A week or so ago Emily Hearn released her new album, Hourglass. Emily hit my music radar a few years ago when she released a song entitled, Rooftop. I have a strong affinity for great female vocalist and Emily has joined the ranks of Regina Spektor, Adele, Eliza Doolittle, Aimee Mann, Eva Cassidy, Ashley Cleveland, Brandi Carlile and way too many more to name. Every now and again I get on a kick of listening to nothing other than female singers. Lately, I’m on that kick. And Emily is topping the list of listening. Lately.
The 8th track on this new record is that song, Give It Up. It serves to spark the conversation today. No, today’s episode isn’t about giving up on a relationship that’s worn out, or fizzled. It’s about giving up on something so we can move on to something better. It may not technically be giving up at all. Maybe it’s improving or growing.
I suppose everything runs its course. Some things last longer than others. Marriage, for instance, is a lifelong journey. Well, it should be. ‘Til death parts us. I believe that. But death does part us. That’s less about giving up and more about something just coming to an end. So I’m not talking about giving up on your marriage, or those you love.
Not everything – or everybody – is worth hanging onto. There’s a time for most everything.
Is There Something You Want To Work In Your Life? Is Something No Longer Working In Your Life?
Sometimes people ask me about my day work, “What exactly is executive coaching?” Mostly, I tell them it’s an exploration to help leaders figure out ways to improve. It’s literally helping leaders find out what isn’t working and why so they can fix it. There’s always something that isn’t working. Or something that isn’t working very well.
Executives or leaders aren’t any different than you and me. They usually keep doing what they’ve always done. Habits form. Ruts get comfy. Hope ebbs and flows, but most of us consistently tend to think if we just give it more time, it’ll improve.
We’ve all been encouraged to “give it time.” Parents told us. Teachers told us. Employers and co-workers have told us.
I’m not saying that clarity can’t improve over time, but time alone rarely improves a thing. Mostly because life is filled with entropy. Basically, entropy is a “lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.” Simply put, when we leave something alone, it decays and declines. It doesn’t improve.
Stop cleaning your house and you’ll see entropy within days. At the most, weeks. Stop taking care of your car and pretty soon it’ll be a beater! Everything in your life will turn to crap if you neglect it. It’s just things roll. Including relationships.
It works until it stops working.
A young couple wanted to visit with me one night. They decided to converge on my house after they got off work, each of them coming from a different direction, driving in different cars. She arrived after having fought having some car repairs performed that day. Just one more thing to take care of in the hectic life of a newly married couple. After a few hours we said our good-byes and they left. Well, they tried to leave. His car wouldn’t start. He’d not been having any trouble starting it…until it wouldn’t start. Her car was the problem vehicle, until his car decided to join forces.
That’s how it goes for all of us – with everything that stops working. It used to work. Maybe it used to work well. But today, it’s stopped working altogether like his car, or it’s stopped working as well as it once did. Hello, Entropy. Thanks for visiting me when I least expected you, or when I’m least prepared to pay your toll.
Entropy is force behind “not working.” It doesn’t knock on your door. It rips it off the hinges and breaks it in a million pieces so you have to buy a completely new door. Okay, maybe not at first. At first, it just sticks a bit. Then it sticks worse. And the hinges crack. Give it time, it’ll be okay. Nope. It’ll get worse, but you put it off because now is not a good time.
A good time is 10 o’clock at night when you’re clear across town from home leaving the home of somebody you went to visit. That’s when entropy demands you come out and play. He will not be refused.
Our lives become dislocated. Sometimes it’s neglect. Sometimes it’s poor effort. Sometimes it’s actions that don’t work. Sometimes it’s simple complacency caused because it’s always worked in the past, and we think that’ll continue. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
It’s all the stuff of stuff that stops working.
Do you wait ’til it stops working or do you break it before it’s broken? That’s the logic behind the old adage, “If it ain’t broken, break it.” Oh, you heard that other one: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well, that one doesn’t work either. There’s a better one – and a better way.
“If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”
Because it’ll break soon enough. Wisdom is found in questions. What isn’t working? Of course, it assumes we know what’s working and what isn’t. That’s not always the case. The car starts. It’s working fine. Until it won’t start. We pop the hood. Look closely and see corrosion all over the battery terminals. Look there, these connectors are busted, too. We hook up jumper cables, nothing. Looks like the battery is dead as a hammer!
Hum, looky there!
We’ve all done it. Maybe you’re doing it right now in some area of life. You’ve popped the hood to take a closer look at something that deserved an earlier inspection. It jumps out at you like that blue crusty gunk on corroded battery terminals. Hum, looky there! That’s a problem.
