It's often said that with time and distance comes perspective; that nothing is ever as bad as it initially seems. Well, in the case of the BP oil spill, which—if you can even remember this far back—happened in the spring and summer of 2010, truer words have never been spoken.
A few weeks ago, I was a completely different guy: worried, easily agitated, constantly on edge. But now that I've had a good amount of time away from all the underwater plumes and the oil sheens and the static kills, I think about how worked up I got and can't help but laugh.
Honestly, it's kind of hilarious how I flipped out about the whole thing as if one massive oil spill was the end of the world.
Seriously, if you would have asked me all the way back in July if I thought I'd ever get over causing 2.5 million gallons of oil to gush into the Gulf every day for 87 days, I would have said no. I let myself get so wrapped up in all the drama—the Deepwater Horizon rig exploding, the 11 people dying, the destruction done to the Gulf economy—that I was incapable of taking a step back and saying, "Carl, for Christ's sake, stop beating yourself up! I know you don't think so now, but there will be a time in the future when you'll realize that, hey, some things are just beyond your control."
Of course, it took me until now to finally realize that. Now when I see images of the spill or think about all those devastated residents, I roll my eyes at how much I let that stuff bother me. At the time, it really seemed like the spill was this major thing, but in retrospect, it was just a stupid goof by a silly little oil company that failed to monitor and react to several critical warning signs while drilling a deep-sea well.
In the span of a lifetime, the Gulf oil spill was like a little blip. A footnote. Hardly anything at all. I know that now.
In fact, the one thing I'm most apologetic for, and quite frankly embarrassed about, is my childish behavior. God, to think about how much I yelled and screamed at my employees whenever a new report came out saying we lied about the severity of the spill, or how it had been uncovered that we used Photoshop to embellish our cleanup response. Like any of that stuff really matters. Like really, truly matters, you know?
Man, I must have looked like an absolute nut banging my desk and slamming the phone down after every call. I was so angry! And honestly, at what? So we dumped some oil in the ocean. Big deal. People screw up. That's life.
Trust me, worse things have happened.
Heck, if I knew then what I know now, I would have handled things much differently. I probably would have smiled a lot more, that's for sure, and I certainly wouldn't have asked my CEO to step down. Tony had the right idea when he went to that yacht race. He sure was taking a lot of heat, but there he was hanging out and having fun, and there I was all stressed out about the future of our company. We're BP. Of course we were going to be fine. What was there to worry about? Jeez, Carl, lighten up!
Even the way we celebrated back in, I think it was August, when the well was completely sealed, was just ridiculous. It was just one little well we capped, but you'd have thought we won the lottery or something!
If anything, the disaster in the Gulf taught me about perspective. I haven't told anyone this, but last May when the whole thing was just ballooning out of control, I actually cried at the sight of an oil-covered bird. A bird, for God's sake! But there I was crying. Talk about losing all perspective on what's really important: good friends, good laughs, and the ability to shrug off a mistake.
Look, things happen in life. A car breaks down. Your daughter gets the chicken pox. A blowout preventer intended to stop the release of crude oil fails to activate thereby setting in motion the largest ecological disaster in the history of the United States of America. In every case, no matter how worked up you get, you just have to tell yourself that—while it may take you seven or eight days to realize it— this, too, shall pass.
You can get that car fixed next week, the chicken pox go away eventually, and entire ecosystems recover in a century or two.