What’s all this pushback about?

I was talking with a friend recently who explained that everything was going just fine. In fact, he felt that he was positioned for great things. But he was struggling.

“I push through the day,” he said. “I’m confident I’m doing the right things, the big ones and the small ones. But it’s all stretch. It’s work. And I don’t feel much certainty about it at the end of the day. It leaves me feeling tired and disoriented and as though I hadn’t done much.”

One thing he has going for him is clarity of purpose. He doesn’t doubt his direction, though he sometimes doubts himself. “But I’m all in,” he added. Given what he can know now, he’s sure he’s on the right course.

So what’s wrong?

I encouraged him and said: “You’re on the verge.” He’d taken big, if planned, risks with his work. He’d begun to lead his own projects, and not everyone welcomed it. “I’ve stepped out front,” he said. He felt somewhat alone there, but confident that his experience and expertise had laid a good foundation. He can see capacity for leadership taking shape. “You know what’s wrong?” he said. “Nothing.”

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Here’s what we decided might serve him best:

Dig in

First, the facts: Acknowledge that the hard work of sticking to his plan and its goals will continue to be hard work, and that that will change over time.

Recognize that the challenge will tax him in ways that make him feel like something is wrong with him. He’ll feel like he’s not himself. But he may be becoming more like himself.

And he should be prepared to step back and take a break from time to time. Then dig in again.

Watch and listen

When is it difficult to face the work toward those goals? When is it almost unbearable?

Notice the thoughts and feelings in those moments at the verge. The resistance we feel when developing new abilities feels like we’re going in the wrong direction. We may look around for someone to blame or take responsibility off our shoulders. But resistance is crucial feedback that reveals our learning edge: where current capability ends and learning opportunity spreads out like the night.

My friend’s edge is full of information about what it will mean to step out. Watch for the little lights winking on in the darkness. Listen to what you tell yourself at the verge and be prepared to doubt that it has always been true or that it will always be true.

Refocus

Resistance follows from challenging ourselves. If we’re pointed in the right direction, not fooling ourselves, it may take more than bliss to lead us to a deep and satisfying destination. So keep one eye on yourself and test where you may be telling yourself only what you want to hear. Then turn back to the resistance. That’s the frontier.

So, nothing is wrong. My friend’s purpose and goals led him to this verge. And they are changing him. He didn’t know that was going to happen. He didn’t suspect it would call on resources that he’s still developing. But even in the face of uncertainty and resistance he says, “I’m in. I am so in.”

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