Jonathan interrupted Dennis.
“Well, it might be about finding the right combination of responsibility. Like, if you could just get the perfect blend, then you would have the right amount of responsibility and be willing to devote just the right amount of time but not feel compelled to devote any more, and you’d be able to make the right-sized impact that you’re here to make.”
Jonathan paused to make sure Dennis was with him before continuing.
“But I have two thoughts about that. First of all, I’m willing to bet you’ve tried to do exactly that, and found that no matter how close you seem to get, the perfect amount you’re seeking remains elusive. No matter how hard you try, you either end up bored, or you end up frantically trying to do more than you can handle.”
Jonathan checked in, “Do I have that part right?”
Dennis agreed with Jonathan before he continued.
“Great. The second thing is that finding the perfect blend is basically like trying to arrange the circumstances of your life, so that you can experience life the way you want. Which is fine, and is what most people in the world are up to — but it’s a pretty limited way to experience and create your life. It basically means that you get to experience the life you want, provided the world around you remains fixed in this narrow band.”
Dennis broke in to protest.
“Well, I don’t think that’s entirely fair. There are places in my life where I actually have gotten things pretty well balanced. And it hasn’t been that bad. And I do feel like I’ve been making progress on this. Like, a few more years maybe and I could have things pretty much set up.”
Jonathan paused and acknowledged what Dennis had shared.
“Yah, I get that. But what’s the best that life gets this way? You have things set up and they’re great, and then what happens when your circumstances shift? What happens when life does that thing it does where it throws you a monkey wrench and doesn’t fit according to your plan? Like, let’s say someone gets sick, or work suddenly gives you a new project, or you get dumped. How will you experience life then?”
Dennis paused before answering. He felt a little bit like he was being led to a conclusion, but he couldn’t deny the predictable path Jonathan was laying out.
“I guess you’re right. It’s just going to be always come back to either being bored or being frantic.”
Jonathan jumped in.
“Well, look, I’m not trying to make you see something here. I’m inviting you to take a look at how things go inside this paradigm and tell me what you see. Does it look to you like this approach has you able to show up fully in front of life and have the experience you want, or does it look like you get a decent experience of life until your external circumstances shift?”
Dennis sat in silence for a bit and nodded to himself.
“No, it definitely seems like the best it gets inside this approach is that I kind of have a good life until stupid life goes and stupid wrecks it by changing things up on me.”
Dennis sat in silence for a while.
“So… how do I solve this? It seems like I’m screwed. I’m seeing here that changing my circumstances isn’t going to make a difference — it’ll work until it stops working and I’ll forever be chasing after this mythical perfect balance. How do I get out in front of that?”
Jonathan took the lead.
“So first of all, you’re already making progress — up until now, you’ve just been operating inside of this pattern. Basically trying to get things perfectly situated so you didn’t have to feel bored or frantic, or, trying to manage the franticness by doing more work and becoming more efficient. You’ve already taken a step forward, by starting to notice this pattern — basically giving yourself some altitude over it.”
Dennis offered a weak, “Yay”.
Jonathan laughed and continued, checking in with Dennis first.
“Dennis, we set we’d set aside an hour and check in with you to see if we wanted to carry on. We’re just about at the top of the hour, and I want to honour your time. Would you like to continue, or shall we wind the call down for now?”
Dennis was shocked to discover an hour had already passed. He looked at the pile of papers on his desk and decided they could wait a little longer.
“No, let’s continue, please — and thank you for checking.”
Jonathan acknowledged Dennis’s choice and continued.
“Look, this is the way most of us, myself included, operate most of the time. We can only see the problem as it stands right in front of us, and we try to implement the solution that makes the most sense from that vantage point. What you and I are doing is starting to create a bit of altitude, so that you can see the greater picture, including what this whole setup does and does not get you in life. I’m willing to bet there are some pay-offs to this approach, yes?”
“Yes, plenty. Like, I’m always super reliable to get things done. I do more work than almost anyone else I know. The quality of my work is better than 99.99% of the world around me, because I put in ridiculous amounts of time. People at my company know that they can rely on me, and I’ve always turned in better projects than anyone else on the team’s I’ve worked with.”
Jonathan knew there was some bad news to break to Dennis, and now was the time to do it.
“Exactly — so this isn’t all bad. In fact, a lot of it is good, and you have been getting rewarded for this feast/famine, bored/frantic kind of pattern we’ve been looking at. Here’s the bad news: if you want to start to create something different, it’s going to mean that there will be a period of time where you stop winning this way.”
Dennis broke in, “What do you mean, stop winning this way?”
Jonathan continued, “What I mean is that this method — this approach to life — currently works for you in some ways, and doesn’t work for you in others. It works for you in the sense that it means you are always better prepared than everyone around you, turn in better work than most, are related to as super reliable, probably don’t let many balls drop, etc. And it doesn’t work in the sense that you find yourself with less and less time, feeling frantic most of the time, probably are having a hard time sleeping, and don’t have much time for your family and kids.”
