When I was twenty I saved up and bought a round-trip ticket to Rome. I had never been out of the country and wanted to test my metal as a young man. It was time for this novice to explore the unknown. However, sitting for five hours on the floor in O’Hare airport cursing the weather which delayed my connecting flight had me wondering if I’d made a huge mistake. So much for my manly metal. Frustration compounded once I boarded my flight and discovered I was seated in the middle seat of the middle section in the middle of the 777. Little did I know seated next to me for twelve hours of cramped coach “luxury” was one of my life’s biggest lessons.
An hour or so into the flight the stewardess came by with tiny free drinks. My 20-year-old mind exploded when she said the drinking age was 18 in Italy and, now that we were in international waters, I could order whatever I wanted. The man to my right thought this humorous and began to school me in Italian customs. His name was Fanancy Anzalone and he was the commanding officer of the US Naval hospital in Naples. Ordered the same thing, vodka, kalua and some milk, we began a conversation which lasted deep into the night.
Because of the delay in O’Hare, Fanancy was going to miss a UN banquet in being held in his honor and was trying to devise a plan to get to Naples on time. Having quickly ruled out storming the cabin and demanding the captain speed up the aircraft, he calculated his chances driving 160kmh down the E45 to Naples in his Maserati. Again, illegal. So, instead of being angry for hours, he relaxed and engage with the boy to his left.
Growing older Fanancy came to realize that, while some things in life were of great concern to him, he could not influence everything towards his desired outcome. A high ranking officer with 500+ people under his command, he had great influence. However, at this point in his journey, his sphere of influence did not intersect his sphere of concern. So instead of raging against this stark reality he chose to relax and engage with me. The willingness to concede a lack influence both made his flight enjoyable and deeply influenced me.
I’ve reflected on our conversation countless times. How often are we tempted to get lost trying to exert influence on things beyond our control? This fruitless effort manifests daily in my business. As an executive in the advertising world, I make a living influencing people. But time and time again I encounter things which exist just beyond my sphere of influence. What do I do when I can not influence things which concerned me? More than a few times I have been lured into frustration and wasted hours of valuable time. But I’m learning to live in the center, the sweet spot where concern and influence converge. This is the place where our most valuable and productive work originates.
If we’re overly concerned about things we can not influence we can either 1) increase our influence or 2) live angry and frustrated. Frustration, however, is a massive drain on mental, emotional and billable resources. What if we learned to live in the center? What if instead of raging against the impotence we re-directed our concern to the things within our reach? What if instead of feeling diminished by our lack we discovered hidden places of influence?
I am convinced many valuable opportunities to influence pass us by while we waste our energies on outcomes we can not control. In an outcome-driven world, we must learn to both grow our influence and redirect when we reach our limits. We never know what type of difference we can make when we live in the convergence of concern and influence.