There are quite a few situations where a person can have their back up against a wall, but in my experience, both on my own, and with clients, that cornered sensation tends to emerge when our best-laid plans get derailed by a landslide of reality, whether that’s something as mundane as things taking longer than you want, or as profound as a total lack of traction on a project you thought would be a surefire success.
There are all kinds of situations where we have to decide whether to continue doing what we’ve been doing, or change tacks.
It’s always interesting to examine at this point the difference between “settling” and “avoiding deluding ourselves”.
Life is a series of decisions; a gamble, if you will. Essentially, the decision of when you ‘hit’ or ‘stand’ comes down to a matter of priorities.
These are not typically all-or-nothing decisions.
They can be. Sometimes you can only decide one way or the other: Yes or No to kids. Yes or No to relocating for your spouse’s job.
The hardest decisions, in fact, are where one option is revocable, and the other is not. (If I sell my business now, it’s gone. But I could just say no now and sell it later if I want to.) Sometimes it’s beneficial to know you have options open, and sometimes it merely distracts you from the business at hand.
But most decisions you are only faced with a choice of where you would find it most advantageous to focus your time and energy. Focus, after all, is ALL you have, as a self-employed person.
Now that I’ve covered the basics, let’s get down to instances.
We can all agree that most projects, whether it’s your website, your marketing, or even a new product you’re developing is better off getting to “good enough” and being shipped than it is being polished and primped to perfection.
And yet, there is a fierce battle being fought about whether it is damaging to women to tell them “they can have it all” because it leads to unrealistic expectations.
Telling women they should settle for “good enough” whether it’s getting mommy-tracked when they decide to have children, to whether they should lower their standards for partners because “life is not a romance novel” is tantamount to a declaration of war. It pushes buttons big time.
And that’s because the situation is so loaded when it comes to women and the expectations society holds for them.
In fact, pretty much any time you run into strong expectations like that, you’ll trigger a crisis about whether you should “settle” and “do the responsible thing” or whether you should “stay the course” and “hold onto your dreams.”
Let’s say, for instance, that your business isn’t making as much money as you want it to. Maybe it isn’t even making as much as you need it to. You probably have certain expectations for yourself. You consider yourself to be a contributing adult. You consider yourself a successful person. Maybe you even consider yourself to be someone who makes good decisions or who follows your instincts.
And yet, here you are, faced with a situation, a reality, that seems to test your expectations. It seems to be defeating the things you think are true. Things about yourself. Whether you realize it consciously or not, this situation represents a huge threat. A threat to your ego, your very sense of self.
Your brain is on the defensive because it feels, accurately or not, cornered. Fee fi fo fum. Here comes reality to crush your very identity.
Learn to be a Giant-Killer
The answer to this, hard as it is, is to disassociate. When Erin talks about invisible walls she is talking about those parts of your identity that are under threat.
One way to get around them I heard from Chip and Dan Heath. They gave advice to CEOs who had their backs to the wall. “Pretend you just got the job as CEO. You’re starting from scratch in this very situation. What would you do to turn it around?”
This releases you from the attachment from your previous plans, strategies, and decisions. All you have to do, now, is decide what to do next.
It’s wonderfully clarifying.
It dissolves the walls of expectations and identity.
That’s not to say slaying your giant will be easy. But you’ve broken through the biggest limitation, which is that you were afraid to be wrong. You were afraid you might have been lying to yourself.
But when you stop, take a breath, and cease looking for justifications, stop trying to measure yourself against society or your own upbringing, the decision becomes simple.
Some Surprising Benefits
And you may even find that some stuff isn’t necessary. You wanted it because it fulfilled some need inside you. I love to be the center of attention. I have in the past spent a lot of time and tears on social media, trying to being in that center of attention, yet being frustrated all the time because it wasn’t working. Lately I’ve been able to realize that all the time spent slavishly following “the conversation” so that people would listen to me is far better off spent doing something worth being asked about.
Speaking of social media, and media in general, it’s very easy to feel like you should be doing more. The media is run on novelty, so it has a vested interest in persuading people that it is both normal and right that they should be constantly expanding their horizons and doing new things.
But in general it’s far better to be spending more time on what’s really important to you, and only shifting away from that if you are really intrigued by the new thing and it won’t take up too much of your time. For instance, I think it’s pretty cool that George RR Martin writes one or two of the scripts to the Game of Thrones tv series each season because it’s the sort of cross-pollination that will tremendously strengthen his craft.
On the other hand, I’m staying far, far, away from the online game Eve, which I am fairly certain would drain off my real-life empire-building efforts due to the more responsive nature of running business and managing people in the game.
You’ve really got to manage what efforts get your attention and focus, especially when some of the things you focus on are more attractive than others. It’s a lot easier to cultivate a hobby of enjoying craft beer than it is a Cross-Fit hobby, but it’s most important to focus on the activities that are actually good for you, not the ones that simply make you look good.
And if you’re the sort of person (like me) who will go from enjoy craft beer, to brewing craft beer, to starting a craft beer company while still deluding herself she’s enjoying a hobby, it’s even more important to keep limits on your vision.
Prioritizing Visions and Values
Because the choice between ‘settling’ on a certain level of success in any given activity and ‘going all the way’ comes down not just to your priorities as I’ve said before, but to a priority of visions. Is it better to have the tight-knit family who eats dinner together every night, or the baller company that dominates its field. You might not have to choose between them but you do have to choose where to focus
Where have you had to draw the line between staying the course and pivoting? What helps you slay your giants?