Jonathan paused before continuing.
“If you want to create something new and develop a new way to play at life, there’s going to be a period of time where you’re learning to be different in your life. Basically to approach your life differently. While you’re learning how to do that, there’s going to be a period of time where you stop getting this benefits.”
“Think of it like this — you’re currently winning this approach to life. When I say winning, I mean that you’re creating all of it, and you’re getting better and better at creating it. That means you’re getting better at pouring more and more of yourself into the things you’re passionate about, getting better at feeling frantic, getting better at managing your time ever more effectively, getting better at pulling away from the things that drive up your frantic nature, getting better at trying to become satisfied with being bored, and getting better at becoming frustrated with boredom and saying ‘Yes’ to something new that then starts the cycle over again.”
“You’re winning this game, and have been for quite some time. You’re winning at getting the results it provides, and you’re winning at getting the downsides it provides as well.”
Jonathan checked in, “Does this make sense so far?”
Dennis thought about it for a while before responding.
“So… by winning, you basically mean I’m just becoming more effective or efficient at running through this whole pattern?”
Jonathan responded enthusiastically, “Yes! And while that’s fine, I’m hearing that there are things you want for your life, your family and your company that exist outside of this game you’re playing. Is that right?”
Dennis responded, “Yes, absolutely.”
Jonathan continued, “Great. So, the catch here is that while you learn to start playing a new game — one that can help you get all of the other things you want in life, in addition to what you’re currently already getting — there’s going to be a period where you stop winning your current approach to life. You’re going to be learning a new way to show up in life, and that means you’ll be clumsy and awkward and uncomfortable for a while.”
Dennis thought about this.
“Okay, so it’s kind of like, if I learned how to play basketball with only my right hand, it will give me some benefits, but also some drawbacks. And if I want to play a bigger game, I’ll have to learn to use my other hand. And while I’m doing that, I’m probably going to lose at basketball for a while. Is that it?”
Jonathan laughed, “That metaphor is so good, I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it myself. You’ve got it exactly.”
Dennis appreciated that praise, and felt like he was getting a sense of the path forward.
“Okay, I think I’m getting this. So how do I fix all of this? Make me whole again!”
Jonathan laughed. He genuinely enjoyed Dennis.
“So, up to this point, we’ve been looking at what’s showing up, and then looking at it from a very-high level. Breaking up and addressing a pattern involves a few things. First, we need to have you start noticing when you choose into the pattern. Basically we want you to catch yourself, in the moment, creating this reality for yourself.”
Dennis jumped in, “Oh, that’s easy, I can already tell you a bunch of places I’m doing that.”
Jonathan smiled before responding.
“I’m sure you can. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about you catching this in the moment, rather than after or before the fact. Your edge only ever exists in the moment. That’s why we can talk about our ‘bad’ habits, dissect and analyze them, but still struggle to do anything about them. So first up, I want you to actually catch yourself as you create this pattern. Here are some ways you can do that.”
“One, start to notice when you feel like you need to put in more time, work and energy to something than you’d really like to.”
Dennis interrupted, “What if it seems necessary?”
Jonathan spoke again, “That’s actually what I want you to look for. Practice separating whether you feel it’s necessary, from whether or not you’d actually like to put in the time, work, energy, etc. Your fear is almost always going to tell you its necessary, because that’s part of the game you’ve learned to play.”
Dennis, slowly getting this head around this idea, offered, “Okay, got it. So basically notice when I’m choosing to do more work or whatever, and choose not to.”
Jonathan jumped in, “Actually no. I wouldn’t suggest you do anything differently aside from noticing this as it happens. We can get to you changing your behaviour later — for now we really just want to have you practising noticing this as its happening”.
Dennis was confused. “Well, but why not change it?”
Jonathan continued, “By all means, if you think you can change it, go ahead — my hunch is that most of this will be below your awareness, and on top of that, has a lot of fear driving things. That will make choosing something different challenging. So for now, we’re really just practising having you be aware of the choices you’re making, rather than changing them.”
Dennis nodded, but didn’t like how slow that felt.
Jonathan spoke into the silence, “I bet there’s a part of you that wants to move things forward faster right? Really get this handled?”
“Absolutely, why bother going slow? I want to get this dealt with right now!”
“Exactly. So check it out — this is more of your pattern, right here! Speeding up, trying to move through things faster, get things done, and get this handled so you can finally have that life you really want. It’s totally fine, but just notice how pervasive it is.”
This was a little harder for Dennis to get his head around. He could faintly see what Jonathan was pointing to, though it occurred to him more like a vague feeling than something as clear as he’d like. Like a fish having a vague, dawning awareness of this thing called “Water” that it was swimming in.