Why you must face reality in business -- and in life

Fantasy Fair
Sander van der Wel via Flickr
COMMENTARY Life as a human being is a complicated mess. If you look at all the stuff you've got to deal with in your home and work life, it seems almost impossible to get through it in one piece, let alone raise a family and have a successful career.

First, you've got to take care of your one and only body and live inside your head without going nuts -- no easy feat.

Second, you have to live in a giant Petrie dish that's mostly populated by dysfunctional organisms you call family, friends and coworkers.

Third, there are all these organizations that more or less control your very existence, from the corporation you work for to the federal government to, yes, even the telephone company.

And if you somehow manage to survive all that, there are a boatload of macro forces to contend with like disease, earthquakes and floods. (Some folks even fear alien abductions.)

See what I mean? Life's a real mess. Still, your brain does represent the latest and greatest human evolution has to offer and you do possess free will, giving you at least some measure of control over the outcome.

You can cope with the whole mess called life in one of two ways. Either hide out at work, at home or inside your head -- whichever makes you feel safe -- and make believe everything else doesn't really exist. In other words, you can live in a fantasy world.

Or you can get real and deal with everything life throws at you.

Now, if you think that's a silly choice, you couldn't be more wrong. Let me tell you, most people opt for the former over the latter, whether they realize it or not. That's what Henry David Thoreau meant when he wrote, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." He penned those words after spending about two years hibernating in a cabin. I'm guessing it's pretty hard not to confront your demons when you're the only one around.

But I digress.

The point is there's a pretty good chance you're doing what Thoreau suggested "the mass of men" do, which I'll paraphrase as avoiding their issues and hiding from reality. Unfortunately, that leads to all sorts of bad consequences. Here are a few examples of what happens when you don't deal with reality:

Remember how the green or clean energy initiative was going to create all those jobs? Well, it didn't. The whole premise of the federal government creating jobs through tax breaks and loan guarantees to private companies like Solyndra was flawed from the start and did nothing but fuel a solar panel glut. Sure, there's a boom in energy jobs, but it's in oil and gas, not so-called 'clean energy.' Ironic, isn't it?

The whole Galleon insider trading scandal that recently sent billionaire hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam to prison and snared top executives from big-name companies like IBM, Intel, McKinsey and AMD, was all about people who refused to deal with reality. They thought they could make up their own rules. They were wrong.

Unsustainable "entitlement" economies like Greece, Italy, California, and soon, the United States, all try to skirt the basic principle of economics: if you consistently spend more than you make, you eventually go broke. If that isn't failing to deal with reality, I don't know what is.

What do companies like Sony, Kodak, Yahoo, Hewlett Packard, Research In Motion, Radio Shack and Sprint have in common? They're all big brands that are on their way out because they had CEOs or directors that thought basic common sense rules didn't apply to them. For example, two thirds of HP's board never even met Leo Apotheker before appointing him CEO, and yet they were surprised at how spectacularly he flamed out in less than a year.

I can probably write a big book just listing leaders and executives that tried to avoid reality and failed. That's the lesson for each and every one of you. Life may be hard and complicated, but the only way to achieve any kind of happiness for yourself and those in your Petrie dish is to face reality and deal with it. There's just no way around it. Really.