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It’s Not Personal

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What’s happening right now is not because you’re bad or wrong or incompetent. It’s because the world is transforming at breakneck speed and each and every one of us must adapt to those changes as quickly and efficiently as possible. No one’s exempt. Age doesn’t get you off the hook. Nor does how hard you’ve worked until now, or what your expectations of your life have been, or what you’ve sacrificed for or invested in. That’s because what’s going on has nothing to do with you personally!

Depersonalizing the change challenge you’re facing gets you out of a sense of failure and frees up your thinking to be as adaptive as possible. I remember the day I learned this. I went to hear Meg Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science. She’s an expert at taking what is understood from the world of quantum physics and ecology and applying it to business. She was speaking about the fact that we’re still stuck in a mechanistic model of the universe where we think we can make five year plans for ourselves and our organizations, which is completely out of touch with the way living systems actually work.

What I recall her saying was something like,

“The way life happens is that things bump up against one another in an information-rich environment and change occurs. Some things thrive and others die out. Think of an aquarium with a bunch of fish. They’re all doing fine. Then you put something different in there and it changes the whole ecosystem. Some fish survive, and others die as a result of the new input.”

At the time, I was struggling with the financial pressures of my book publishing company and sure I was doing something wrong. I probably was—but all my attention was focused on my “failure,” which wasn’t helping me come up with new solutions. What Meg helped me do was see that I was just one of the little fish in a big aquarium whose ecosystem was changing.

Thinking that way enabled me to relate to the situation from a more object and adaptive frame of mind. It became clear that I wasn’t interested in making the changes necessary to survive in the aquarium and so I sold my company. Looking now from the outside at the publishing aquarium, I see even more clearly how what was going on really had nothing to do with me or my efforts.

Spiritual teacher Byron Katie was once asked her secret to happiness and peace of mind. She replied, “A wholehearted, unrestricted cooperation with the unavoidable.” That’s what I’m getting at here. It’s not so easy. But I do know that the only responsibility we truly have in whatever’s going on lies in developing our response-ability to whatever is occurring. As the surfers say, you’ve got to go with the flow. Otherwise you find yourself under the board faster than you can imagine.


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