of 7-8 years, he’d made a pact with God. He prayed that if I would be delivered from crippling, deformity or a life in an iron lung, he would quit drinking and dedicate his life to one of service. I was delivered and he kept his promise to his God. He became a very sober and generous man. For him giving up anything was a matter of moving toward something else.
I have repeatedly asked myself since that conversation nearly 40 years ago, What am I moving toward? Most of the time my response has been muted and unsure. Generally I form some vague thought about how I want things to be different, but rarely do I focus my clear, undivided intention on it. Without that, it has no energy to grow. Simply moving away from something unwanted doesn’t cut it; we humans have to have something to move toward.
When I talk with a business owner client about retirement and succession I often say, “Unless you have something to move toward, leaving the business is not going to happen.” As a friend of mine said about his father, “He retired to Scotch.” Sorry, but that’s just not a sufficient ambition.
What do I want to move toward? What will make me focus my intention in such a way as to actually move in the direction I know is best? The trick is to move away from negative behavior and toward the more positive, while the consequences are not too severe. It really is a matter of turning from the door that has closed, see the new door, open it and follow that less traveled road.