Problem solving gets far more respect than it deserves. It keeps us busy; it entertains and distracts us. And often all it does is cause more problems.
A few weeks ago I was working with a client who was amazed that I did not rush to solve every problem I saw. Most things in life are not going the way people “want” them to; which is generally what people mistakenly call a problem. It is worth doing the work to accomplish what is really called for but the hypnosis of “first we need to solve this problem” is an undermining distraction.
Here’s what I notice. I’ve rarely seen a problem that…
…was clearly described. When asked, “What’s the problem?” most people (well over 95% in thousands of interviews) describe their favorite solution to an unidentified problem. “The problem around here is a lack of management training.” Management training is not a problem; it’s their favorite solution to something. Yet people spend millions of dollars and even more hours chasing their favorite solutions in ever more costly circles.
…couldn’t be resolved more effectively if someone wrestled with it until they had some insight that would serve them and others in the future. Maybe this “problem” doesn’t need to be “solved”. Maybe “dissolving” it would be more powerful. Get interested in working to eliminate the conditions that give rise to this “problem”.
… wasn’t a symptom of a larger set of problems that arise in different forms, over and over again. Get interested in identifying the fundamental orientation that’s missing that gives rise to the larger set and provide the development that resolves it.
…wasn’t a symptom of something deeper and more powerful that can be addressed. An opportunity that even “root cause” analysis doesn’t contemplate. If you are willing to try something other than quick fix problem solving, consider letting some issues get bad enough people get serious about resolving the area at a fundamental level rather than spending a fortune on band aids while undermining “employee engagement” with every new fix.
The real power is to communicate and act in behalf of accomplishment that fulfills what life is really calling for next. This approach – the Contegrity approach – is grounded in deep integrity and lining up with what life is calling for rather than your individual and disconnected “wants”. Working from this orientation will have you moving forward in powerful and effective ways with less busyness and more focus.
Warning: adult content; some disturbing ideas.
Your bet on life has already been made – and it’s not a bluff. You likely don’t recall making the bet, but due to some confluence of luck and circumstances you’re here in life. And, if you’re reading this, you have learned to read or you’re sufficiently alive to have someone else think it’s worthwhile reading it to you.
Most people don’t live like:
1. They are in and of life.
2. Life is much bigger than them and will continue after they are no longer here.
3. They do not know when their part of life – their opportunity to contribute to life and others – will end.
The sand is running through the hourglass of your life. You can measure what has accumulated in the bottom but you never know how much sand is left to run through… or how many lumpy bits are left… or if one of those lumpy bits could block the rest of the sand (that you hoped was there) from running through. The very next tick of the clock could be the last one you hear.
You’re in life and the clock is ticking. It’s like the movies with all the wires coming out of the bomb and the red numbers counting down in the digital display. Except for each of us the numbers are counting up, not down. We don’t know how much time is left on our digital timer. There may be lots; or there may be very little. It may be lumpy or it may be smooth.
You are “all in” with life. Stop living like you don’t know this. There is no “pause”, there is no “wait a minute”, there is no “redo”. There is, however, an “off” switch – you just don’t know when the switch will flip from “all-in” to “off”.
How therefore shall you live? What will be your approach to life? There are many horses that you could bet on in this race to the finish line (what’s your hurry?) Some supported by multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns, some virtually unknown long-shots and many in between.
You could bet on the briskly prancing acquisition strategy with the purple saddle cloth. Cars, houses, money, fancy new wives, yachts – get as much as you can in the time you have left.
Another good looking one is the smartly decked out bucket list mare. Instead of acquiring things, acquire experiences: sky diving, bungee jumping, swimming with the sharks (the real ones), Machu Piccu, Stonehenge.
Or you could bet on an unknown horse starting on the outside – listed in the program as fulfilling life with What-2-Honor in the saddle. There are several others in the field but these seem to be the most attractive ones.
Your bet is already paid – you are going to pay with your life. Spread your bet around and you get a disheartening ennui.
The question is, On which horse are you betting with the rest of your life?
I’m sitting in the Red Bird wine and scotch bar in Truro, Nova Scotia enjoying a drink after a delicious meal. Steve and Marlene own the Redbird. Steve tends bar while Marlene is the chef. No one “waits” on tables; no one is a “server”. Both Steve and Marlene are gracious hosts who welcome everyone to the Red Bird and create a comfortable experience for them.
