Posts

Become attached to your future, not your past

In 1899 Charles H. Duel, then Director of the U.S. Patent office said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

In 1895, Lord Kelvin who was President of the Royal Society said, “Heavier than air flying machines are impossible.”

In 1905, Grover Cleveland, then President of the United States said, “Sensible and responsible women do not wan to vote.”

In 1943, Thomas Watson, then Chairman of IBM said, “There is a world market for about five computers.”

We all say and think things everyday that we sincerely believe to be true, even though they are not true at all.

When we think or say positive things it could be motivating. Even though sometime it could cause us to underestimate what it takes to get something done. However, when we think or say negative things it often limits our view of what is possible and therefore it disempowers us and makes us less powerful.

Our thoughts are not objective. We see things and form views based on our pre-conceived notions. We don’t believe or disbelieve what we see. We actually see what we believe or disbelieve.

We seem to already know how good or bad the future is going to be even though the future hasn’t happened yet.

For example, when people start a new project they often say things like “this is going to be hard” or “it’s going to take a long time.” When they are searching for employment they often say “its really hard to find a job in this field or these days.” And when people are looking for a romantic relationship they often say “there aren’t many potential women or men out there given my age.” I hear these types of comments in my coaching work all the time.

These are all valid perspectives, but they are not facts or truths. And, if we get too attached to them, they often become self-fulfilling prophesies.

It’s as if we are driving toward our future, but without realizing it, we are looking into our rearview mirror. So, everything we see that seems to be in front of us is actually behind us. We think we are objectively working on our future, but we are actually stuck in our past. And, when we keep bumping into objects and/or having recurring accidents and issues we think: “this is just the way life is” or “this is as good as it gets.”

If we were actually driving our car on the highway and we realized we were looking at our rearview mirror, rather than the road in front of us we would immediately shift our view.

Could we do the same in our real life?

If we focused on our future without being distracted by our past we could strategize, plan and navigate more freely and effectively toward our objectives and commitments. We would probably also be able to avoid many of the hurdles and obstacles that impede our progress.

I often hear people say things like “forget the past, discard it, pretend like it didn’t happen…” when giving advice to others who are dealing with a challenging situation. I find that advice both silly and unnecessary. First, it is impossible to forget our past, especially when we have traumatic or memorable events in it. Second, it isn’t necessary to forget it in order to move forward with freedom and confidence.

We all have the ability to become attached to our future while having our past. Unfortunately, most people tend to live in the opposite way – they stay attached to their past and have their future.

When people who are attached to their past face new possibilities they tend to focus on the obstacles and reasons why things can’t be done or why things won’t work. When you try and enroll them in new ideas and possibilities they often respond with “Yes but…we can’t do this because… And, they often refer to the people who are initiating new possibilities as naïve and/or unrealistic.

People who stand in the future tend to be more optimistic and confident. I was coaching a group of managers from two functions in a known technology company who were working on improving their role definition and collaboration.  The dialogue quickly became extremely lively and flowing with ideas. People constantly built on each others’ thoughts and ideas by saying “Yes and…we could also do this and that.” This is a typical dynamic when people stand in the future.

We don’t have to forget or discard our past in order to become our future. In fact, we should always honor, respect and learn from past lessons. But, we shouldn’t cross the line and become too attached to our past. It will limit our ability to create and fulfill great things in our future.

 

Don’t accept cynicism and resignation

Early June 2014 I published an article in the online Careers in Government publication called It takes courage to say NO to cynicism and resignation. I also posted a blog about the same topic on April 10th, 2014.

As you can tell, I feel passionate about this topic. I believe we were all born with the innate ability and right to express ourselves, live a life of meaning, and be fulfilled and happy. Unfortunately, so many people don’t live and behave this way, especially in organizations.

I was facilitating a session with 150 managers of a highly unionized division of a well-known technology company.  During the introductions a veteran supervisor stood up and introduced himself in the following way: “My name is Bill. I don’t remember how long I have been here, but I have 64 months to go” and he sat down. The room went silence but you could hear the cynical giggles spreading throughout the crowd.

With more than 30 years under his belt, Bill was clearly uninspired, cynical and resigned. I could imagine him coming to work every day opening his locker and marking off another day on his hanging calendar. I would describe his mindset as equivalent to a “prisoner doing time.”

I wish I could tell you that Bill is the exception. So many people seem to feel powerless and unable to make a difference in their job on a daily basis. I often ask people at all levels of organizations this question: “Do you feel you can make a significant difference in shaping the things that are most important to you; things like the priorities of the organization, the collaboration of teams around you and the overall morale and excitement of their teams?”

People have great insights and ideas about how to improve things and how to make their work environment more productive and enjoyable. But they often don’t feel they can apply these ideas and make the difference they truly want to make.

When people stop believing that things can change they tend to get discouraged and disengaged. They stop pursuing certain opportunities and challenges. A very small minority of people physically resigns and leaves. But, most don’t. A few people make feeble attempts to change things only to find themselves thwarted, hence falling back into line.

But, most people simply continue about their jobs with minimal enthusiasm, ownership and drive. They are physically there but often mentally checked out. They come to meetings but don’t speak up, volunteer their ideas or take risks. They comply and survive but don’t lead, express themselves or thrive.

I am not trying to portray an overly harsh and gloomy picture of reality. This is the norm in most organizations, even the most successful ones. I see it everywhere.

The good news is that we NEVER have to settle for this predicament. We can ALWAYS make the choice to take a bold stand and not accept or adopt the cynicism, resignation and negativism that surround us. We can fully express ourselves and communicate authentically and effectively at all times.

It does take courage to say NO to negativism, cynicism and resignation – at work and in life – to ALWAYS stand for optimism, possibilities and your ability to make a difference. But, that space is fully available for us.

Here are a few tips on how to stay positive and empowered:

  • Be courageous. If you want to be a leader and say NO to cynicism you need to be courageous and take a stand. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather embracing your fears and acting in a way that is true to your values and commitments, even if people around you are in a different space.
  • Don’t engage in negative conversations. Don’t entertain, engage in or initiate negative or cynical conversations around you. These are toxic and cancerous to the organization but more important – to you personally. If you want to make a difference address issues and complaints directly with the appropriate people. If you don’t intend to address certain issues don’t contribute to the background noise about them.
  • Associate only with positive, like-minded people. When you associate with cynical people it will pull you down. If you associate with like-minded positive people it will pull you up and keep you in good shape to contribute and make a difference.
  • Live up to your stand. Look for little things to do every day that express your commitment and forward your stand to make a difference. There is a great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt that I love: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Follow her advice and you’ll become better and better at it.