Just because you’re good, doesn’t mean you should
Good is the enemy of great.
I recently read a fascinating article about a woman who was in a leadership position at her organization and on whom many people depended. The problem was that she was losing her commitment to that work and wanted to pursue other interests. Leaving would negatively impact the organization, the people who worked there, and the cause to which she had devoted so much time. What should she do? *
It was a familiar dilemma. There have been times when I have remained attached to a commitment when the best before date had long passed. It is so easy to overestimate our sense of importance in the broader scheme of things.
As our lives unfold, interests and priorities change. There may be nothing particularly wrong with what we’re doing. We just have a sense we’d like to do something else. When we’re not sure what that something else is, we tend to remain in place.
Challenges and difficulties are the levers to change, but what do we do when there is no presenting catastrophe to force our hand? When things are going right- or more accurately, not going especially wrong- it is much harder to turn our backs on a commitment we have made. Why would we? Things are fine. Or are they?
Many commitments (e.g. volunteer activities; family traditions; obligations to friends) are adept at convincing you that you can’t be replaced- at least not now. I have certainly been caught in this misconception, believing a better time to leave or stop what I’m doing, will magically present itself. It doesn’t.
Those who know me, are aware that my main criterion for taking on something new is to ask myself if it’s fun. Trouble is- something that starts out fun, later morphs into something that’s not so fun. I know the signs: my enthusiasm drops a few notches; tasks become a nuisance; I get on a slippery slope of procrastination; and my tolerance for the usual bumps and irritations associated with most endeavours, diminishes.
I know I need to pay attention when the quiet voice in my head murmurs from time to time: Can’t we do something fun? Or I see something another person is doing and think to myself- I’d like to do that!
Unfortunately, no one likes uncertainty. And so, people urge us to keep doing what we’re doing. With no clear alternative plan in place, we stay, assured that others we know and like very much, won’t be left in the lurch. What we’re doing may not be exactly what we want to do, but it’s “good enough”.
And yet….. are we misleading ourselves in thinking this way? Writer Jonathan Fields points out that as long we stay where we are and keep doing what we’re doing, we take away the possibility for someone else to step in. Someone who may do a better job than us!
The catch of course, is that there is usually not anyone around with a sign saying: “here I am”. And if no one steps up, things may fall apart. Can we risk that happening? Maybe we need to.
If we experience even the tiniest whisper to change direction, it warrants our attention. The question is: what to do about it. Figuring out the next direction may involve waiting- that active process of being attentive, listening, observing, paying attention. It may involve taking a small step to test the waters to explore a direction. Hopefully it doesn’t mean plunging into something else to fill the empty space. May we all resist this urge.
Sometimes we need to honour a commitment for a time to genuinely help another person or group out and because we know it’s the right thing to do. But being good at something is not enough of a reason to stay. Others may be highly inconvenienced. Things may fall apart. Something may end. But life does re-calibrate itself. Maybe not right away; but eventually something new emerges and it may even be better.
Decisions about our commitments usually go one of three ways: remain in place, knowing the path we are on is right for us; make some changes or accommodations to what we’re doing so it’s manageable or better; or we relinquish the commitment in favour of bold steps in a new direction, trusting that life will take us down the right path.
Whatever decision we make needs to be made from the heart. Life’s too short to settle for good enough. Relinquishing a commitment allows something better to emerge, not only for ourselves, but for others. Why wouldn’t we give someone else a chance to shine?
Giving up a commitment is not always easy to do. And yet it may be the right decision in beginning to imagine the best for ourselves! Every one of us deserves the best.
*The story described was from author and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, founder of the Good Life Project and author of How to Live a Good Life and Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance.