Why I'm Thankful for Horrible Clients... And Other Things


Almost all of my neighbors have put their Christmas lights up. Sirius XM is promoting its two dedicated Christmas music stations, and commercials are now throwing around the term "stocking stuffers."

Personally, I'm in no rush for Christmas. I'd rather pause at Thanksgiving. For me, Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year.

It's the quintessential American holiday -- centered around food, family and football.

  • There's no stressing about presents, costumes or fireworks.
  • You don't have to plan a series of sequential family visits with logistics akin to that of a shuttle launch.
  • No one worries about who celebrates what and at what time.
  • You don't have to take stock of where you fell short this year in order to compile a set of resolutions about next year.

It's a time to appreciate and to give thanks.

This year, I'm thankful for:

Horrible clients. You know those times, when all the flags go up in the meeting, and you know this is one assignment you shouldn't accept, but you take it anyway? These are the assignments, hopefully few and far between, that remind you of what "fit" looks like. Horrible clients, if contained and quickly recognized, can serve as lighthouse, shining a warning to keep you on course and away from the shoals.

The Constant Interruptions. I think, someday, with luck many years from now, there will come a time when I long for interruptions. How depressing would it be to report to work and spend time doing something that no one wanted or questioned or noticed? I'd rather pay the price of weighing a response than wishing I had something to respond to.

Meetings Going Nowhere. Haven't we all sat down with a new contact only to realize 5 minutes in that the meeting was going nowhere? You can't get up and leave. You just have to sit through it knowing that you're about to spend 30 minutes that you'll never get back.

What those meetings set up, however, is priceless. They set the stage for the opposite -- when the magic happens. You can only truly appreciate sitting down with someone with whom you truly connect if you've been through the equivalent of many, many, bad business dates. Finding someone you realize you want to keep forever in your circle is not only worth the price of those other meetings, but makes them joyful exercises of anticipation.

Really Bad Handwriting. Almost all of my communication is by email, text, social media, and direct messages. Even when a card comes in the mail it's rarely more than a scrawled signature over a typed sentiment.

But sometimes, very, very rarely, I receive an actual handwritten note. The message, even if hard to decipher, is always worth the time. Imagine how much more we'd consider what to put into our communication if we had to devote the effort to produce it by hand. I always appreciate those messages when they come by -- so much more so if created by people for whom handwriting represents labor.

Stress. I once asked a mentor if there ever came a time when he stopped being nervous. It was early in my career and we were walking into a courthouse where I was to take lead in a fairly large trial. He was there to provide support and to bail me out if I got into trouble. "I hope not," he said. "The day I stop caring enough to be nervous is the day I retire." I hope I am never so cavalier about what I do that I no longer care enough to stress.

Gaps. I've heard of people who strive to fill each of their days productively - people for who time idle is time wasted. Sometimes I wish I could say otherwise, but that's not me. I'll work and I'll day dream and then return to work again. I've noticed, however, that it's creativity, more than anything else, that lurks in the gaps. My best ideas and newest approaches come in the gaps -- the white spaces -- and I'm thankful for those.

As this holiday of giving thanks morphs quickly into one known for "Merry" this or "Happy" that, I wish you the following:

  • I wish you horrible clients, and the insight to appreciate the stark relief into which they cast your great ones;
  • I wish you the constant interruptions from those who remind you of your vitality;
  • I wish you brief bad meetings and the joy of surprisingly great ones;
  • I wish you a mailbox stuffed with almost indecipherable scrawl;
  • I wish you just enough stress to remind you how much you care to aspire; and,
  • wish you the blank spaces in your day to appreciate all of it.

Happy Thanksgiving.