Flow Where The Water Already Flows

How many times do you approach a challenge in life or work as if it's the first time anyone in the history of the world has ever dealt with that challenge?

When I'm tasked with a new challenge, project or area of personal development I often find myself overwhelmed with all the work to be done. I believe I have to find all the answers and create the approach all on my own.

We waste so much time and energy inventing new problems for ourselves instead of realizing someone has been down this road before. When we navigate hard times or start something new we make real progress by seeing where the water is already flowing and jumping in that river.

When I was a high school teacher on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, I also advised the drama club. We were set to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream for our spring show and the week before curtain, we lost half of our cast to the Denver March Powwow. It was a rather normal thing for families to pull their kids out of school and disappear down to Colorado for the event.

I called my dad to ask if he thought I was justified in canceling the show. He said I was, but challenged me to ask for help first. He said there might be others who wanted to participate in the work I was trying to do. Maybe I could learn something by including others instead of shouldering the burden alone, he told me.

So, I timidly asked some teacher friends if they'd take on the vacated roles; they were mostly small parts anyway. My neighbor ended up playing Francis Flute, a man who has to play a woman in the show and wear a dress. At times his first semester, he struggled to connect with his students - after the show, he was a god. We brought the house down and had to add an extra performance night. Most of my buddies still remember their lines from the show. Students connected with their teachers in a way they never would have before.

Asking for help is uncomfortable. It's difficult and scary to be vulnerable. Killing our ego and adopting approaches of others before us is humbling. But if we want to grow, we can't do it alone. We simply don't have the capacity to know everything about how to navigate our careers and our lives. We need others for that.

It's foolish to believe we're the only ones who want what we want. It's a waste of time to attempt to start from scratch when we have a goal to accomplish.

When we invite others in, we remind one another we can't do life alone. We cut the crap and realize we're more alike than we think we are. We can always learn something from moments of forced humility. Let me share my process for doing this work in my own life.

What I used to do:

  • Approach a new problem by first identifying all the areas I don't know how to do the work, then curate a list of all the challenges that are going to come my way.

  • Try to invent new ways to solve the challenges I identified - on my own.

  • Freak out under the immense pressure of inventing my approach from scratch.

  • Believe I’m not giving my best effort if I seek to make it easier on myself or others by asking for help. Because starting things and growth should always be hard.

  • Believe each new challenge is independent from every other challenge or project I’ve endeavored to complete. After all, it would be cheating to copy and paste knowledge and skills from past experiences.

What I’m learning to do:

  • Start with an asset-based mindset first and ask myself:

    • What do I already have going for me?

    • What is this like that I've done before?

    • How might I borrow or steal from others who have already done what I'm trying to do?

    • Who would love to be included in this work?

    • Who is already a pro in this area who I can learn from?

Why this is difficult:

  • We don’t like asking for help.

  • We want the credit and will suffer in order to get it.

  • We believe our challenges are special to us.

Question to ask yourself:

  • Where am I inventing work for myself because I falsely believe for me to do meaningful work that I must invent everything from scratch?

Some things to try:

  • Consider what is currently on your plate or soon to be.

  • Stop and think of the people or organizations who have done this before.

  • Kill your ego.

  • Ask for help, insight, advice, expertise.

  • Invite others to join and remember this is both enjoyable and important for the other party to be included.

  • Actually do this.

We forget that all of business and organizing is really an excuse for us to interact with one another. We are a lonely people, though few of us admit it. You'll grow and build something of greater value if you enlist others whose lives and professional goals are already flowing in the same direction.

As the old saying goes - you can't push the river.

But you can enter the flow.