Living in an Air Castle I

Living in an air-castle is about as profitable as owning a half-interest in a rainbow. It is no more nourishing than a dinner of twelve courses—eaten in a dream. Air-castles are built of golden moments of time, and their only value is in the raw material thus rendered valueless.

The atmosphere of air-castles is heavy and stupefying with the incense of vague hopes and phantom ideals. In the man lulls himself into dreaming inactivity with the songs of the mighty deeds he is going to do, the great influence he some day will have, the vast wealth that will be his, sometime, somehow, somewhere, in the rosy, sunlit days of the future. The architectural error about air-castles is that the owner builds them downward from their gilded turrets in the clouds, instead of upward from a solid, firm foundation of purpose and energy. This diet of mental lotus-leaves is a mental narcotic, not a stimulant.

Ambition, when wedded to tireless energy is a great thing and a good thing, but in itself it amounts to little. Man cannot raise himself to higher things by what he would like to accomplish but only by what he endeavors to accomplish. To be of value, ambition must ever be made manifest in zeal, in determination, in energy consecrated to an ideal. If it be thus reinforced, thus combined, the thin airy castle melts into nothingness, and the individual stands on a new strong foundation of solid rock, whereon, day by day and stone by stone, he can rear a mighty material structure of life-work to last through time and eternity. The air-castle ever represents the work of an architect without a builder; it means plans never put into execution. They tell us that man is the architect of his own fortunes. But if he be merely architect he will make only an air-castle of his life; he should be architect and builder too.” ~ William George Jordan

My company concluded its annual sales representative conference the other day and I was left with number of impressions, particularly in relation to those reps just starting their sales careers with us. For starters, I realized more clearly that working as an independent contractor and therefore as a small business owner provides a number of specific advantages. You are your own boss. You determine your level of success and the scope of your employment. You set your own hours. You have what many long for: independence.

On the other side of the coin, of course, you find that you are also responsible for your business 24/7. You cannot leave your business to another on nights and weekends. You tend to be much more invested in your work – physically, financially, emotionally – and the fate of your company, “You, Inc.,” rests squarely in you. You cannot hide behind a boss, a co-worker and you typically don’t have much of a cushion, especially early on, to absorb your inattention to the fundamentals. The privileges you gain, in short, come with a corresponding responsibility.

One of our senior reps noted that one of his most painful (and subsequently freeing) realizations was that there were no shortcuts to success. He recognized that he could not outsmart the system, skip over the fundamentals and build his business as Jordan described: “downward from [his] gilded turrets in the clouds.” Such an approach may give the appearance of working, particularly early in life if school comes easy, if there is natural talent in sports, music or the arts, but such endowments are rarely sufficient to fund the start-up of a new business, let alone the expansion of an existing one.

Our V.P. of Sales reminded the participants over and over again that you must do the work if you expect to succeed. You must pay attention to the fundamentals your entire career, in fact, there is no point at which the fundamentals lose their value in the present and influence over the future.

According to the science of tree physiology, there are four phases of tree growth: 1) newly germinated seedling, 2) young seedling/primary growth, 3) year-old seedling/secondary growth and 4) two year-old seedling/bark and wood development. An interesting website on the subject notes that:

As trees and other plants mature over time, new structures appear. Developments may be obvious, as when flowers or other reproductive structures first appear, or more subtle, like the maturing of the xylem or phloem.

BUT – this does not necessarily mean that earlier structures disappear. Instead, they often spread up and out with the branches or down further into the ground with the roots…The structures that appear when the tree is a tiny seedling are still present in a huge tree – at the very tips of the branches and roots.

So it is in business development, except that you, not the forces of nature beyond you, are the builder of your dreams. As you parlay the time and energy you might typically expend articulating what you would “like to accomplish” into specific action steps, where attention to the fundamentals is paid each and every day that you work, you begin the building process. You begin your journey of personal and professional development, an adventure that leads consistently onward, upward and outward.

12 thoughts on “Living in an Air Castle I

  1. Pingback: Trees as Metaphors « creatingreciprocity

  2. Colin

    I feel like these steps are so foreign to many people in the world today. Whether they simply don’t know, or they take steps to obfuscate the way to true achievement from themselves, I am not sure. However, it seems that living in a fantasy land where you dream that you are a big achiever is not the only step in the process.
    There are many people that say you need to dream big, and that is true, but you also need to be specific to be successful. Saying I want to be rich someday and imagining what you would do if you were rich is not going to get you that way if you sit home all day and watch TV. The fantasies are ok, as long as there is plenty of reality and hard work to go along with it. As in all things, balance is the key. Thanks!


  3. I really like that tree analogy – it seems to me that it could apply to almost anything from ideas to organisations. It seems to me that it is the first stage that is really crucial as even though the newly germinated seedling has little obvious ‘growth’ it has established roots under ground and it is from here that the growth really comes right from the start – interesting analogy – thanks.


  4. David R

    These principles surely apply to anyone with the incination to develop his or her own business. They are also true, however, for anyone, regardless of the nature of his or her employment. The most in-demand employees are those who act like owners, who assume responsibility rather than fleeing from it, who base their work on substance rather than appearance. We are each independent businesses in one sense, while in another we are all inextricably related. Lasting success is never an isolated thing. Great principles for anyone to live by!


  5. Doug

    The outsourcing of certain business functions and the model of independent contractors has created the model of today’s business which can be very dependent on the cooperation of a collection of small companies. Some are great partners as they have developed from solid well executed ideas others are “air castles”. The “air castle” owners usually are great idea people but poor executers because they don’t understand the amout of initial commitment it takes to launch one idea. Often their error is too many fronts, so their unrealistic grasp of the focus required leads to a string of “air castles”. Valuable thoughts for anyone thinking about starting a You,Inc.


  6. MMc

    In every successful business there is the foundation of the initial work and the life’s blood of a business is usually the daily repetition of it. That’s why when I started my career I decided to find something I love to do. Many of the people that work in my company took a job to start but I’ve watched the “love” develop as they recognized the value of our service in the market. Great post thanks.


  7. Ricardo B.

    This does require a certain level of discipline, to forgo what you like for what is right and proper in the use of your energies. If it is constructive, if there is the building up of ideas into concrete form, when things are getting done, that’s evidence of a good use of energies. Time needs to spent in creative thought no doubt, but surely enough those thoughts need to put into action to see the light of day in order for there to be forward movement. For me, that’s always the crux in terms of finding that balance, where too much of one and not enough of the other makes me feel off-center and I know then something is not right.
    The mind can object at any given point when faced with pressure, and things thus get delayed. A little gem you’ve made note of many times before which I always go back to, is to stay relaxed. Tension can only obscure things and certainly does not add any positive value to the situation. Learn to enjoy the pressure, keep yourself fit at all levels to be a sturdy ship in the ocean, and life then reveals to you its tremendous adventure for now you are able to see it that way!


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