Certainly there are some regulars and you would expect that they would feel comfortable here. But I live in Surrey, B.C. and that’s a long way from Truro. I’m here on business and visiting the Redbird for about the 6th time in four trips over the past 18 months. Not quite a regular but not my first visit. Both Steve and Marlene know my name, my wife’s name, that I have grandkids, and my preference for red wine and McCallan scotch. They know this because they’re interested in me, what I do and what I care about. I’m not a “table” or the “chicken parm”.
Marlene makes a great meal (don’t’ worry about whether it’s on the menu, if we have the ingredients we’d be happy to make it for you) and Steve is a wealth of information about scotches and wines – where they’re from and how they’re made and world supply and demand. He is also a distant relative of Karl Creelman who rode his Redbird bicycle around the world in 1902.
I’m not sure if Marlene and Steve are clear about their unique gifts and talents but what they create is so welcoming and comfortable, I visit every time I’m in Truro. I’m clear that’s a gift of theirs whether they know it or not. Everyone has unique gifts and strengths but often they’re not aware of what those gifts are. Often your idea of who you are and your greatest contribution doesn’t line up with others’ experience of you because you find it so natural.
Your greatest contribution is often easy or automatic; you can’t imagine doing it any other way. You see, others have the best view of the difference you make just by showing up. While you can see the difference others make just by showing up but you can’t clearly see the difference you make. You can’t see it because you don’t see what it was like before you arrived, how it changed when you arrived and what happened after you left. Only others see that. So whether we’re talking about your presence at a meeting, a family dinner or while you’re passing through on this planet, get interested in the difference you make just by showing up. It’s not about what you do; it’s about who you are.
Become more of who you are; enjoy making your unique contribution; then make more of that, more intentionally.
A regular reader asks…
“There are tons of books on finding your passion. They assume you know what you want. Maybe the idea of passion is flawed.”
Tons of books, millions of words and so little wisdom. For the lasting value produced, many of those books would have been better left as trees absorbing carbon dioxide.
The idea of passion is flawed and it’s not personal; it’s cultural. People have been led to expect that their passion is something that will descend on them from the heavens with angels singing. And you should already have had that experience. Like the song says, it’s looking for love in all the wrong places.
You know you’re in the neighborhood of your passion when things that would occur as difficulties for others (like burning yourself on the hot manifold or accidentally deleting a file) are minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of what you are up to. Why else would you keep going?
“People don’t know what they need to be fulfilled.”
You’re absolutely right!
And the problem is embedded in how you’ve stated it. It’s backwards. People relate to fulfillment like something they will get – not something they will provide. They don’t “need” anything “to be fulfilled”; to experience fulfillment. It has been turned into a thing; an object to go searching for and found, like lost car keys. People search for fulfillment and expect to find it or get it. Not just expect like anticipate, but expect like a right. Someone or something outside me should fulfill me. My role is to judge whether or not that is occurring. This leads people to say things like, “that doesn’t fulfill me.” While it might be a “common sense” orientation; it’s wrong-headed. Worse, it’s torture if you buy into it.
Fulfillment is always available to everyone, now. There is something next to fulfill in front of everyone; fulfill that. Bring your strengths and gifts to the opportunity or challenge in front of you – the one that’s calling to; the one that interests or excites you; the one that annoys you. No one promised fun or easy so don’t confuse that with fulfilling something. Your job is to fulfill what life is calling from you next. Fulfill that and you experience fulfillment. When you are fulfilling something that requires everything you think you’ve got… and then a little bit more, fulfillment shows up. When we stop searching and start engaging to accomplish something worthwhile the world occurs differently. Fulfillment: you only experience it when you’re providing it.
Do you really give a sh*t about anything?
However, just to cover off a couple of back doors you might try escaping through, consider this: if you are truly indifferent then why care about your passion? You’re equally interested, fulfilled or engaged no matter what you’re doing. So if you don’t care what you do; drop the question and stop bothering yourself.
And, if nothing in your life has ever interested you, lit you up, had you go the extra mile because you wanted to, or had you so engaged that you lost track of time (Wow, it’s that late already!) it’s time to seek professional help.
When you can tell that you’re not indifferent, just notice where you invest your time, money and energy over time. It may be part of your job or maybe not. I’m not a professional photographer but I’ve been fulfilling an interest in photography for over 50 years. Or it could be something that you notice in hindsight. When I switched careers from IT to developing people and teams, others didn’t see the fit. I knew that developing people was the most enjoyable part of my IT jobs; so don’t worry about whether others can see it.
And don’t worry about whether your job is your passion or your passion is your job. Listen to Penelope Trunk as she suggests that, “One of the worst pieces of career advice that I bet each of you has not only gotten but given is to ‘do what you love.’”