Taking inventory of personal stock: Charles Dickens had it right

The end of the year is upon us. So I have to ask…how did you do with the list? You know, the document that you and your teams created about 12 months ago listing, by priority, the projects that you would get done in 2018, and noting the associated benefits of completing these? I know that there were things that tried to blow you off course, such as emergency projects, employee departures – maybe an acquisition or unexpected funding that allowed for an even bigger project. But I presume that at various points along the way (quarterly?), you and your teams met to review your progress, update your tracking tool and then keep working toward adding as many checkmarks as possible, because you knew that the end of the year would be here before you knew it, and in January, you would be getting your team together to create another list for 2019.

We all know the primary definition of list as a noun. It’s the secondary definition that intrigues me: to tilt to one side, especially of a boat or ship, as from an unbalanced load. As with our list in the first paragraph, if you add too much weight, or if the items aren't examined for appropriateness, your list might, well, list. And ships that list too far can capsize.

In my view, when determining what needs to be accomplished in a year, one should strive for quality, not quantity. Identify and list those items that will collectively yield the most productivity, production, revenue, or expense reduction (or whatever else is top of mind for your organization.) And then routinely follow up.

But there’s another list that you might not ever think of. Each of us has influence over those for whom we work, those who work for us, and those with whom we work. The effectiveness of our work is tied directly to our interactions with others. Sometimes this is obvious, sometimes it's not. Do you ever take a moment to recount your year and consider whether, perhaps, there are some modifications to your demeanor or overall outlook that would benefit you professionally, and of more importance, personally? Is December a good time for self-reflection?

Charles Dickens thought so. In 1843, he wrote a novella called "A Christmas Carol." You’ve certainly heard of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly businessman who is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge had neither the time for nor interest in self-reflection, but he received what today we'd call an “intervention.”

Dickens says of Scrooge’s personality: “External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.” About Christmas, Scrooge himself would say as an employer: “Christmas is a poor excuse every 25th of December to pick a man's pockets.”

And to say that Scrooge was stubborn is an understatement. Consider this passage: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” In short, he was some piece of work!

But in this story something wonderful happens. The Spirit of Christmas Past awakens him and takes Scrooge to see his happy past from long ago, which makes him very nostalgic and sad. Once returned to his bed, he is visited by the Spirit of Christmas Present, who takes him to more-recent scenes, where Scrooge exhibits uncaring and atrocious behavior and attitudes toward rich and poor alike. And then the worst of all, the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come arrives to show him how his life will play out based upon his current attitudes and behavior.

Frightened to near-death, Scrooge at last awakens on a white Christmas morning and realizes that Christmas had not passed and he still had time to make right. All in one day, he executes a quick list – he gives his poor housemaid a raise (four-fold), sends a feast to the table of his long-serving (and long-suffering) employee Bob Cratchet (who also gets a raise) and his family, and commits to help the youngest of the Cratchet children, Tiny Tim, who suffers from a potentially life-threatening illness.

And then he visits his nephew. For me, this is the most touching of all. You see upon Scrooge’s sister’s death bed, he swears to take care of her young son. However, once grown, the son and Scrooge divert on many subjects, and Scrooge makes no time or provisions for him and routinely ignores the nephew’s annual Christmas get-together. But in the true Christmas spirit, the nephew and his wife welcome Scrooge with open arms, reminding the reader that it is never too late to make amends.

In the end, Scrooge is made to understand that no matter how far along in life you are, there is always time for a course correction. He articulates it this way: “Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

I think that Charles Dickens had it right. Annual reflections are good for business, good for relationships, and good for the soul.

So as January nears and you begin to think about your departmental and professional goals for 2019, consider taking a moment to inventory your personal stock and see if there are any opportunities for adjustment. When Scrooge did, Dickens writes: “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.” He adds: “He had no further dealings with Spirits, and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Please accept my sincerest wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and prosperous New Year!