Up Your Business is an exclusive GEARS Magazine feature where I share stories, insights, and reflections about business and life.
We’re all familiar with the Lemon Law when attributed to a vehicle. However, the concept of describing a highly flawed product as a lemon isn’t all that new and didn’t always apply to automobiles. The use of the slang term traces back to the beginning of the 20th century – before cars were commonly sold.
Today I’m going to talk about lemons in a broader sense. Metaphorically, lemons often depict problems or at least causes of problems.
Famous writers and thinkers like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill, and humorists like Erma Bombeck are often credited with the expression, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” In this context, it’s clear that lemons are the problems, and lemonade is the fix. Putting it another way, “Opportunities often present themselves as problems.”
On the other hand, lemons may not be the problem but rather the cause of a problem. For example, if you bite into a lemon in front of someone playing a trumpet, their mouth will water, and their jaws will ache to the point that they’ll have difficulty playing. In this example, the lemon is only the cause of the problem.
You Can’t Make Lemonade Without Lemons
What if everything in your life went exactly as you wanted? Your initial, kneejerk reaction might be, “That would be unbelievably great!” But would it? I can envision this scenario as a Twilight Zone plot.
Imagine a life with no problems to solve or challenges to overcome – no lemons. You’d catch a fish on every cast. You’d hit a perfect golf shot on every swing or get a strike every time you rolled the ball down the alley. At the shop, every customer would happily pay whatever you quoted. All the employees would get along, and every repair job would work perfectly. At home, your wife is like a “Stepford Wife,” and your kids are so well-behaved you never have to correct them. Financially, every investment you make turns to gold – you have the “Midas Touch.” On top of all that, you’re 6’2”, 200 pounds of solid muscle, and healthy as a horse.
I think if this were my life, my greatest fear would be living too long. I’d be begging for life to hand me a lemon or two, at least occasionally, before I died of boredom.
If You Could Live Your Life Over
The other day, my wife, Sue, and I were having one of those “looking back on our lives” conversations. She asked the proverbial question, “If you could live your life over again, would you do anything differently?” In another of my vain attempts at humor, I replied, “Being 20 in the 70s was certainly more fun than being 70 in the 20s!”
As the conversation continued in a more serious tone, we both initially thought we’d do many things differently if we had the chance. But of course, that’s with the advantage of 20-20 hindsight. As we looked back, there’s no denying that life has handed both of us many lemons, and in retrospect, we could have avoided many of them and the resulting consequences. But what if we had done so? We began to realize that like the zest of a lemon adds flavor to food, and lemon juice enhances our favorite beverages, the metaphorical lemons of life add zest and flavor to an otherwise boring existence.
After we’d milked the life out of our philosophically deep conversation (sarcasm intended), we concluded that the things we would like to change have more to do with regrets – righting wrongs and healing hurt feelings than changing something that would have significantly altered the “outcome” of our lives to this point.
We decided that we wouldn’t want to change anything that would have altered the outcome. It’s not that our lives are perfect by any stretch, but so far, the outcome is something we’re both happy about. Coincidentally, later that day, I got this internet meme from a friend.
My body sometimes feels sore, but it works. Sometimes I don’t sleep well, but I do wake up to face a new day. My wallet isn’t full, but my stomach is. I don’t have all the things I ever wanted, but I do have everything I need. My life is by no means perfect, but it’s my life, and I’m happy.
We also realized that one nice thing about “regrets” is that many of them can still be dealt with by reaching out to those who we’ve wronged or hurt in some way. This seems like an excellent way to spend some of our remaining time on this planet.
What About The Lemon Law?
As human beings, we all share one thing in common. We are the sum of our thoughts and experiences. We don’t think the same things, share the same experiences, get the same results, or make the same decisions along the way. However, the Lemon Law is universal – life is going to hand us some lemons. The question is, what will we do with them when we get them?
The character, nature, and effect of lemons are not universal. Not all lemons are alike, and they don’t affect everyone in the same ways.
For instance, I have a good friend, John, who has a lemon tree next to his house. His tree grows a variety of lemon that is sweet and tart – like the old SweetTARTS candies. John likes them so much that he actually eats them like an apple, taking bite after bite, skin and all. However, I don’t share the same fondness for them and find eating them that way intolerable.
Earlier, I explained that someone eating a lemon in front of a trumpet player can adversely affect their ability to play. But what if the trumpet player had never tasted a lemon, or what if, like my friend, they were fond of the fruit? In either of these cases, they’d most likely be unaffected by seeing someone eating a lemon.
Sometimes, one person’s lemon or challenge is another person’s desire or opportunity. One of my classmates, Chris, was a star high hurdler on our high school track team. Chris wasn’t the fastest runner on our team without the hurdles, but he was tall and lanky, providing him with an advantage at easily clearing the hurdles almost without breaking his natural stride. Chris told me, “I see every hurdle as my best chance to gain ground on the competing runners.” For Chris, the hurdles weren’t lemons. He looked forward to each one to gain an edge on the field.
Another example is when some people see the prevailing circumstances or conditions as lemons. In sports, the weather is often blamed for one team’s or player’s poor performance. Examples include the cold of Green Bay giving the Packers an advantage or the altitude of Denver giving the Broncos an advantage. But both sides had to compete in the same weather. So, it must be something else. I believe that the something else is their attitude toward the perceived lemon.
I’m an avid Pickleball player. For those who have no idea of what pickleball is, it’s a court game involving hitting a whiffle-style ball over a net with a paddle. It’s sort of a blend of tennis, badminton, and ping pong.
I’ve seen many players defeat themselves before the game even starts. I live in Arizona, and gusty winds are a common occurrence here. The wind dramatically affects the flight of the ball. However, I have fun playing in the wind. It forces me to concentrate more, and it presents unpredictable challenges as the wind has its way with the ball. If I overhear my opponents complaining about the wind, I know I have a huge advantage. Even though the wind is the same for all players, it’s like having an extra player on my side.
Some lemons are more significant and require us to take more decisive actions. COVID-19 is an example of a lemon that had a universal impact on the world and our industry. Other examples that can affect us individually include such things as accidental injuries, health challenges, family circumstances, and other unanticipated lemons that life hands us. Some foreseeable lemons are aging, retirement, business changes, and life transitions, to name a few.
Like roadblocks, lemons of this caliber can stop us in our tracks. For some, it forces us to regroup and rethink our approach. When facing these types of lemons, the choices we make will often have life-changing results and bring about permanent changes. For example, most shops made significant changes in their marketing and overall procedures to remain open during COVID-19. I’ve heard many shop owners say that as a result, they’re more efficient and profitable than in the past. So, they see no reason to return to pre-pandemic methods.
When the unexpected crisis occurs, maybe it’s the universe’s way of telling you it’s time to consider making some lemonade. I know a former shop owner who had to sell his business for medical reasons, which also led to the breakup of his marriage. He despaired at the time, but today he’s regained his health and lives a happy life as a writer and speaker.
When we look back on life, we might wonder what if we’d done things differently. But things tend to work out. If they haven’t worked out for you yet, that just might be your lemon, for now.
The Lemon Law is simply this, Life will hand us lemons. We each have the gift of choosing what to do with them when we get them. In any event, embrace them to add interest to your life.
About the Author
Thom Tschetter has served our industry for nearly four decades as a management and sales educator. He owned a chain of award-winning transmission centers in Washington State for over 25 years.
He calls on over 30 years of experience as a speaker, writer, business consultant, and certified arbitrator for topics for this feature column.
Thom is always eager to help you improve your business and your life. You can contact him by phone at (480) 773-3131 or e-mail to email@example.com.