Too Much of a Good Thing

Gerwig 2016-03-16

Do you drink a cup of coffee in the morning? Or a pot? Well, since you asked, I’m more of a “pot” kinda guy. I didn’t even drink coffee until I was in my early twenties, though all the adults in my family drank it. But I didn’t like the way it tasted. And in my family, men drank it black. It was a “rule.” No cream. No sugar. I thought it was bitter and acidic. Yuck. Wow, how things have changed over the years!

One summer while in college, I was driving back and forth between Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina every weekend. I was working in Charleston during the week and driving home on the weekends to see my girlfriend (now wife of 30 years!) in Beaufort. I’d leave at 5am to make the drive and “punch in” by 7am. It felt like I was getting up in the middle of the night to make that weekly journey on Monday mornings. It was my dad who first suggested I take a cup of coffee with me to help me stay awake. And that’s how I started drinking coffee. Yes, strong and black as required!

Over the years, I’ve had coffee in many places around the globe. In Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and South America. I’ve enjoyed coffee on farms, in cities, in cars, in planes, on boats, around campfires, at work, at church, at the movies, while diving, working, playing, and meditating. I’ve had French Press, pour-over, drip, Chemex, percolator, instant, and made-in-a-sock coffee. But always, when given an opportunity, I’ve taken my coffee strong and black.

This past weekend my wife and I drove to Mystic, Connecticut. It was a classic “Sunday drive,” after church, and we headed there to eat lunch at a quaint Lebanese restaurant. At the end of our meal, I had a small pistachio cookie and some Turkish coffee. Strong and black. Just the way I like it! But after a few cups I noticed that I was feeling a bit light-headed, and I began to sweat, and my heart-rate increased, and I started feeling a bit nauseous. A bit of caffeine poisoning? Perhaps…I drank some water, focused on my breathing (nice and slow, in and out) and walked away from the last bit of coffee. Soon, I was feeling better.

On the way home I started to think about whether you can experience “too much of a good thing.” And while some may disagree, I think you can. At least most of the time. For example, your favorite food or drink experienced in excess can make you sick, drunk, or fat. A brownie? No problem. 100 brownies. Problem. A glass of wine. No problem. A case of wine. Problem. What about emotions and feelings? Does love taken to the extreme become obsession? Does caution taken to the extreme become paralyzing fear? You get the idea.

Now I can honestly say that I’ve never been loved too much or been respected too much. But that doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be negative consequences in the extreme. At some level would being respected in the extreme lead to pride and arrogance? Would being loved too much lead to self-centeredness?
While some of this dialogue may seem theoretical or abstract, there are practical implications. Think about it.

Most organizations and people who are truly world-class do 1 thing (or a couple) really well. But they can’t simply ignore other areas. For example, what if a store was known for its excellent customer service? In fact, imagine they were the best in the world. Would they stay in business if they ignored their financials? No. … Now imagine a fitness guru who was obsessed with exercise and nutrition. What would happen if their diet consisted of only one “superfood” (e.g. blueberries)? Would their fitness increase or decrease? What about a parent who focused on their child to the exclusion of their spouse? While the child might excel at school and extracurricular activities, other relationships within the family would suffer which, in turn, would negatively hurt the child.

There’s a reason why you’ve heard sayings like, “all things in moderation.” There’s a reason why corporations promote “balanced” scorecards. We live in a world, in an environment, where resources aren’t unlimited. We live in a constrained world. Money and food and clean water aren’t unlimited. Things, in some manner or another, are allocated because they’re finite. They’re constrained.

Great leaders make great choices. And while they may focus on an area (such as customer service) on which they’ll establish their reputation, they know they can’t ignore other areas such as financial health. Stability requires balance. Sustainable systems require some form of equilibrium.

Go ahead and pick an area in which to be great, but don’t ignore other areas if you want to stick around for the long-run. Eat a brownie, but don’t eat 100. Drink a cup of coffee, but don’t throw down a pot of espresso. Buy a new dress, but don’t spend your entire paycheck on clothes. Invest in your 401k, but leave some money on which to enjoy life.

What about you? Are you in balance? Are you stable? Do you play and work at the extremes? Have you ever experience too much of a good thing?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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