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Len’s Skillet: Lessons learned on a six-month sabbatical


There is a little greasy spoon in a small port town on the Georgian Bay, a block from the town dock. It’s a great place for breakfast, especially after a night spent on the boat.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the waitresses are all 30- to 40-years-old, thin, tattooed and looking like they have had some difficult years. Many of them are naturally beautiful, though, and despite the evidence of “living hard,” there seems to be an emerging joy; a new sparkle in their eyes; a steely resolve to live the next 10 years better than the previous 10 years. Maybe it’s all in my imagination, but that’s how I interpret what I see.

The restaurant is plastered with pictures of staff, of family, of regular customers – people who I suspect are special to the owners. In my mind, I imagine that the owners are older – late 50s or 60s – with a soft spot for women looking for a fresh start.

One morning, I had a waitress that I had never had before, and she fit the same pattern – naturally beautiful, no makeup, some evidence of living a hard life, and a tattoo. The tattoo was text, written in Arabic, on the inside of her right arm. I asked her what it said, and she told me: “It’s not what you did yesterday that matters. It’s what you do tomorrow that matters.” I asked her, “What about today?” Her response was, “Today I rest to get ready for tomorrow.”

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In some ways, I am like that waitress – resting to get ready for tomorrow. I am just beginning the second half of a six-month sabbatical. I am weary from the last 30 years and, as I have recently discovered, I, too, have a few scars from the toil. The wounds have to heal, and healing takes time, rest and reflection. As good as I feel about what I have accomplished in the last 30 years, that doesn’t matter as much as what I do in the next five years.

The past, as they say, is history. All of the effort up to now simply sets up the present. The next few years sets up the future. Although I am often one who advocates looking to the past, looking to the future is more important and critical, especially today when the challenges seem larger, and drastic change is more constant. Planning and strategizing is critical; it cannot change your past or your present, but it does affect your future. But, before I can plan, or even hope and dream, I have to rest.

Without a “pause” by removing yourself from the day-to-day action, it’s hard to do an honest review of what took you to the place that you are at now, assess the challenges, skills, talents and opportunities before you, and begin to imagine what it will take to get to where you want to be in the future. Whether it’s a couple of weeks or six months depends on you and your circumstances. How long have you been battling? How big are the challenges? How much time can you afford to stay on the sidelines? How healthy are your personal motivations to continue to work hard?

Len’s Skillet is my favourite breakfast spot in small-town Ontario. Maybe it’s not the place I imagine it to be, but I like thinking of it that way. I like the thought of people giving others the chance to start again, so that they can plan for a better future.

What you did yesterday does, in fact, matter. It’s what brought you to this point today. But what you do tomorrow matters even more, because that is what can change the course of your life and your company’s future. And, as my waitress reminded me that morning, rest can be a critical bridge between yesterday and tomorrow.   

This column originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION