Occasionally I hear myself say something in the course of a conversation, and I think “that sounds quite good, I should write it down”. What usually happens then, of course, is that I am distracted by something else, and later I cannot quite remember what I said.
I imagine that somewhere deep inside my subconscious mind there is a team of mining elves hacking away at a subterranean seam of densely packed detritus. Every now and then they will find a small gem which they carefully extract and then lob into my conscious mind; whereupon out pop a few words that seem to make some sense.
This week I said something which has stayed with me. I am not going to overclaim anything for it, but I will share it. I was talking to a lawyer who is wonderfully and deservedly successful. She is kind, funny, clever, liked and rather brilliant at what she does. She has also held several significant roles and her new job is big, important and entirely right for her.
Not untypically however she shares her life with someone who at best is rather grudging of her success, and at worst is a constant nagging critic. Her imposter self was in full blather when I caught up with her and there was a long list of things her nagging critic insisted she had not done, or had not done well enough.
I listened, as I always do, because I know the nagging critic does not like to be shut down, but I also know that it will eventually run out of breath. At that point, and allowing enough space for kinder thoughts to rest, I asked her “why are you striving?”
As these four little words came out of my mouth, I felt strongly that they were important. I assume that somewhere deep inside, one of my subterranean elves was doing a little fist pump dance.
In business there is always talk of targets and development and stretch and competition. In this vocabulary there is a sense of propulsion, of energy and of continuous improvement. It is however a language that is also restless and can feel exhausting.
Where is the rhythm? Where are the changes of key? Where is the meditation? Frankly, where is the wisdom?
The thought I want to share is that to properly honour all our hard work and striving, we must also allow our minds to unfurl. Otherwise, how do we reflect on all we have learnt and all we have achieved, so that we are wiser for these experiences?
Could it be that there is a point when completing one more deal, or launching one more product, or achieving one more target, matters a little less? Could it be that our value is not in narrowly repeating what we have already done, but in using all our experiences and wisdom to help our businesses, our colleagues and ourselves fulfil our collective potential to make a difference?
Perhaps if we focussed less on compiling another toppling list of tasks for today (a list that will probably not matter tomorrow) we would be able to trust our life’s work a little more. In doing so we would judge less harshly every small slip or fluffed line or missed beat, and instead love the years of our life’s experience, knowing we had stored away gems for our subterranean elves to mine.
I also want us to relish the thought that wisdom is not confined to the latter stages of our lives and careers. We all have our own life song to sing and to which we add lyrics and melodies each and every day. There will be wisdom in the story of our most junior colleagues, and in the new starter we have not said “hello” to yet; as well as in the quiet guy whose name we can never remember, but who is about to retire. One of our kindest gifts to anyone is to spend enough time with them to let their nagging critic talk itself silent, and to offer a space for their story to rest and be heard. We all have wisdom and we all have a story that matters.
“Why are you striving?” is not a criticism of ambition or the desire to learn. It is simply a gentle challenge to suggest that perhaps we do not always have to strive. Sometimes it is in the pauses where wisdom will thrive.
Take care. Paul xx