When I first started getting coached, a lot of the conversations I brought to my coach were about optimizing within the existing rules I saw around me.
I saw that the market was willing to let a coach charge X amount of dollars for this kind of work, based on what everyone else was doing, and so I figured out the optimal number of hours and pay to make, based off of that, and brought that to my coach as my goal.
When I was still working as a lawyer, I saw the amount of work I had to do, the number of files on my desk, the number of hours in a day, and then used all that to determine the optimal number of days I could take off for vacation, and the best amount of salary to work for.
I was doing what you might call “min-maxing”. Given X amount of pay an hour, Y amount of work to be done, Z amount of demand the client has for things to get done, how do I solve this equation to optimize it.
On the other side of all that, I would end up with the best solution to the set of constraints I was operating inside of. Very mathematical of me. Very efficient.
Honestly, quite rewarding — I always felt like I was solving a puzzle.
It sounds and looks really empowered, and in fact, it felt that way. I felt smarter than these other dummies that were operating with less optimized solutions to the set of constraints we were all stuck inside.
That’s the game of empowered resignation.
When my coach pointed to my resignation, I would shake my head.
Nuh-uh. I’m super empowered — I feel like I’ve cracked this case wide-open. There’s no resignation here, just me living my best life.
This is why I call this flavour of resignation, “Empowered Resignation”. I was empowered inside the constraints I was unaware I had resigned myself to.
What the market was willing to pay for coaching, or legal services, (and consequently what I could charge) was as fundamental for me as the law of gravity. There’s no point in bringing to my coach a request to change the amount of gravity I deal with when I try to slam-dunk, so why would I bother asking for help with something outside of the pre-set amount of money the market says I can charge?
When people try to figure out what is reasonable to charge for their services, based on what the market will allow, that’s an example of empowered resignation. When I try to determine how many vacation days to ask for, based on what is reasonable in my industry (rather than what I want), I’m carrying out empowered resignation.
Our empowered acceptance of the restraints we’ve concluded are “simply the way it is” is the shape of our resignation. The belief that what the market is willing to pay has to dictate what I can charge (and make) as an entrepreneur is what I’m resigned to.
The optimal number of vacation days I can take, based on the amount of workload I have to take on, is not where I’m resigned. What I’m resigned to is the idea that there’s a set amount of work I have to accept if I want to work in this particular field.
Acknowledging this resignation is one of the first barriers to transformation for high-performing leaders. They’ve gotten so good at figuring out the constraints of the world they’ve stepped into they are not even aware of how quickly they resign themselves.
I ask them what they want, and their answer, almost inevitably, is a function of what they’ve determined they can get, inside the constraints that exist in their life and their field. To their credit, they create a more optimized solution than anyone else does — that’s where they’ve learned to perform. But it’s still restricted and they’re still resigned.
Transformational coaching and leadership from this place always falls flat, because you don’t actually need any transformation to create more results inside your existing constraints. The real work of transformation is often about distinguishing the constraints you’ve assumed were always going to be there and moving beyond them.
Those are the kind of goals that, when we first start to talk about them, have us shake our heads and think “This is stupid. There’s no way that’s possible.”
That’s the sound of possibility being created.
Ironically, moving beyond our resignation, into the realm of possibility, can initially occur quite disempowered. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange the furniture in your apartment one more time, you’re taking a step into a world where you feel completely blind. You have no idea what to do, because everything you’ve learned up to this point says that this is impossible.
The safety that your resignation provides, in the form of your constraints, is almost irresistible. At least there you’re clear on your progress, your direction, and whether or not you’re doing your best.
If I take away the measuring stick by which you’ve learned to determine your worth throughout your life, what you’re left with is the discomfort of not knowing. How do you know if you’re moving forward or not? How do you determine whether you’re doing good, or just flailing around?
Welcome to a life lived in the wide-open field of possibility.