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Tensions were high on September 26, 1983 between the United States and the Soviet Union. By May of 1981 the Soviet Union was convinced the United States was preparing for a first strike nuclear attack due to the rhetoric of President Reagan. Further fanning the fire was the Soviet military downing of a South Korean commercial airliner. Except for the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world was never closer to nuclear annihilation; the only difference is that during the Cuban Missile Crisis people knew how close they were to disaster; in 1983 the world knew tensions were high, but seemed blissfully unconcerned.
Stanislav Petrov agreed to fill in as commander for his friend on September 26, 1983 at Serpukhov-15 of the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces. His job was to watch for a surprise nuclear attack from the United States and her NATO allies. The United States had promised to install 108 Pershing II nuclear missiles along the Soviet border (they did in late November 1983) which could strike Soviet targets within ten minutes of launch and of which the Soviet Union had no defenses against.
The Soviet leadership was convinced the United States was waiting for any opportunity to launch a full-scale nuclear attack. Under this heightened tension the alarms blared shortly after midnight on September 26, 1983 at the Serpukhov-15 facility. The early warning satellite system reported one in-bound missile! Everyone in the room started screaming at Stanislav to launch a full scale nuclear attack against Western Europe and the United States.
Stanislav, the substitute for the evening at the early warning detection center charged with launching a retaliatory nuclear strike should the Soviet Union be attacked, hesitated. Something was not right. The whole room demanded his attention at once increasing the risk he would make a critical error in judgment at the worst possible time.
Only one missile? Stanislav thought. If the U.S. launched a nuclear attack they would send hundreds in an attempt to disable the retaliatory capabilities of the Soviet defenses. It had to be a false alarm.
Soviet radar could not see beyond the horizon to confirm if the missiles were real. The clock was ticking. A wrong decision would cost billions their lives. Then the alarm sounded again! More missiles were on the way. The number was still small, but rumors abound of U.S. stealth technology and President Reagan’s Star Wars Defense Shield. Are there close to ten missiles on the way or hundreds cloaked behind stealth technology? Stanislav held the fate of the world in his hands.
Not a single person in the room other than Stanislav was willing to wait; the button had to be pushed now! Stanislav knew the satellite warnings periodically gave false reports. Something was not right about the scenario. He decided it was a false alarm and did not end the world due to misguided information and the constant demands of those around him to act impetuously.
How would you respond to the situation Stanislav faced? What about handling a group of people all demanding your attention at work or from family members? There is not much difference; only the consequences are. As you grow as a person more and more people will want a piece of your time, a piece of you. Do you succumb to the incessant demands and allow non-stop interruptions to force you to push the button?
When you are ill you want to see the doctor. You reluctantly tolerate the nurse gathering your vitals. You want the top dog to do everything and fix what ails you. No one else will do.
The wife and kids all have something to tell you the moment you walk in the door. At the most exhausted part of your day the people you love most unload on you. Do you ever get a break?
Your car has been serviced by the mechanic three times now and it keeps breaking down. You bought this vehicle less than a year ago brand new and you want the damn thing to start working. Only the best mechanic will do at this point. Actually, you want the boss to do it personally.
Closing the Door
When crisis threatened civilization, Stanislav mentally closed the door and refused to hear the chatter of demands around him. In a crowded room of hysterical people demanding action, he was able to close the door of his mind and think the problem through clearly. He knew the attack did not make sense. A few missiles would only invite mutually assured destruction in a counter attack. What later proved to be sunlight reflecting off the top of high clouds almost started World War III. It was a clear mind that allowed Stanislav to make the right decision during the most important moment of his life.
Demands and interruptions will occur. It always comes in groups. Google Analytics allows me to see traffic on this blog real-time. You would be amazed how clumpy the traffic is. Late at night when I have not published a new post for hours or even during the day the traffic will cluster in small areas. Literally the traffic will pile up from a select number of small towns. Traffic is never smooth. How do people know when other people are online reading this blog? They don’t. Life just works that way. As the Morton Salt container has said since 1911, “When it rains it pours.” The demands never come in a single file orderly manner.
Business owners and landlords know this only too well. If something breaks down in one rental, there are sure to be more simultaneous crises from the viewpoint of additional tenants. Even if you only have two rental units there are times both units demand attention at once. In my office the phone can be quiet all day and within a few seconds every line is lit up. The callers will come from different time zones even. There is no logical reason why things turn chaotic so quickly, but they do.
