First You Must Decide

And then you must decide again. And again. And again. And again.

Man, change is hard. It can be excrutiating. Overwhelming. Terrifying. It can feel like swimming upstream against a tidal wave. First you feel exhilarated. And then you feel lost. Like you don’t even know who you are anymore.

Somewhere along the change curve we think it would be a whole lot easier to return to the devil we know. We might be afraid that we cannot really have a life lived with wholeness and well-being. Maybe we feel so uncomfortable in our own (new) skin that we crave the safety and security of just knowing which boxes we are supposed to check and which roles we are supposed to fill in our lives, work and relationships. Maybe every time we try to reclaim our time or our energy, some other crisis emerges and sucks us back into old patterns, beliefs and habits.

I have had more than one client reach that moment when they say something along the lines of, “I think I just have to accept that my life is always going to be this way (even if it is killing me).” Often, more than once along the path.

First you must decide . . .

I have more than 10 years of experience leading organizational strategy coversations. And one of the places where organizations often get stuck is in deciding that the HOW is impossible before they decide WHAT.

Einstein is credited with saying that the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

But when we have lived a certain way for years or even decades, we frame the world and the possibilities within it based on our own playbook. We don’t have a frame of reference for a different way of being. And so it is easy to become convinced that we really don’t have any other options.

From this frame of reference, we look at all the things that would have to change in order for us to live a well-being centered life and decide it must be impossible. And the further along we are on the spectrum toward burnout, the more impossible things seem (and the more cynical we have become).

First you must decide . . .

We might even decide on some level that things have to change—often because we are desperate for relief—and then we get just enough relief to start to believe that we must have been wrong about everything. That we must have been confused or having an exceptionally bad day. But now, we feel a little bit better, and maybe we can return to our familiar patterns and everything will be okay this time. We were probably just overreacting.

Or we run into resistance, from our own fear, or from other people, or just because we feel lost in this new, unfamiliar space, and because part of us never believed we could successfully pull off the change in the first place, we stop short. We give up. We put our heads in the sand. We decide that maybe other people get to live whole lives of well-being, but it just isn’t in the cards for us. We were just kidding ourselves.

First you must decide . . .

The truth is that anchoring ourselves to our who and our what are the most structurally sound ways of making individual and organizational change. Before we get to how. When we know who we are (and who we are not) and what we want for our lives and for the people we love (and what we don’t want), we can use these guideposts to help us stay grounded and focused even when we face obstacles along the way.

Even though the how is always uncertain, even with a clearly defined roadmap, we feel we cannot begin or trust the outcome because we cannot see how we will ever get there. The how is iterative. We change. Our circumstances change. Our experiences, successes and failures lay the groundwork for new perspectives and understanding.

Even with the clarity of who and what and perhaps even a glimmer of how (and please keep reading even if mustering that clarity feels like it unreachable) there is another piece to the change process, actually an even more foundational piece than knowing who and what.

I will call it the cornerstone—and without this step, your strategy or change initiative is bound to fail. The first time I ever experienced the power of the cornerstone, it was an afterthought. And I cannot tell you whose idea it was. At the conclusion of a multi-day strategic planning process for a nonprofit Board of Directors, we actually went around the table, one by one, and asked each Board member for their personal commitment to the plan we had just created together. This was the first time this organization had ever created a strategic plan. A few years later, the Board of Directors was honored as being one of the most effective Boards in the nation for that organization.

On the flip side, I have seen more than one strategy fail because the people in charge of holding the organization accountable, or the people in charge of executing on the strategy, didn’t really believe it was possible. And so obstacles appeared bigger than they really were. Intractable. Focus would be lost in a sea of competing priorities, challenges, politics, infighting and human dynamics.

Power structures and systems are very good at perpetuating themselves. Old habits die hard. Distraction and distortion are powerful foes. And so, a year or more into a much-heralded strategy or change initiative everything would be mostly the same. Except the organization might be drained. More entrenched than ever. And the failure to follow through would put one more nail in the coffin or “nothing can really change around here.”

First you must decide . . .

When I decided in 2010 that I didn’t want to live in fear anymore, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And I had no idea how anything was going to change. All I knew then was NOT THIS. Living with an undercurrent of fear was not the way I was going to live. Period.

And as I navigated the seismic shifts in my life over the next 9 years, in moments of clarity I could absolutely see that I was walking through my fears—living them and breathing them and embodying them at times—but that once I walked through, I would never have to pass that way again.

First you must decide . . .

When I decided I had to live in 2015, I had no idea how I was going to stay alive. I absolutely was not convinced that I had the strength to withstand the overwhelming illness that I lived with everyday. But dying by my own hand was no longer an option. And so, while I had no idea how I was going to live. I did.

One breath at a time. One minute at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. One month. One year. And so on.

A dear friend of mine gave me a framed Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that is in my bedroom. “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

First you must decide . . .

I understand what it feels like to be so lost in what others demand of you that you cannot even envision what you would choose even if you had a choice. The first time someone asked me what I wanted, in the midst of my first career transition, I had no context for the question. I had lived and breathed for a company and it’s founder for 10 years. What I “wanted” seemed irrelevant. What I “wanted” did not even compute.

And then, even if you have some inkling of who you are and what you want, you might get lost, discouraged or overwhelmed every time you try to imagine how. You may have every reason to believe that the change your crave or the life your desire is impossible.

Perhaps you have tried to orchestrate change before and failed. Perhaps you have failed repeatedly. Perhaps you don’t have the resources you think you need. Perhaps you don’t have the support structure. Perhaps you perceive obstacles everywhere you look. Perhaps you are just trying to survive.

You may not know if you can have what your heart and soul desire. You may not believe that you deserve a life of wholeness and well-being. You may be terrified that stepping back or changing your life is the equivalent of failure.

You don’t have to know how. You just have to decide.

If all you know is “not this,” first you must decide.

If you cannot even imagine what your future could be, first you must decide.

If you have a clear and compelling vision for your future, first you must decide.

And you may have to (re)decide each moment, each hour, each day; even when you cannot see the path clearly before you. (Let’s be honest, the path is rarely laid clearly before us, and even if we think it is, there are blind curves, climbs, descents and straightaways that we cannot yet anticipate no matter how hard we try.)

First you must decide that you are worth saving.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your life.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your health.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your energy.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your time.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your well-being.

First you must decide that you will reclaim your whole self.

First you must decide.

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