4 Unexpected Things I Wish I Could Say No To
You’ll most likely have heard Michelangelo’s comment about how he created his sculpture. Let me paraphrase for you:
“I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like a lion, and I’m left with a lion.”
We all nod our head to that, but you have in that statement the very sine non qua of Great Work:
Focus on the No’s and you become clear on the Yes’s.
I talk about it a lot, not just because I think it’s the essence of doing more Great Work but because it seems to be the essential lesson I keep needing to learn about doing more Great Work for myself. (You do know all of us teachers teach what we most need to learn, don’t you?)
Here are four somewhat unexpected things I’d like to do a better job at saying No to – and how I plan to do it.
When you’re done, pop over to the blog post and let me know in the comments what you’re trying to say No to.
1. Saying No to Control
… so I can say Yes to Freedom
My very first boss was creative, prolific and a touch insane. I remember one of my mouth-operating-before-brain-career-limiting-move moments when, in a company strategy session and in front of everyone, I joked he needed to have a finger in every pie.
I seem to have become that very same person.
Box of Crayons now has too many pies. Either that, or I have not enough fingers.
But in any case, we – and by that I mean I – have reached a point where it can’t go on.
If I haven’t dropped a ball yet, it’s only a matter of time. And hamster-in-wheel is not
a job description worth much.
Here’s the shift in thinking that might make the difference for me. I am not Box of Crayons. I serve Box of Crayons.
Here’s the action I’m taking to make the shift. We’ve hiring some additional support for me, people who’ll lead projects, filter some of the communication that comes my way and help keep me where I belong.
2. Saying No to Popularity
… so I can say Yes to Friendship
I’m not super obsessed with numbers, and in fact am pretty lousy at managing metrics.
(I mainly go with “Is this the right mix of Great Work and Good Work?” “Am I having fun?” “Are we in the poor house?” I’m hoping for Yes Yes No as the answers).
But the rise of new technology means that one way of spending time is hanging out in the social media mirrored rooms waving at many (woo hoo! 8,000 people on Twitter!) but never really holding hands and having a conversation with a few.
At least, in my case, not enough.
The shift in thinking is to recognize it as a width vs depth thing, and feel the hunger for the depth.
The action I’m taking is to take the Call a Friend option once a day to connect to people I love.
I have such an exciting project on the go, and you’re going to hear more about it in the coming months – in fact I’ll be asking for your help to make it successful. Here’s the high-level, top-secret summary: an ebook with a bunch of fantastic contributors writing about, in so many words, how to do more Great Work. Here’s what’s cool about it – it’s
going to help raise a bunch of moolah for a great charity…
More to come on that of course, but what I’m conscious of is that between now and January, I need to give this project – my Great Work Project for the moment – the appropriate time and space to come together.
This matters, and as such it’s in real danger of being ignored and shelved as the Good Work tide continues to rise and its waves lap my feet.
And Good Work is so tempting. The Great Work makes me fret, gives me sweaty palms, invites all sorts of self-sabotage. Good Work on the other hand is the relatively simple task of rolling up my sleeves and getting things done, having some fun and often making some money all the way. And yet – Great Work, unsafe and uncertain as it so often is, is where I hang out on the edges of my own competence and ambition, learning what’s possible for me and for the world.
The shift in thinking is to remember (and remember and remember) that Great Work projects take time and need time, and your calendar never lies about what really is most important to you.
The action I’m taking is to schedule and track my time on this project, with the goal of six hours a week to move it forward. (That means 132 hours committed between now and the end of the year. That should be enough for some progress.)
4. Saying No to Plans
… so I can say Yes to Now
Truth is, I’m unlikely to ever say No to plans. I love them – which is one reason at least that Charlie Gilkey and I ran a great little teleseminar on the art of mid-range planning. I’ve got plans for the week, the month, the quarter, the year. When in doubt, I pull out a piece of paper and start sketching out a plan (which, it must be said, often looks exactly like the plan I’d done two weeks earlier and then “filed” somewhere safe and forgotten about.)
But perhaps it’s time to plan a little less. Leo from Zen Habits is on a No Goals kick at the moment, but I can’t quite go that far. I am becoming aware that the price I pay for planning is that I spend more time in the future and less time in the here and now.
For instance, I’m writing this newsletter on the deck on my mother-in-law’s house in Nova Scotia. It’s a Friday, the heat from the day is still in the air but the humidity is gone as we drift towards evening. I’m sipping a rather delicious glass of Shiraz Viognier – if you’re thinking that the writing in this is a little OTT, that just might be a reason – and the garden is vivid with flowers, a family of robins dancing in and out of the foliage and the bird bath.
When I’m planning, I kind of miss all of that.
The shift in thinking is to realize that planning comes at a cost. A price I’m willing to pay, but perhaps to pay less these days.
The action is to spend more time with the Vice President of Everything Else, who is a genius at enjoying the moment.
Don’t Take My Word For It
Smart people thinking out loud about choices.
“Many are stubborn in pursuit of the path they have chosen, few in pursuit of the goal.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher
“I can resist everything except temptation.”
– Oscar Wilde, Irish writer
“Lead us not into temptation. Just tell us where it is; we’ll find it.”
– Sam Levenson, American humorist
“Choice is the essence of what I believe it is to be human.”
– Liv Ullmann, Norwegian actress
“Given the choice between accomplishing something and just lying around, I’d rather lie around. No contest.”
– Eric Clapton, English musician
“He who has choice has trouble.”
– Dutch proverb
“I exercise extreme self-control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.”
– W. C. Fields, American actor
“If everything’s under control, you’re going too slow.”
– Mario Andretti, Italian-American race car driver