Since we know demands come unannounced and from scores of people at once, we need to learn coping mechanisms. Stanislav had no idea at midnight what was about to happen. Then all hell broke loose. He may have been filling in for a friend, but it was also his regular job. He was trained for this shit. When the proverbial manure hits the fan it takes a master leader to shut out the distractions, close the door, and take control of the situation. One false move and whole house of cards collapses.
Applications in Daily Life
For some reason a large number of people call or show up at my office at the same exact moment I am scheduled to arrive at work. They want to burn any plan I have to get work done and replace it with whatever they deem important. Unfortunately, if I allow this to happen I will get no work done the entire day as an endless stream of interruptions control my day.
In a weak moment, if I show any weakness, the crowds are relentless. You know what I mean. The only way to handle the deluge is to close the door mentally, metaphorically, as well as the physical door to your room. You can’t take every phone call as it comes in; you can’t take most phone calls as they come in if you are in business.
By closing the door you give yourself a chance to think logically about all the factors involved. A mistake will cost you freedom, money, time, or other things you don’t want to give. You must remain in control of you. The world is beyond your control. Phone calls and clients will demand an immediate response to their inquiry. If you allow the world to control you, then you have relinquished the one thing you really do have control over: your response to the world around you, how you interpret that world, and your own thinking.
It is unlikely any reader of The Wealthy Accountant will face a crisis even close to what Stanislav did. If you piss off a client, tenant, friend, or family member, you might lose a client, tenant, friend, or be ostracized by the family. The great news is if the worst happens there will be one less person to harp on you when the course of demands begins in the future.
Friendly Advice from Your Friendly Accountant
I have more phone calls on my desk this Friday afternoon than I can possibly call. Many will be left for later. If I feel like it I might come into the office on Saturday for a few hours and make some calls. Usually all the people who wanted me during the week are out and about on the weekend because they value their free time highly. You need to value all your time, not just free time, all time, highly. When you call the doctor, mechanic, or accountant don’t demand to speak with the boss this instant. Leave a message. When I return a call you have my undivided attention because I don’t take interruptions. I also reviewed your account briefly before calling so I know what I am talking about. Demanding to speak with me when I have not seen your file in months will result in wasted time and frustration. I’m getting old and forget what I am doing. They say short-term memory is the first thing to go.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes! Closing the door. In my office it is easy to close the physical door. Plenty of folks think that means they knock once before barging in. I think I will sit at my desk naked from now on when I close the door and see how often they knock and enter then.
Coming home from work or a vacation brings a rush of people to greet me. Closing the door mentally is the only way to deal with it; a physical door is not enough if there is even a physical door to close. But how do you close the mental door?
I have found a simple solution to dealing with millions of simultaneous demands. Ignore them all! (I’m not joking.) I can keep a million dollar smile and enjoy the moment as long as I understand there is no requirement I help anyone with any of their demands or requests this instant. If I walk past the front desk while six people want to see me I can nod and say ‘Hi’ without dealing with any issues. If I help one person on the spot it creates chaos as the remaining people try to chime in or feel resentment. When I am ready I bring each person in for private time to discuss the issues. If you don’t have an appointment there should be no expectation you will see me that day; my administrative assistant will be happy to set an appointment. Just because someone is not in front of me does not mean I am available. I will not drop work I promised earlier to take an interruption. Remember, I am an old guy. The line between reason and insanity is thin.
Refusing to block out all the noise will cause just as much damage to you personally as a bad decision by Stanislav in 1983 would have caused the human race. Your choices will affect you and the people around you. There is a reason airlines tell you to put your own mask on first before helping the kids. Focus on priorities first. If you are unconscious you are no good to anyone.
Picture the scene this way. You walk in the house Christmas morning with an armload of wrapped presents. The kids are all reaching and screaming for their present. You can push everyone back and hand the gifts out one by one and create bedlam or you can acknowledge the group without singling any one demand for response. This allows a moment of sanity so you can have all the presents go out at once. The kids will do most of the work for you.
A landlord can have voice mail explaining she is currently helping another tenant and to please leave a detailed message so the caller can be helped as quickly as possible. Now the landlord can focus on problems in an orderly fashion.
When the family all wants something the moment you walk in the door refocus the frenzy into a greeting. This stops everyone from talking over each other until you can address your family’s needs in a logical order.
Business owners need to walk away after a while. If a deluge is consuming my time, increasing stress, but not allowing me an opportunity to complete projects, I pack up and go home. I’m not getting anything done anyway.
Even in a real crisis you have to shut the door mentally and bring order to chaos. Important decisions made when people can be hurt or die requires focus, focus you can only achieve when you push everyone back and you take control of the only thing you have control over: you.