On June 13, 1995, Bennett R. Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, launched a contest called, “Yo! I’m Your C.E.O.” Ben Cohen had decided to relinquish his role as CEO of the company, which was then 17 years old. Part genuine effort, part publicity stunt, the contest was intended to find a replacement for Ben by, in part, requiring candidates for the position to submit 100-word essays explaining why they should be the chosen one.
During the contest, I happened to hear a radio interview with Jerry Greenfield, in which he was being questioned about the contest. I don’t remember the complete or precise content of the interview, and I couldn’t locate a transcript of it. But I do remember this part: At one point, the interviewer inquired about the company’s communications. He said something about the fact that the company was very successful, its revenues were up, its profits were up, yet there were no readily accessible reports about those kinds of indicators or measurements. The interviewer noted that even on the Ben & Jerry’s website, the only featured communications were about the company’s people.
In response, Jerry said only this: “We learned a long time ago you become what you count.”
Here we are, two-months-and-counting into the coronavirus lockdown. Our tolerances for fear, uncertainty, distrust, and impatience are being tested. Our capacities for survival, self-sufficiency, imaginative wherewithal, and self-basting are being tested. And what might be the biggest test of all: What are we counting?
Are we counting the days? (“How much longer do we have to live like this?”) Are we counting the inconsistencies? (“Yesterday they said that, but today they’re saying this!”) Are we counting our frustrations? (“But I want to [fill in the blank]!”) Are we counting — or even recognizing — our expectations and their prospective reality? (“I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.”)
Or are we counting our opportunities? (“Wow! I can’t believe I actually have time to [fill in the blank].”) Are we counting our blessings? (“I had no idea I could have this kind of relationship with my family members, and I never imagined I had so many caring friends.”) Are we counting the possibilities we can create in a world we’ve never lived in before? (“Wait. You mean [fill in the blank] can be undertaken, accomplished, or viewed in an entirely new and better way?”)
Perhaps the most daunting realization is this: The choices about what we count are entirely ours to make.
We become what we count.