When I was getting divorced from my first husband, I spent many months reliving the past. These mental hamster-wheel moments were accompanied by sleepless nights, too much scotch, and – to complete this picture in all it’s transparency—family-size bags of Lays BBQ potato chips.
During these long nights, I would try and re-imagine each crucial conversation, or drawn-out fight, or a pivotal decision that we made, to find some alternative path that would have “fixed it”. When I was unable to design the imaginary fix, I would move on to rationalizing, over explaining, or trying to find an excuse for what happened. As in, “since I’m a product of a broken family, it’s no surprise I got a divorce”, or “we overstretched our finances, so of course our relationship was strained” or “sending someone to Law School might not have been a good idea” to externalize what was going on, and make it about this or that, as if somehow I hadn’t made those decisions.
And then somebody very wise said this:
It doesn’t matter what you should have done, then.
It only matters that you know to do better, now.
And there it is. We all do our best. Until we know better. And focusing on what we should have done, doesn’t actually help to fix the past.
If you’ve read my work for any length of time, you know I explore failure and learning, and what stops humans from being open to new things, and perseverance, and all that stuff. I am so into that stuff intellectually. And, I don’t really want to tell you this. But you need to know. Emotionally, I don’t want to grow. Well, more specifically, I don’t want to experience the growth. If it could just happen with a snap of a finger, I’d sign up. But to grow, I have to first live in a very uncomfortable place. To learn, I have to first accept not knowing, and then start that very grubby and messy process of figuring out new skills, trying new approaches, somehow learning what works, and integrating them so they are natural.
Aside from the intellectual desire of growth, what I think most of us want emotionally is certainty and clarity. As in: I Want To Know, Darn It (foot stamped!). We want to know that if we try the new thing, it’ll actually succeed. After all, we know the past. We know what it looks like, feels like, and even what is wrong about it. The future is all about the unknown. We don’t know that if we try to learn something, we’ll actually learn it. There are no guarantees. In fact, it might turn out that we just fail in a whole new way. And, who wants that? And, it might hurt. Or suck, or be visible to others that we’re failing.
These last few weeks I’ve been working with people who know they need to try some new approaches and methods to grow their businesses, but most of what they know they need to starting doing is unknown stuff to them. And there’s a certain line of thinking that goes about “what if it doesn’t work; better to stick to what we already know, which works okay enough”. It’s a certain kind of gravitational force to stay in the “known” space.
In business or in life, even if we know we need to try a different approach, it is much easier to keep doing the thing we know to do. And we can find all sorts of excuses masked as reasons to rationalize this choice. For example, you might hear a team say, “that method isn’t proven yet…better to wait”. But let’s recognize that it’s just an excuse that we use to hides our fear of change. All of this stuff – fear of the unknown choices, a desire to de-risk situations, and lots of things already on our plate that we would need to move aside – are just our excuses to not have to face that discomfort.
The truth is ugly: discovering a new and better way is risky. It means we need to put down whatever is our equivalent of comforting BBQ potato chips. We need to suck it up and start the hard work of learning new skills, and trying new things, and experimenting to discover what will work better – none of which is guaranteed to succeed. Nope, not even. But, deferring it doesn’t help. To be the people (and the businesses) we are meant to be, we must gather the courage to make the choice that we know we need to make, now.
- Looking for the right excuse (sethgodin.typepad.com)