December 7, 2015
Every morning, my wife and I take our little dog, Olive (okay, she’s more of a barking rodent than a dog, but still technically a canine) for a walk. She’s on a leash. And each morning, we walk by a 130-pound Rottweiler (Samson), who barks furiously at her. Samson is locked in a yard with a very (thankfully) secure fence. He barks because of canine instincts, to protect his home, or because he has nothing better to do … whatever motivates a big huge dog to bark at a tiny little dog. Olive responds by lunging toward Samson, stretching the leash (secretly hoping we never let go, I believe) and acting for all the world as if she would attack if released from the restrictive bounds of leashdom. And every morning, the same question runs through my head. Which of the two animals has more freedom? I’ve never seen Samson being walked or even in the front yard, so, to the best of my knowledge, he has spent his life in a beautiful, secured, 1/2-acre-plus backyard. A kept dog, if you will. Olive is restricted to an 8-foot leash but is able to walk up and down the road, which I imagine looks tantalizing to Samson. But, philosophically, which dog has more freedom? And this morning, it hit me. I haven’t been asking that question about Samson and Olive, but rather about myself. I have a direct parallel to the debate in my life. I own my own company, which after 30 years has afforded me many freedoms — both financially and in relation to time. I am grateful for the opportunities and understand that things can change quickly, especially in the world of small-business ownership. However, for now, it is the life that I and many other small-business owners are able to lead. But, at the same time, I am locked into the company, with little to no flexibility. I’m getting close to the finish line but, realistically, I can’t leave. As a service business that’s almost completely reliant upon long-term business and community relationships, my company is neither portable (able to move out of state), nor ready to survive me leaving. Gilded cage or not, it is a cage and one of my own making. Again, I am in no way complaining, just assessing and comparing. My staff on the other hand, can leave any time (as long as they give two weeks notice!) and move on to a new job, a new career, a new city. I certainly hope they stay, and as a company, employee retention is high on our list of priorities. But nonetheless, with three quarters of my staff under 30 years of age, it is not reasonable to think they will all stay with Mustang until they retire. And while I imagine some of the “freedoms” I have look pretty good to my staff, most of whom are in the early to mid part of their careers, sometimes their freedoms look pretty good to me as well. It may be a case of the “grass is always greener,” but I don’t think it is — because I’m pretty happy with my situation. If I could go back thirty years and be sitting on the cusp of the decision I made to start my company — and I knew everything that would happen over the next 30 years — I would make the same decision. Granted, if afforded the opportunity, there are a couple of things I would change over the past three decades. But in the aggregate, I would take that deal. It does, however, leave me wondering … are all freedoms relative? Do we sometimes trade some “freedom to” for some “freedom from?” And, if that’s the case, is it a bad thing? As Kris Kristofferson said, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Maybe Kris was right. Perhaps you reach a point in your career, or in life, where a little contentment, a little luxury and a bit of security begin to outweigh the thrill associated with risk. Or, have I simply gotten really used to and really comfortable with my “yard” and am happy to wile away the last few years, as long as someone lets me occasionally bark at a passing dog?