One of the hardest decisions you’ll ever face in life is
choosing whether to walk away or try harder.
Ziad K. Abdelnour
Whenever life invites me to participate in change — which is pretty much every day — I am excited to dive into these new adventures. For someone whose attention and energy can get distracted by “little shiny bits,” the beginning stage of any change easily draws me in. Of course, these little shiny bits of inspiration are the drawing card for most of us.
The excitement of being a part of something new and innovative triggers an energetic response in our bodies. This motivational spark is meant to be strong enough to see us through the letting go of old thought and behavioural patterns, which got us to where we are today but no longer serve our current purposes. What follows is the demanding work of knowing when an ending has arrived, seeing what needs to be relinquished, and accepting what remains as unfinished business in need of continued attention and energy.
My personal nemesis is this place in-between endings and new beginnings where fertile emptiness and uncertainty are the order of the days. Staying in this seeming void just long enough to internalize the lessons being learned is as much an art as a science.
This in-between stage of experimenting and practicing new learning and skills develops our discipline (code of conduct) and mastery (comprehensive capacity). The magic is to know how long to stay for the semi-permanent transformation to take hold and become self-sustaining. Because choosing a long-term vision over all forms of short-term immediate gratification is a challenging focus, our energy can begin to dwindle. However, without direct experience in the forms of experimentation and practice neither refined discipline nor mastery is possible.
In my youth, my default change pattern was “get an idea, act; get another idea, act; get another idea, act; and so on.” I called this rushing-toward-results my “strive and drive” pattern. All that rushing, with little or no time to enjoy the results, led to burnout. Unfortunately, many business colleagues, friends and family were doing the same. As proof, we successfully elevated depression (emotional burnout) to the number two disease globally. We were all working hard at being accelerated learners and multi-taskers — highly rewarded business skills in the day. Little did we know these were not life skills. They did not teach us the patience and wisdom needed to lead a healthy, happy life.
The consequence of accelerated learning and multi-tasking necessitates skipping steps on the learning curve. In any event in our lives, when we omit taking one step at a time as it presents itself to us, we miss out on the direct experience of the full event and the enriched discernment that follows. It is through direct experience — not avoidance — of life’s events that we learn what our strengths are and we build confidence to continuously tackle new learning and growth.
Skipping steps along any event’s learning curve sets us up to continually repeat similar events in our lives until the fullness of what we need to learn is acquired. Thus, I learned the colour of life is its poetry — distinctive style and rhythm. Collaborating with life, by leaning into what it offers and staying with that offering (good, bad or ugly) until an obvious sense of completion emerges, requires considerably less effort. Below, a poem I wrote depicts such a journey.
Keep On Keeping On
I am willpower. This I know to be true.
Past power moments called forth
this deep treasure trove of solar plexus energy
and moved mountains.
When younger and less conscious,
repeatedly draining this vast strength depleted me.
Playing ping-pong with willful energy —
high-low, high-low — realized too great a cost;
consequences not always consciously seen but dreadfully felt.
Life is not meant to be a roller-coaster ride of extremes —
not every day, certainly not every moment.
A leap had to be taken, out and away,
from the addictions of pleasure’s pursuit and pain’s avoidance.
That turned out to be a long journey into fear,
ten thousand steps of “keeping on.”
Each step, measured by the inch not the mile,
demanded previously unfelt patience and humility.
Different results drew different rewards.
What challenge is presenting the “do I stay, do I go” dilemma to you? How might you keep on keeping on your work to master that dilemma?
For more on self-discipline and self-mastery, click here.