Thinking back on the ideas I came across last year and the lessons I learned, one concept in particular comes to mind all the time. It has become sort of a repeating mantra in my head. It influences the way I think and act, it’s always there helping me weigh in every life and business situation, every decision that needs to be made, every opinion to be formed. I think it probably does because it is one of these obvious and timeless concepts that modernity and the pace of technology, innovation and competition tends to overwhelm. It is the idea – which I did not come up with, by the way – that the more the world changes, the more we need to take comfort in the things that never change. It is a way to find peace with your very thought-out and analyzed decisions and always plow forward in life and in business, regardless of the outcome.
That prevailing idea pushed me to look in my closet and pull out Manuela Garcia’s January 1st postcards, on January 1st. Most all of four dozen postcards are dated January 1st, anywhere from 1907 to 1917. It is short of a miracle they survived, and I’ve put in my best efforts to preserve them in the condition I received them some 10 years ago having been handed to a relative and carried out of Cuba wrapped in a small bundle. They were stashed away for decades in a country that has endured the kind of misery and scarcity that makes anything unique of value available currency to feed your family another day. A friend of my grandmother and her twin sister on my mother’s side, Manuela received these cards a century ago via regular mail or hand delivered (E.S.D. – En su despacho – “In her office”) – lots of them, from friends, relatives and suitors. Many carry best wishes for happiness and prosperity in the New Year. In some, she’s asked to relay these wishes to my grandmother and her sister, in their teens at the time. There are a few constants throughout the lot: beautiful elaborate fountain pen calligraphy, the nice sheen of the silver salts dry plate photographic technology of the day, creatively crafted messages – many of them poetic in nature and form – praising her beauty or proclaiming love and admiration, the simplicity of the postal addresses of the day, and some laugh-out-loud examples of humorous references and refined double-entendre prose that, in a couple of them, would still raise eyebrows a century later.
So what are the things that I take comfort in today, because apparently they never change – at least in the past one hundred years – when I look at the examples in this treasure trove of New Year felicitations and which I urge all our entrepreneur audience to ponder on at this time of the year of new beginnings? I can think of a number of them. For one, people you want to relate to are relatively easy to locate. One hundred years ago you would place a one cent stamp on a postcard and address it to “Manuela Garcia, Jauregui y Zaragoza, Matanzas” and it would make it there. Corner of this street and that street, basically, and the town’s name, was more than enough. Today, the people you want to relate to and send good wishes are a text or WhatsApp message away. Even if you have not known of their whereabouts in a few years, or briefly met them last week for the first time, the power of today’s technology and social media platforms allow you to find them in many cases in a matter of seconds.
Another thing that does not change is that at this time of the year, most everybody is optimistic and full of good wishes for everyone else. The fact that the Cuban republic was in its infancy with all the uncertainty it may have brought after its independence from Spain in 1902 when these cards where sent, and the fact that the world was about to explode in the “War to end all wars” in just a couple of years in 1914, did not stop the urge of all these well-wishers to relay their hopes of happiness and prosperity to their loved ones. As I write this today on January 1st, I have not stopped receiving instant messages from current and longtime friends, some of them facing struggling living situations. It has been quite a thing to note the change in character of the WhatsApp New Year messages going through my high school’s class group this year. Gone are last year’s pictures of revelers reunited in abundance, irreverent jokester memes and messages you could expect from us graduates of an all-boys high school, supplanted by more toned down, optimism filled wishes for prosperity from those of us living outside especially knowing that the list is full of classmates who have endured over 3 months without power in storm ravaged Puerto Rico, where the Holiday Season this year has been the most austere in generations. Conditions today prompt spontaneous solidarity by portraying a more serious tone this year.
The other constant is the creativity and innovation in the pictures, in the writings. The imagining of what the future would look like by giving the mind full gallop. Prosperity represented by an embracing couple in love, cruising the sky in a fantastic flying vessel, conceptualized based on recent technological breakthroughs of the time displayed at Kitty Hawk by the Wright brothers in 1903 and enhanced by the fertile imagination of talented graphic designers.
Taking this all in, what is my recommendation to you, and to our entrepreneurs? Embrace the fast change of technology, don’t shy away from it. Dream up what the world will look like tomorrow based on what you see today. Be optimistic, it is the time for it. Contact your friends and associates; wish them all success and prosperity – make it known to them. They wish the same for you. Seek out the people you have met that could help you become more prosperous. They are all easy to find, and even if you just met them briefly at an event or networking session, reach out to them. Take comfort in the fact that if they are like most other entrepreneurs, they will get your creativity and optimism contagion and I bet they wish prosperity on you as well. Finally, reach out to those people that may have sought you in the recent past and who you are in a position to help today, and do so. Prosperity is a contact sport, and it breeds on human interaction. You can also take comfort in that – I have a little treasure trove that confirms it has been a constant for at least the past hundred years.