About a year ago, I gave a speech about 10-10-10 on a college campus. Afterward, one student lingered, waiting to see me alone. He was, it turned out, an aspiring entrepreneur from Romania named Razvan, who wanted to launch a mobile phone company back home. The problem, he quickly told me, was that his longtime girlfriend, a waitress waiting for him in Bucharest, wanted to launch it with him. "What happens when Mihaela makes a mistake with a contract or something? She's not very tough when it comes to money; her family was all Communist," he reported matter-offactly.
"Then I have to say, 'Mihaela, we're trying to make a profit here,' and she starts yelling, 'Profit, forget profit—what about ideals?' And we have a fight, like always. You know what I mean?"
I got the picture, at least enough to get started. I gestured for Razvan to step closer, so we could conduct a 10-10-10 together about whether he should work with Mihaela on his new business venture.
In ten minutes, a "yes" answer was enormously appealing, Razvan said eagerly. Mihaela would calm down and, at least for a while, throw her best energies into the project.
A "no" answer would cause, in Razvan's words, "World War Three," as Mihaela's family and his own—they were close friends—were sure to get involved and lobby him to change his mind.
The ten-month picture was less mixed; it would be grim no matter which choice was made. If they worked together, Razvan said, he and Mihaela would likely be back to their quarreling. But apart, there would be misery too: "We've been together for many years and there is love between us," he reflected wistfully. We turned to the ten-year picture, and right away Razvan grimaced as if he was seeing a photograph that disturbed him. If he asked Mihaela to join his venture, they would surely be married by then, an outcome guaranteeing, as he put it, "a life of daily battles."
"Because your hopes and dreams are fundamentally different?" I asked.
"Because all we really have is history," he replied.
"And I know that's not enough. We will spend our lives hurting each other."
With that, Razvan's 10-10-10 decision was made.
Was he happy? Of course not. Indeed, as we parted, I could see tears welling in his eyes. But I could also tell he was relieved in some measure, and resolved too, about taking control of his life and his future. Happiness, he seemed to know, awaited him. Sometimes, that is all 10-10-10 can promise.
A TRICKLE TO A WAVE
By 2006, I had heard enough stories from people like Gwen and Razvan to get the feeling that I was on to something with 10-10-10. And so I decided to write about the process in O, The Oprah Magazine, where I have a regular column about work-life balance.
My "on to something" feeling, however, did not prepare me for the response. Heartfelt emails and letters soon poured in. 10-10-10, I discovered, wasn't just useful within one or two or three degrees of separation. It worked for men and women, young and old, near and far, in decisions large and small and in-between, at home and at work, and in love, friendship, and parenting.
It even worked for a twenty-seven-year-old government employee named Antoine Jefferson, who wrote me to say that he was using 10-10-10 to guide him in his personal goal of reinventing the welfare system, one act of kindness at a time.
What the heck, I wondered, is this guy talking about?