Are We Still Having Fun?

Jan. 1, 2010
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web
Gx Bug Web

I spent several days early last month in Boston, MA, as a guest of Volvo Construction, North America, in connection with the parent company-sponsored Volvo Ocean Race, an around-the-world blue-water challenge contested by seven (it had been eight until the Russian entry was damaged by high seas) spec boats. The principal event of the weekend was an in-port race with points awarded counting toward the overall championship, so when I tell you that the sponsors, skippers, and crew really cared, you can take it as gospel.

Now I need to make it clear I’m a true believer that no matter what, if it moves it ought to be raced…cars, planes, guinea pigs, boats, sea slugs, it makes no difference. Racing sits at the top of my list of hotshot stuff, and trust me when I tell you that these boats, these crews-the whole event-is over-the-top in terms of flat out competition…the blue water equivalent of Formula 1 machines on the streets of Monaco or NASCAR monsters banging fenders out of turn four at Lowes Motor Speedway. Here are sailboats capable of bounding across the open ocean at 40+ knots, so if you don’t believe me (or even if you do) go to for the straight scoop.

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The race was run in two heats lasting roughly 45 minutes each. Because of light winds, the first race was decided early on when the boats sailing the left side of the course profited from an unanticipated wind shift. Spanish-sponsored Telefonica Blue held to a comfortable advantage rounding the upwind marker and maintained the lead to the end. The second heat was run in shifting winds and fog with boats often obscured from one another, but in the end Telefonica Blue again crossed the finish line, overall winner of the day’s event.

On the day before the race, I sat down to lunch with a group composed of contractors, equipment dealers, and representatives of Volvo Construction Equipment and Truck divisions, and not unexpectedly most of the conversations focused on the economy, what its impacts have been and are, and mostly what the future might hold in store.

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After the meal was finished and people went off in their several directions, I reviewed what I had heard and realized that, for all the discussion, we were no closer to understanding where we stood or what new challenges and opportunities awaited us tomorrow, next week, or a year from now.

Snippets from the conversations: Have we bottomed out? Uh, well, I sure hope so. When will we show real signs of a turnaround? Hopefully by late this year, but more likely sometime in 2010. The long and short of the exercise came down to good food, nice company, and no firm sense as to what the future held.

Later that afternoon I was standing next to a couple of contractors-one from Vermont and the other from Alabama-listening to the Green Mountain guy reminiscing as to the amount of fun he used to have. “Up until last year I was turning away business all the time,” he said. “Now I’m running myself ragged bidding on jobs where I won’t make a dime.” His companion nodded in apparent agreement, but then said something that truly deserves sharing.

“Two months ago I was in the backyard with my six-year-old son, worrying about business, saying nearly the same thing to myself,” the Alabaman explained. “While I was standing there feeling sorry for myself and wondering how my family and I were going to get by, I watched my son dig a hole in the soft dirt with his toy shovel. After a bit he backed off to inspect what he had done, then he filled his masterpiece back in, stomped the dirt flat, stepped back to inspect the job, and moved down several feet to dig another hole.”

For a while, all three of us gazed off into the distance, lost in our own thoughts until the Alabaman in his soft Southern voice put it all in perspective.

“Every day since then, I’ve fired up a piece of equipment and moved some dirt from here to there and back again as a reminder of who I am and what my life is really about.”

“If it ain’t fun,” he summed up his thinking with a gentle reminder, “go find something that is and do it.”