This One’s Above Our Pay Grade
It’s surprising to me how much time I (and most people I know) spend running future scenarios through our mind.
Well maybe there’s an evolutionary response about being watchful for danger, but in the world most of us live in, it’s simply exhausting and fruitless.
Even though I know this, I still engage in it unconsciously.
My oldest son, for example, has changed his job a couple of times recently; he can’t quite find his feet and I’m not even sure he’s in the right industry. In quiet moments, in the car usually, I find myself ‘worrying’ about him, wondering what might be next, whether he’s happy, how I can make it ‘OK’ for him. Normal mum behaviour 😉
Because, of course, his well-being is my responsibility, right? I have to protect him from those metaphorical sabre-toothed tigers?
Well, no actually, it isn’t.
I love my children more than anything in the world. If you’re a parent, then you’ll know that we want nothing more than for our children to be OK; to be happy; to be protected from pain and suffering in whatever form that comes.
If you’re not a parent, you probably have parents and have experienced the other side of parental love. If it appears overpowering, it’s simply based on a misunderstanding of what’s in our job description.
The place of balance is that, no matter how much we love someone, we have no idea what’s next in their life, in the same way we have no idea what’s next in our own. And even if we did, choosing one job over another can’t make someone happy.
No matter what happens to my son in this job or the next, he’s going to be OK. I don’t mean that glibly, in the sense of, “he’s going to get another job and be OK.” I mean that, deep down, underneath everything, he has the capacity to see what’s true, the creativity to work things out, and the resilience to bounce back, even from the deepest pain.
I’m not in control of what comes next for him. I don’t even believe he’s in control of it.
None of us need strategies for managing the future, none of us need life plans — because ‘life’ has a way of happening to us, of laughing up her sleeve any time we forget this is how it works.
Let’s stop spending so much time and energy thinking worrying about the future; chewing over decisions as if one outcome is more important than another. The reality is that we are very bad at predicting what’s going to happen. Joining the dots in hindsight — “oh I knew that job wasn’t going to work out!” — is simply ex-post rationalisation; it doesn’t make it true.
I can’t create certainty, I can’t control what’s ahead of me (or ahead for my son, or my clients); I can only respond to what’s in front of me right now, do what makes sense for me to do in this moment and, in the next moment, the next piece will fall into place.
Worrying about future outcomes is insidious; most of us don’t realise we’re doing it — until we see that we are and realise how crazy it makes us. Like the dog who’s just realised the thing he’s chasing is his tail, we can instantly step back and relax.
There’s a quote, variously attributed to Mark Twain, Churchill and Michel de Montaigne, the words of which are more true than we realise,
“I’ve had a great many troubles in my life,
most of which never actually happened.”
It IS in my job description to love my son, to love my clients, to love the people around me and to be present for them when we’re together.
It isn’t in my job description to control the future — for them or for me — and, as soon as I let that go, the more present I can be, and the less time I need to spend worrying about things that are well beyond my pay grade.
The day gets a lot brighter when I spend it in that place!
P.S. Once my clients see this difference, both at work and at home, it changes the basis of everything. It frees them from stress, it enables them to make better, clearer decisions, and it enables them to show up as one of the high performers, always able to keep a clear head and respond strategically to whatever comes up.