I don't throw the term "Zen" around too often, as I've been a Zen Buddhist practitioner for a long while. However, there are some parallels with specialty retail management and I wanted to share them. When you're running a specialty retail business, there is a lot of confusion. I get questions all the time from new store owners about the minutiae of running a store, which is endless, idiosyncratic and practically unknowable. There are stores that have predictable sales patterns, but for the most part every month has been an adventure for me, without a lot of obvious patterns to help plan through the chaos.
The same is true with Zen meditation, with a lot of working through chaos with no idea if there will be positive results. The faith in Buddhism is the faith there will be results to the work. The tree will bear fruit, one of an infinite number of agrarian metaphors. Sometimes you have a breakthrough and learn it was indicative but not important. One of my teachers referred to that as "walking by the garden." You're not in the garden, but you're garden adjacent. Good effort. Business can be the same way. You think you have success, but then the next month the whole thing falls apart. In Zen that's pretty typical, in business it makes you want to cry, especially when you see friends and families, employees, have a simple, predictable lifestyle. Life will never be simple or predictable again.
Eventually you have a legitimate breakthrough in business as in meditation, and how are you rewarded? That's right, with more work. You struggle again, thinking you'll never make it, you've hit your peak. You know what? You might be right. There's no guarantee you'll get anywhere, and it's a combination of effort and wisdom that gets you to the next level. If you have effort and no wisdom? You'll be there a long time, languishing. The good news is pain can provide wisdom, so there's always hope. I remember several years where I wished my business would just fail already, since it couldn't seem to plateau to the next level. But eventually it did, through persistent effort and continuing to try different things until I found success (wisdom).
If you are struggling now, more than likely you're working your way to that next plateau. If you think the work will be over soon, you're mistaken. You can certainly decide not to continue the climb, but everyone, at every level, is working to get a little further up that mountain. Even multi million dollar businesses are faced with plateaus and what to do next. The higher up you climb, the more costly the mistakes too.
The "beach house in Maui" is the example a Harvard Business School report described that final ascent. You have three options as you approach the summit: you can plug away, content in your success, you can risk it all on that final ascent, or you can distract yourself because you're clearly not one to be content. You plan to build a beach house in Maui. Or build a Jeep to travel the world. Or whatever else smart people with money do to distract themselves. The beach house in Maui is true at every level, although you might decide to stop because you finally bought a house or finally have a steady income for retirement savings. It's up to you to decide when you've had enough. You could work until the day you die, and increasingly I know those folks. Much of what's written about meditation practice is getting you to break through that complacent plateau. In business, you can always decide you're at a comfortable altitude.
Age is a big factor, as you spend ten, twenty, thirty years climbing that business peak, do you really have time to fix a mistake if it all crumbles? You're probably unemployable, either because you have no marketable skills or you're incapable of working for someone else. You have a mortgage and kids and college funds and retirement plans. You can do this until you've had enough. When is enough? Age and income is the answer. Do you have time to start another climb? Does it sound appealing? Without money, you gotta do something. Maybe just visit Maui and see if there are any lots for sale. I'm sure it won't lead to anything.
Finally, the "how do I know?" question, of whether you're in the garden or garden adjacent. A teacher as guide is helpful with a meditation practice. In business it's much easier to see the results. It's not hard. It's money in the bank. If you're sitting on a pile of money and wondering where you're at, you've probably plateaued. If you don't have a big pile of money, you're probably walking by the garden.
7 years ago