Eric Sinoway was a classmate of mine at Cornell University and I’m so excited to share that his book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work , will be on sale tomorrow (10/2/12). Based on conversations and interactions that occurred over the past six years, the book is Eric’s attempt to preserve “what had almost been lost” when Harvard Business School icon Howard Stevenson suffered a near-fatal heart attack – Stevenson’s lessons for planning a life’s work. In Eric’s words, he believes this book will help Type-A personalities move beyond money and power as the traditional arbiters of success. A Type-A myself, I can appreciate the sentiment.
As a change agent, constantly working with people to help them create their best life possible, I wanted to get Eric’s personal perspective on change.
Have you had to go through any major changes in your life that were difficult? Howdid you deal with it?
It was at 4 in the morning during my wife’s 25th week of pregnancy that her water broke and my life was upended like never before.
The normalcy of my existence – balancing work and a young family – was completely shattered. When we were brought into the emergency room after the longest 30 minutes of my life, we were soberly told five things. First, our unborn child weighed less than a pound and a half. Second, on average, in this circumstance, the baby is typically born in 5 – 7 days. Third, there was nothing that the doctors could do medically to keep the baby inside. Fourth, my wife, Jennifer, would be on bed-rest 24 hours a day until the baby did come. And, finally, fifth, we were told this: we would not be going home until the baby was born.
So, beginning that first day, Jennifer and I moved into Morristown Memorial Medical Center in northwestern New Jersey. Every element of our lives had changed in a single day. Our home became that hospital room – our focus became one thing, and one thing only: passing time so that our unborn child could continue to develop.
Miraculously, inexplicably, Jennifer made it for 61 days before giving birth to our second child Michael at 34 weeks gestational age. The doctors called it a minor miracle. How did I deal with it? First, I immediately made the only decision that seemed reasonable, which was to drop everything and focus on Jennifer and the unborn baby. I didn’t go into my office a single time, and, instead, worked remotely from our hospital room. Second, we decided to focus on increments of time that seemed achievable, which in our case were single days. Every day we focused on one thing, which wasn’t “how long” Jen could hold out – but on just making it 24 hours, just to the next day. Third, we were disciplined. We wouldn’t let ourselves think of the risks, wouldn’t allow our minds to wander to “what could happen.” We simply took each day one at a time and chose to be thankful when it passed.
What advice would you give to an individual who is struggling to make change?
What is the only way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Change often seems overwhelming. We set a goal for ourselves – but often this goal seems so out of reach, so hard to achieve, that we hesitate to even pursue. “What’s the point?” we ask ourselves when achieving our ultimate goal seems like a mountain too tall for us to climb.
The key to achieving change is to strive to achieve not immediate results but instant progress. Few goals worth achieving occur quickly. But like our elephant example above, the way to succeed in achieving change in any aspect of our lives – weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, or undertaking a new professional or personal goal – is to break the potentially overwhelming “whole” into digestible pieces . Take the first bite of the elephant. A small change – a “single bite” – extrapolated over long periods of time becomes a big change, the change for which you are striving.
Why are the principles of Entrepreneurship important for men and women (of all agesand in all sectors) looking to make change?
My former professor and dear friend, iconic Harvard professor Howard Stevenson, is the “father of entrepreneurship,” the man who literally coined the definition of the word itself. Howard defines entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control.” Being an entrepreneur is a mindset, a philosophy. You don’t have to start a company to be an entrepreneur. A teacher, a doctor, a scientist, or a stay at home parent can be an entrepreneur. Anyone can instigate change by embracing Howard’s famous definition of entrepreneurship – pursue opportunity beyond what it is that you currently have or control.