I HAVE WORKED WITH THOUSANDS OF HUMANS. That’s no exaggeration. Over the last 25+ years, I’ve helped folk leverage, solve, resolve, or just move on from every kind of challenge, dilemma, trauma, and conundrum you could imagine (and a great number of problems you haven’t yet heard of).
Early in my career, I focused on flashy interventions that earned me plenty of accolades from my peers – we thrived on helping those whom others had failed, and the stakes were so high that anything became possible. It was fun to appear cutting edge and the praise from others had us feeling like big shots.
Still, as I think you can tell, my cranium was firmly wedged up my butt. I wanted my clients to be successful, but I also needed to look good on the way. Worse yet, my allegiance to professionalism meant I wasn’t all-in —I maintained a detached distance, so-called “objectivity.”
As I got older, my focus shifted from trying to win praise to doing whatever it took for my clients to experience progress. This shift awakened a burning question in me:
What separated my thriving clients from the ones who continued to feel stuck?
After some reflection, I found a few indicators of eventual progress in all of those who successfully moved on.
1. They Openly Acknowledge What’s Important To Them
The first attribute I found across all the winners is their willingness to admit that what’s at stake is personal. Certain things matter and they matter to us. That’s what’s at the bottom of anything problematic, otherwise why care?
When things are difficult it’s possible to feel demoralized, pessimistic, and even uniquely singled out by fate.
That tells us one thing for certain: something important to us is in the balance.
We may discover that we are wrong—that we are better off than we felt—but our starting place needs to be here, where we are in touch with our motivation for things to be different.
Painful it may be, but it’s also fuel.
2. They’re Openminded But Specific
Global assessments are usually a sign of psychological collapse, where we group experiences together based on some discomfort they all share. Before we know it we feel underwater, burdened by the momentum of patterns and trends that seem insurmountable.
But if the events of our past do have one quality in common it is this: they are over.
They’re done. All the past is over now.
And the present is what is here in all its glory. Let’s engage.
“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Exert yourself.”
3. They Pay The Price
Rudyard Kipling once remarked:
“If you don’t get what you want, it’s a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.”
That’s a quote we can put to work.
In the pursuit of what we want, clarity in what we’re after and why we want it is key. We may even discover we need it less than we thought. Good to know.
In addition to knowing what we want and why, there is the price (if there wasn’t, we would have done the thing by now).
Ask yourself if you’re willing to do whatever it takes. Notice your response.
If it’s something like, “Well, it depends…” then that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it most certainly could be a good thing if this moment of soul-searching revealed the limits of how far you’ll go in order to have what you seek.
Indeed, few things are priceless, so let’s find out what something is actually worth to us.
More than likely we discover that our falling-short was because we did as Sir Kipling intimated: we bargained over the price and tried to get our objective on the cheap.
When faced with the actual price of something we very much desire, we will be willing to pay that price only if we decide consciously—with open eyes—to do so.
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” —Thomas Edison
By leaning into our discomforts instead of posturing or collapsing as a way of avoiding our vulnerabilities, we are able to bring all of ourselves to bear upon any problem at hand.
And admitting to ourselves that success in anything important is going to burn some calories is just the sobering preliminary thought process we need.
In situations where half-measures won’t suffice, we can now get to work.