It’s been said a lot of different ways that life is not a destination, but a journey. A lot of homespun wisdom and formal philosophy attempts to clarify ‘the purpose of life’ or various other questions about what we’re doing with our lives and why we do it. A good friend was recently seeking my advice about his relationship to money. He was somewhere between perplexed and depressed that he hasn’t been able to produce the financial results in his business that he wanted. This man is a very well educated, experienced and competent businessman. He had been successful working in other companies, but is still in the process of getting his own business off the ground. I mention this because I think a lot of us are at that point in our lives where we begin to take stock of where we are, what we’ve accomplished and what we have in mind for the next phase of our lives and career. The conversation with my friend revealed three distinctions I think are generally relevant to anyone and are worth noting.
1. Most of us have a deep belief that we need to understand why something is the way it is in order to do something about it. This is a variation of the notion that our present is caused or determined by our past. This false causality is at the heart of the persistence of so many problems and patterns. When it comes to understanding why we do what we do or have produced what we have produced, the story is usually psychological. In the case of my friend, the story is about his relationship with his “super successful” father and why that has somehow affected his effectiveness and attitudes today.
An alternative to getting caught up in explanations is to focus on the ‘whats’ (what is, what we are choosing, and what we are doing) and not worry about the ‘why’ (which is always just a story anyway).
2. Our culture teaches us we need to have control in order to succeed. My friend is doing all the right things but isn’t getting the results he wants in the timeframes that he wants them. His attempts to ‘fix things’ or ‘solve problems’ (even if he thinks the problem is himself) are, in fact, a product of believing that:
- We have control over outcomes as a function of what we are doing, and
- The exercise of control is a product of individual attributes such as will power, discipline, talent and so forth.
On close examination, we realize we don’t really have control over most of what transpires in our lives—certainly not other people, places or things. We do have some choice about how we relate to all of it, but not control over it. When we don’t see this or are in denial about it, then whatever we think we control will control us.
In my friend’s case, the issue is one of context, or his ‘way of being’ and relating to money. He is being used by his ‘story’ that something is wrong with him or he would have the results he wants. The more he tries to change something or fix something, the more he reinforces the context that he is lacking something and the more evidence he manifests that this is ‘true’. It becomes a vicious cycle where the more he tries to overcome whatever obstacles he perceives, the more obstacles he encounters. The game becomes a ‘reaction’ to or coping with his circumstances, rather than being an expression of his vision.
The analogy that finally worked for him was seeing that he has been a coach in the game he’s created (which by any standard is extraordinary). However, by fixating his attention on the scoreboard he’s lost touch with the love of the game and the players on the field. His moods are reactions to the score, which both blinds him to what may or may not be missing in his business and robs him and his family of the joy of the game and the vision they have for their enterprise and their lives.
3. Finally, we often think we can ‘know’ ourselves. Yet we are all always blind to our own ‘way of being’. That is why we need to have people and coaches in our lives who see what we cannot. Until we are clear that we are really committed to something we cannot accomplish by ourselves, we aren’t coach-able. Once we are committed, then we need a relationship with someone or something outside our own self-referential point of view to help us become aware of our own self-limiting structure of interpretation.
In this case, my friend just needed to be reminded that his life and his company aren’t about money or any other ‘thing’. Rather, money is the way we can keep score in a game like business—but winning and losing the business game is not about our balance sheet or profit and loss statement. That is the scoreboard.
Great business people and great leaders always clearly distinguish between actions and outcomes. Moreover, they are always consciously creating a vision (in one form or another) of having already won the game. Whatever the score is at a given moment is exactly what it should be to have won when the final whistle blows!!! This is the essence of intentionality and the power to create our reality. As Mahatma Ghandi said: “You must BE the change you want to make happen.” Or to paraphrase…you need to BE successful before what you are DOING will manifest your intention. In this way, you become the opening (or the context or space) in which the symbols of success can register on the scoreboard.