Stop looking out there, you already have what you need

Mural painting of animals on the side of a building in Glasgow.

I’ve been working on a project at work recently and it’s been pretty challenging. I’m project managing the building of a THING and there are 4-5 people working on the THING and it’s all pretty loose and scrappy because, you know, that’s how THINGS get built in modern tech workplaces right? 🙄

We’ve been creating a new product and that is really hard to do, but the thing is, I’ve been suffering and unhappy about the work and I haven’t been able to put my finger on why.

It isn’t that the work is hard. I like hard things, really I do.

I really want so badly for the project to succeed and for the THING we build to be awesome, I want the people who are working on it to do well, and on and on…

But as the project has gone on it’s not going the way I hoped it would and I find myself not ok with it.

I thought that this suffering was coming from a good place and was driving me to make things better but I’m realizing it isn’t. I’m angry and sad about it. Being in those places doesn’t help me fix the way we’re doing things, or give good feedback for others to improve, or come up with creative solutions.

Sound familiar? I think I may have found something to help myself. Maybe it’ll help you as well.

In The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership (not just for people in “leadership” positions, really easy and enjoyable read too), one of the core “commitments” outlined in the book is to be your own source of “approval, control, and security.”

The basic concept is this: when I get angry, depressed, or annoyed that something isn’t going the way that I want, and act from that place of anger and sadness, I’m letting myself believe that the source of my approval, control, and security (which are the “three core wants of all human beings” according to the book) are dependant on that thing, the people working with me on it, etc.

“Out-there-ness is the belief that my approval, control, and security are dependent on someone or something other than myself. Put simply, I don’t have it within me and something or someone needs to give it to me. Out-there-ness leads to “if-only-ness”.

The recommendation in the book is to repeat the following question for anything that is bothering you, as many times as needed, as a way to identify when you are in this trap:

“If only _________ would _________ I would have approval/control/security.”

In my example that might be something like this:

“If only this THING we built would be world-class, I would have approval (aka be looked on as a great project leader).”

As a logical follow-up to the question, the book recommends that in order to get out of this trap you consider the fact that you might already have all the approval/control/security you need.

What then?

You cannot go anywhere to get what you already have and you cannot do anything to become what you already are.

Hale Dwoskin

I can care deeply about the THING we’re building. I can be ok with it being a struggle to work on. It’s supposed to be! But, at the same time, I can also hold the fact that what I want and need out of life is not dependent on it.

In other words, letting go of anger and sadness here doesn’t lessen my desire to make things better, it improves it.

I have what I need.

This little tool won’t eliminate the struggle, pain, or hard work inherent in life, but it just might save you from the unnecessary suffering we humans tend to pile on top of it.

This is a short post about a book I’m reading called The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman, and Kaley Klemp. If I write more about this book, I’ll keep it all here.

Comments welcome!