It’s Not Working

“When a paradigm no longer provides reliable guidance for how to live in the world, the most common response is to grab hold of it more firmly. As it dawns on us that we don’t know how things work – that it’s not working – we become more insistent that it has to work just as we thought.”

Margaret WheatleyWho Do We Choose to Be?

It can be difficult to assess what I need to let go of. It’s tough to be objective when approaches, practices, behaviors and relationships that have worked so well for so long are past their expiration date. Few of us find this easy.

So I’m working to develop another point of reference, a way to guide me – gently and directly – to the knowledge that it is time to let go.

That point of reference is the amount of pressure I apply to make something continue as before even though it is time for it to become something else or to end altogether.

An example: my son is leaving for college next month. I’ve seen this coming for 18 years but of course that’s only cognitive awareness. My emotional awareness kicked in somewhere around February and I began exhibiting a grab-bag of behaviors that could generally be described as “emotionally charged.” I was holding on more firmly – fighting with reality – to ward off the certainty of what was to come.

Another: a client relationship was at an end. From a small, insecure place I didn’t think it had to be, that there was more to be done. So I offered up a suggestion that I didn’t believe in, that I didn’t have any interest in. Mercifully, it fell on deaf ears.

Everything ends. A good definition of wisdom is not only acknowledging that truth but accepting it as well.

“Lightly child, lightly” said Aldous Huxley. We are well advised.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

2 thoughts on “It’s Not Working

  1. Well said. I remember a time long ago when I was consulting with a major division of a large health plan. We had done some important work for them around new systems and a reorganization. They had been a long-time and lucrative client. But we had reached a point where we couldn’t see where else we might create value for them – the partner-in-charge kept saying “There must be SOMETHING else they would want from us.” Shortly thereafter, my engagement colleague and I met with the division EVP. We sat down in his private conference room, he looked at us thoughtfully, and before we could utter a single word, he said very simply, “I think we’re all done. Thank you for what you’ve contributed.” He arose and left. My colleague turned to me, smiled and said, “Let’s go to a movie!” And so we did.

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