“I wonder how long that’s been like that?” we ask. We know the answer. A long time. Too long. New cars morph into old cars. New houses grow old. It all stops working if we neglect it. Even then, it wears out – just not as quickly.
I’m thinking of all those weird stories of married couples with one of them living a completely secret side life. You know, the guy who has another family living 8 states away. He’s married to 2 women at the same time. Neither knows of the other. It’s working for him…until he gets found out. And his world blows up. Happy karma!
How did he think that would work out? What was he thinking?
I haven’t a clue. He’s nuts. But maybe we’re nuts, too thinking things will work out for us, too — when we’re behaving poorly.
Or when we’re being neglectful. Okay, maybe not as badly as he is. And that makes us feel better about ourselves. “See, I’m not as bad as that!” Somehow that’s not making me feel much better. You? So I’m better than a lying polygamist? Well, aren’t I special?
Just because something in our life isn’t THAT broken doesn’t mean it’s not broken at all. Lately, most of my professional conversations have centered around schedules and time. I’m not a time management guru, but I can play like I am…and often do. For many people the calendar and the schedule is broken. Broken in that it’s not working to their best benefit. Broken in that they’d like to make some improvements. Broken in that they’re not able to devote as much time doing the things they know would serve their work better.
There’s the first combo-step. Identify what’s not working while figuring out what does work!
It’s not a multi-tasking thing. It’s a simultaneous thing. It’s less like juggling and more like chewing gum and riding a bike at the same time.
Those executives who need my help figuring out a better way to run their schedule didn’t always suffer a time problem. All in all the schedule once worked, but it’s been a good run. Now it’s time to do something different. Maybe things have changed and made what once worked now obsolete.
That couple that visited me a few nights ago…the ones with car trouble. She’s a nurse. Awhile back she went from night shifts to day shifts. Past habits didn’t work any more. Her sleep patterns had to change. Everything about her schedule changed because she no longer was working at night. Such a drastic change in life demands changes in most everything. It was clear to her what needed to change so her habits could keep serving her to perform her duties as a nurse. She didn’t struggle identifying it.
And like those things that jump out at us upon closer examination, we can often identify what’s not working if we’d just take the time to look more closely.
I’m constantly frustrated by a lack of perception. My own. And others. It’s a pet peeve that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. People who don’t pay attention. People who fail to see something – especially when it’s obvious to anybody with a minimum degree of perception. Many people, many things, many circumstances go unnoticed because we’re just not looking. Or we’re not looking closely enough.
Few things irk as much as poor, inattentive service in a restaurant or a retail store. Chalk it up to a life spent leading luxury retailing companies where service needs to be spectacular. I’m fanatical about customer or shopper experience. And I’m completely intolerant of poor service. No excuse will cut it with me. I don’t make a scene, but I’ll confront it if it’s poor enough. It’s a lack of attention.
Sometimes it comes home. We don’t pay attention to the things that stop working. We neglect to see the things that we need to let go.
Husbands and wives don’t let go of their cell phones long enough to look into each others eyes. The other day I thought to myself if my wife and I would spend just a fraction of the time looking into each other’s eyes as we do our phones, we’d be looking at each other an uncomfortable amount of time. 😉
Pay attention. Pay closer attention.
I don’t care what you’re trying to improve, focus always benefits the process. That’s what you need if you’re going to ramp up your attention-paying skills!
We just don’t look closely enough. Many years ago I got highly motivated to lose weight. Like many people I had battled it for as long as I could remember. I was in my early 30’s and I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Part of the process was keeping a food diary. Nothing new about that — except for me. I’d never done it.
It was easy to look back at the day and say, “I only ate a sandwich and a few chips at lunch, then a salad for dinner.” Truth was, I wasn’t accurately remembering everything I ate because until I started keeping a diary I wasn’t paying attention. That lack of attention was killing me.
It was a lesson I knew well in another area of life – expenses. In my early teens, for some reason I still don’t know, I bought a little ledger. It was one of those little hardback 5 x 7 inch kind. It was a two-column accounting ledger. I started writing down every penny I earned in one column and every penny I spent in the other. I had no interest in accounting, but I was very interested in how much money I had – and where that money went.
Friends would mock me when I’d buy a pack of gum and log it in my journal. I didn’t care. It was important for me to pay attention to it.
Fast forward to college and I was still doing it. My friends weren’t. They were always broke, even though we were all working jobs while going to school. More than a few times one of them would ask me to help them figure out why they were always broke. Every single time I had them do the same thing – for one month record every cent you earn and every cent you spend. “At the end of the month,” I’d tell them, “you’ll know exactly why you’re broke.” And they would. Mostly, it was due to dining out so much. But by paying attention they could fix their problem, if they wanted.
We pay attention to what we care about. We improve the points of our focus.
Figuring It Out
Lately I’ve been watching a lot of interviews with guitar players. I’m curious about their learning process. I’ve watched video interviews with guys like Joe Pass, the acclaimed jazz guitarist who died about a decade ago. He was born in 1929 and had no other players around. Nobody played music in his family. It was just him. He didn’t have a record player so listening to records wasn’t convenient.
Joe had to learn the hard way in a time before the Internet and YouTube tutorials. Quite literally, he had to take the time to figure it out.
Joe and his friend spent hours trying to figure out a single tune by listening closely – paying attention – to what they were hearing on the record. At the same time they were trying to play the same notes on their guitars. It was an arduous process, but find any interview with Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler or any other older guitarist and you’ll hear the same thing. Players who grew up in an era where the answers weren’t a simple Google search away had a tougher row to hoe, but maybe there was an advantage.
It demanded focus, desire and tenacity. Joe Pass wanted to play so he devoted himself to do whatever it took so he could. I’m betting Joe gave up a lot. Friends were likely out doing all sorts of other things while Joe was glued to a portable record player trying to figure out how those notes were being played. It’s the determination required to learn something new, but it’s also the tenacity required to get better.
In that same interview with Joe Pass, he confesses that he no longer travels with a guitar amp. What? A touring musician who doesn’t travel with an amp? That’s right. He gave it up.
Good run or no, sometimes it’s time to move on. Or give up. But isn’t it easier to give up if it wasn’t a good run. If it didn’t work, isn’t it easier to quit?
You’d think so, huh? But I had plenty of buddies who stayed broke ’cause they spent too much money dining out every week. They kept on doing it even after I made them log how much they spent. I don’t remember any of them having the discipline to do anything different. They should have said, “It was fun while it lasted, but I need to start saving some money.”
That’s why statistics claim that a third of us have set aside only $1,000 for savings or retirement. It’s not working. It’s never worked. But still, many of us decide we’ll continue doing the same thing, living paycheck to paycheck.
That’s why overweight people keep on eating too many calories and neglecting exercise. It’s never made us more fit. We know it won’t work, but we continue to do it.
Because it’s easy. It requires little effort to spend money. Or over eat. Or sit on the sofa. It’s time to quit, but still — too few do.
Find somebody who is saving money and working hard to be financially responsible. Watch them carefully and you’re liable to see them ramping up their efforts, finding ways to save more, earn more through their investments or cut costs more effectively. They operate from a spirit of, “That works pretty well, but this would work better!”
Joe Pass worked once with amplifiers, schlepping them around the country. That worked well for his performances, but it wasn’t working too well for him as he was growing older. So he stopped. He quit and started playing directly into the room’s sound system. It was good while it lasted, but he was willing to sacrifice consistency of sound for convenience in his travel. He was also willing to put more pressure on the people who booked him to play to have a system that would sound good.
What are you willing to give up to make it better?
That’s the point of it all. Whether it was a good run or not, something is stopping you from making progress. What is it? That’s what you have to give up.
Jeffrey Gitomer, famed sales trainer, has said for years that he was able to write so many books because he gave up TV. While other people were becoming experts on their favorite sitcom or drama, Jeffrey said he was writing books. He thinks others could do it, too. I’m sure he’s right.
Joe Pass, in spite of nobody in his family being a musician, went on to become world-class. He gave up some things. Quite a lot of things I’d imagine. Turns out he had enough determination to stick with the guitar and enough talent to become world-class. Not everybody does, but I suspect anybody who wants it badly enough will pay the price to achieve some degree of success. Those who don’t, won’t.
So what success are you spoiling because you just won’t quit something that’s getting in the way?
• What could you quit that would improve your marriage or your love relationship?
• What could you quit that would improve your career?
• What could you quit that would improve your faith?
• What could you quit that would improve your friendships?
There are likely a list of things you could write under each one. We’ve all got many things in our life that we know would help us excel…if only we’d quit them.
I have a bit of theory on why this is so hard for many of us. We’ve bought into the American lie that you can have it all. No, you can’t. But still we try.
We can eat 6000 calories a day and maintain good health. No, we can’t. We can watch 60 hours of TV a week and be accomplished at something other than watching TV. No, we can’t. We can live on Facebook 4 hours a day and be engaged with our friends and family in “the real world.” No, we can’t. Something has to give. Entropy teaches us that things don’t grow better when left untended. But we’ve bought into the false belief that they do.
Now you’ve got the ball. Wrestle those questions to the ground. Choke them out. It’s up to you to find your way.