We had to put our golden retriever to sleep this weekend, our friend of fifteen years, our family’s faithful guardian and companion, and one of the kindest, most loyal and giving souls I have ever met. True to her breed, Sasha was a courageous, tender and selfless until the end.
I was trying to figure out how to give her a worthy send-off here on The BrandBuilder blog, and settled on some of the things she taught me over the years. Or rather, the things I didn’t realize she had taught me until this past week, much of which I spent caring for her, as she could no longer take care of herself. She and I had some long chats, in our own way, and the old girl was much wiser than I gave her credit for.
Are there business lessons in this list? Yes. There are. But all are deeply human lessons at the core. If being human can make a business better, if it can fuel its soul (or even simply give it one), then yes, let these be business lessons. But don’t ever forget that what makes a business truly great isn’t technology or design or a fancy logo. Those are expressions of something deeper. Something more visceral and powerful and true. What makes a business great, what makes it special, worthy of a connection, worthy of trust and loyalty, admiration and respect, even love, always starts with a beating heart, not a beeping cash register. (One is the cause, and the other one of many effects. Don’t lose sight of that distinction. Horse before cart: Soul drives love. Love drives business.)
It’s so easy to lose sight of what’s important in our lives. And this isn’t me being overly sentimental because I just lost my dog. I mean, yes, sure, okay… But there’s also something to this: That sentimentality, that emotion, these things that make us connect with other souls is at the heart of EVERYTHING this blog has been about these last few years: Business, design, marketing, social media, communications, corporate responsibility, best practices… No company can ever be great unless it can tap into the very essence of what makes us want to connect with each other, and no executive or business manager or cashier can ever truly be great at their jobs unless they also tap into the very thing that makes genuine human connections possible. If ever there was a secret to successfully building a brand, a lovebrand, the kind that people will fight for and whose mark they will tattoo on their bodies, it is this. The rest is merely execution.
If you only walk away with one bit of wisdom from this post, let it be this: You cannot build a better business unless you first become a better human being. Everything that strips you of your humanity, of your empathy, of your ability to connect with others is bad for business. It’s bad practice. It is doomed to fail in the end.
As my good friend John Warner noted yesterday, “If more people were as loyal and loving as dogs the world would be a better place.” (source) And he’s right. How do you become a better human being then? Well, that’s up to you, but if you had asked Sasha, she might have given you a few pointers of her own. Granted, she was never a Fortune 500 C.M.O. She didn’t design the iPad. She didn’t invent the internet or write a book. She never presented at a conference. All she did was hang out with me and Chico. We went on car rides. She watched me work. She lived the simple life of a dog, uncluttered by Twitter followers and Hubspot rankings and the drive to publish and present case studies. She was a dog, and so her perspective is a little different from what you may be used to. At any rate, here are twenty-one she and I discussed at length last week. I hope they will be as valuable to you as they now are to me.
Twenty-one things my dog taught me about being a better man:
1. Be true to your own nature. There’s no point in faking it. A golden retriever isn’t a chihuahua or a pug or a greyhound, and for good reason. Being comfortable in your own skin is 90% of the trick to rocking out your life. Not everyone is meant to be Rintintin or a seeing eye dog or an Iditarod racer. It’s okay. Find yourself and embrace your nature. That’s always a great place to start.
2. Be true to the ones you love. Your friends, your family, your tribe, your pack. A life lived for others is a life well-lived. Selfish pursuits aside, ambition often grows hollow when turned inwardly instead of outwardly. It’s one thing to want to be pack leader, but there is just as much value and honor in serving than in leading. When in doubt, see item number one.
3. Never say no to a chance to go on a car ride. When the days grow short, I guarantee you’ll wish you’d have gone on more car rides.
4. Leashes are the enemy. Avoid them at all cost.
5. People are strange. So much potential, yet here they are, doing everything they can to complicate rather than simplify their lives. It’s puzzling.
6. Belly scratches.
7. The end isn’t pretty, but if you can face it with dignity and grace, none of your body’s weaknesses will matter. Your heart, your courage, your spirit is what people will see and remember. This isn’t only applicable in your last days and weeks. It’s applicable every day of your life. Adversity happens. It’s how you deal with it that matters.
8. Forgiveness is easier for dogs than for humans, but humans have opposable thumbs and the ability to speak, so it all balances out in the end.
9. Your bark is your own. No one has one quite like yours. Own it. Love it. Project it.
10. Trust your instincts. They rarely steer you wrong. The feeling in your gut though, that’s probably just something you ate.
11. Just because you’re meant to live on land doesn’t mean you can’t feel at home in water. Play outside the safety zone. Swim in the deep end. Dive in. We’re all designed to do more than the obvious.
12. Play more. The game is irrelevant. Just play. Tip: Exploring is play. Having adventures is play. Finding out what’s behind the next hill is play.
13. Your body growing old doesn’t mean you can’t be a puppy at heart. Actually, the first should have no impact on the latter. If you find that it does, take a step back, regroup, and restart. Always be a puppy at heart.
14. Humans aren’t all bad. But they aren’t all good either. Choose yours wisely.
15. Always keep that 20% wolf in you. If you ever give it up, you’re done. A dog without a little wildness in the blood isn’t a dog. It’s a furry robot. The beauty of a great dog doesn’t lie in its obedience but in its loyalty. Loyalty is a choice. Dogs choose to be dogs and not wolves. That’s what makes them so special.
16. Running full bore across a field in the rain.
17. There are no mysteries. Take cats, for example: Half rat, half badger. Crap in a box. Eat rodents. Where’s the mystery in that? If you look hard enough, you can figure most things out for yourself. The world isn’t as complicated as it sometimes seems.
18. Sometimes, you have to back up your growl with a bite. Go with it. Some people like to test your bark-to-bite ratio. With those “inquisitive” types, a little education goes a long way. As much as it sucks to have to go there, it is sometimes necessary. (It’s what the fangs are for.) Your territory, your space, your safety… They’re worth defending. Make a show of it once, and chances are you’ll never have to teach anyone a lesson again.
19. Being alone is no way to go through life. We’re pack animals. Humans, dogs, same thing. We need others to make all of this worthwhile. As an aside, if we live through others, why not also live for others, even if only a little bit? It isn’t that much of a stretch.
20. When you chase the ball, CHASE the fucking ball. Two reasons: a) It’s a chase. You don’t half-ass a chase. You go all out. It’s what you do. It’s the point. b) You don’t want some other mutt to get to the ball before you and slobber it all up, do you?
21. In the end, you will revisit your adventures, your battles, your chases, your voyages and all the excitement of your life with bemused pride, but it’s the quiet moments with loved ones that your mind will settle on. The comfort of those days when all you did was spend lazy hours with them, your head on their lap, their on yours, taking in the afternoon sun and the hundreds of fleeting stories carried like whispers on the breeze, those are the memories that will stay with you to the end and beyond.
Never give up on your thirst for life, on the beauty subtle moments, and on chasing that ball as hard and fast as your legs and heart will carry you.