Friday, May 13, 2011

Fire in the Belly

As a marketer, I have always been attracted to interesting expressions and oft times wonder about their origins. One of those expressions that came to mind today was ¨fire in the belly¨.

Some synonyms I find in the dictionary related to this expression are: ambition, aspiration, coveting, craving, hankering, hunger, itch, pining, thirst, urge, wish, and yearning. Another meaning I found that strikes home is ¨…referring to severe motivation, or hunger that causes action!¨

Lately I have found myself disappointed and perplexed at the lack of passion and conviction in what people around me are doing… or better yet, NOT doing. So many efforts to me seem like an exercise in futility and drudgery. Most people have no focus or explanation for what they are doing in their lives on a daily basis. Just the challenge of getting from point A to B is more than many can handle…let alone think about Z.

I was talking with a friend tonight who said ¨…the higher expectations you have for yourself, the higher the stress level¨. So it would seem that many people avoid stress by maintaining LOW expectations? I guess that way you can never be disappointed or disillusioned. Yet, somehow that form of living seems very unattractive to me. I think we need more of that ¨fire in the belly¨ in order to better ourselves and the conditions around us. We have become way too compliant and accepting of the ¨status quo¨ and the marginalization of excellence or superiority. In this world, everyone loves to read or hear about the downfall of great people. We like to bring the successful and courageous down to our level of commonality. We don´t want to feel inferior to anyone, therefore we respect no one and strive to moderate the imaginations of those free spirits around us who dare to dream and act on those dreams. Worst than that, we allow others to stomp out the fire of our own imaginations and ideas. This is a form of invisible murder of the human mind and spirit…performed by a mass ritual of educated mediocrity and peer pressure to conform to norms.

Of course, the easiest excuses towards not reaching our goals relate to not having the ¨things¨ we need to succeed or feel comfortable. Somehow we feel without the right clothes, right car, right family, enough money or the right team to work with….we just can´t get started. We find a thousand and one excuses not to do the things we WANT to do. We find more reasons why we CAN`T accomplish something than reasons why we CAN. We`re too young or too old, too poor or too rich, under qualified or over qualified. When we have the time we don´t have the money. When we have the money we don’t have the time. Life seems to be this continuous continuum of the stars not being in alignment for our dreams or ambitions. Are there reasons for this lack of accomplishment?

If we are to take lessons from history, I think of people who had ¨fire in the belly¨ for what they wanted to accomplish in life. People`s financial heritage had little to do with whether or not they succeeded. Without necessarily evaluating the ¨morality¨ of their accomplishments, three or four figures stand out to me from histories recently read. John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Ford and Warren Buffett…just to name a few. While each of these figures were fallible men with weaknesses and failures in their lives…they each forged change and controlled a certain amount of their destinies based on various aspects of ¨firebelly¨ attitudes towards life and the circumstances of their days.

John Adams helped forge the USA Constitution and was one of the most outspoken writers and debaters of the first ¨Continental Congress¨. Teddy Roosevelt wasn´t content with staying within the tapestries of his rich family heritage and chose instead a life of adventure, travels and pushing the limits of his own political and philosophical barriers. Henry Ford overcame immigrant farmer roots to become the icon of America´s industrial age by promoting mass production of inexpensive goods coupled with higher wages for workers. Ford had a global vision, with consumerism as the key to peace. Warren Buffet converted his childhood knack for door to door selling of chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and weekly magazines into the largest most profitable holding company in the world called Berkshire Hathaway.

None of these people performed their miracles overnight. I´m quite sure none of them saw the end from the beginning. They probably had NO IDEA how effective and long standing their accomplishments would be. Yet, the common thread I read in all of these and other like people was their commitment to their own unique ideas, philosophies and standards. The essence of these men…they lived and breathed the ¨fire in their belly¨ which to my viewpoint was the root ¨cause and effect¨ of their success in life…even amidst well documented frailties and failures.

On a much smaller and personal scale, my Grandfather who was a strong father figure to me growing up, had a unique approach and sense of life´s calling that demanded much of this ¨fire belly¨ approach. In the early 1900s he became part of a strong religious awakening in America as a first generation naturalized citizen of Norwegian roots. Most immigrants of those days…like today…were from poor disenfranchised populations in their home countries looking for a new start and better way of life. These people honed their skills of individual survival and doing whatever needed to be done in order to survive and grow with the new opportunities this foreign land afforded them. And yes, religion has always played a strong role in giving the poor and disenfranchised hope and will to live… pushing forward to a better, ¨God given¨ future. Without significant education or traditional preparations, this teenage cowboy from the Minnesota plains experienced and pursued his own approach to a spiritual way of life that was in no way part of mainstream religion. Yet, my grandfather carried his religious experience to a level of leadership and ¨ministry¨ to where he built his own church in my old hometown in the 1930s, raised his family in his tradition of faith, and influence hundreds who have since influenced hundreds to live in ¨the fear of God more than the fear of Man¨.

While I admittedly have grown into more secular understandings of life than my Grandfather had, I still have to live in awe of his ability to build a church, a home, a family and a following simply on the strength of faith and devotion to his personal cause. While he died a relative pauper, he lived rich in the belief of his cause and fervency of dogma. He was a self taught printer, always found a way to have the newest gadgets such as wire recorder, then reel to reel tape recorders (5 of them that I remember from childhood), a decent big car (primarily a Oldsmobile fan), and writer of many religious and philosophical articles. I am quite sure in today´s times he would be a better blogger than me. He read and read…and his library was the root of my own thirst for reading and knowledge. His large library included all sorts of subjects and not just ¨Christian¨ ones. My first reading of the Quran was his copy…and this was in the 1960s.

So in some ways I suppose the apple has not fallen far from the tree…though many might not agree with that statement. Yet, I pursue a circle of personal friends and associates who have ¨fire in their belly¨. I am easily bored or impatient with people that have no ambition or “zip” to their daily lives and activities. The longer we live, the more we realize how short our time of opportunity is. While it’s nice to believe in an afterlife…the only life we are assured of is the here and now. I think we each need to go with our ¨fire bellys¨. Wherever our passions, ideas or creativity takes us…we need to embrace them and carry them to their ultimate ends. We can´t all be Henry Fords or John Adams…the times don’t always demand that of us. But as my friend and I discussed tonight on the phone using a golf analogy…¨It is up to us to tee the ball and hit it as good and far as possible. Beyond that we cannot control how the winds of fate will affect that ball, but we must have passion to hit it none the less¨.

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