I read Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People a few years ago. It’s a fabulous book. Among other things, it taught me how to think about my work in the world and about how I spend my time. There is, however, one idea that makes me roll my eyes every time I hear someone quote it. And people like to quote it a lot. Stephen Covey warns that you don’t want to climb the ladder of success only to find it is leaning against the wrong wall. I have two problems with this statement. The first one is this:
There’s no wrong wall!
Okay, I recognize that he’s telling us not to get so caught up in our busy-ness that we never stop to ask ourselves if we’re actually moving in the desired direction. But the implication is “Man, you’ll screw EVERYTHING up if you don’t figure this stuff out.” (Though I doubt very much if Stephen Covey has ever called anyone “Man.”) There’s just fear at the core of it. It mostly serves to freeze people for terror of “doing it wrong.”
Maybe at the time you begin your climb up that ladder, the most conscious you’re able to be puts you on that particular ladder. You don’t know at the time that your perspective might change. Maybe at that time the whole reason you do anything IS to make money. (Or to get approval or to please your Aunt Letty.) You want all the material things of this work as a venture capitalist. (And I promised in my Blog Intro I wouldn’t be writing about venture capital.) Along the way you learn lots of stuff — all about the venture and the capital. You grow. You expand. You do everything “right.” You think you’re on the right track. And let’s say you get to the top of the ladder and say something like, “Zoinks! I’m realizing I don’t even LIKE being a venture capitalist!” (And again, I doubt you’re talking like Scooby and Shaggy if you’re a venture capitalist.) Money ceases being motivating enough. Maybe you feel empty and sad lots of the time.
Well, here’s the thing. You get to choose where you’ll go next. You can either see Stephen Covey standing there shaking his head at you and saying, “You see? You’ve ruined everything. This wall was all wrong. All wrong.” — or you can decide to go deeper and shift gears, and let the lessons of where you’ve been take you in a new direction. Your motivations have changed since you got on this ladder. That’s all. Is it daunting? Yes. Can it be confusing? Yes. Will you have days where you wish you had never begun that climb in the first place? You betcha, Scooby. But you’re not in the wrong place. You’re in a decision place. AND you have many things that can never be taken away from you — all of the knowledge, wisdom, and insight you’ve gained. So, with all of that on your side, you re-evaluate your direction. I wish more people would do this. It opens the whole world up.
My second problem with the idea is this:
There’s no wall period!
The idea of the wall implies that there’s a THERE to get to. Even if you did everything right in the Land of Covey and you wanted to become the CEO of Everything, and then you did, in fact, become CEO of Everything, then you begin that next process. You don’t ever get somewhere where you sit back in a lawn chair and say, “That’s it! I did it! I’m so glad I picked the RIGHT WALL!”
If you ever find yourself in a life situation that’s not going well for you, remember this: Wrong is a lame word. It’s a bad translation of any situation. My belief is that we’re here on Earth to learn and grow and help each other learn and grow, and since you’re bringing you with you wherever you go, you’ll always have situations that are going to need to change or shift for whatever reason. (And you get to decide the reason, too.) The universe presses up against you in order to shape you. There’s no wall. Only you.
The whole illusion is that there’s a way to figure out the EXACT right thing to do that will never cause you to question, never bring you to a place of frustration, and make you feel safe and secure forever and ever. That’s called a Muggle.
Here’s the secret: you get to decide. You get to decide what you want to do. And you get to decide when and if it’s the direction you want to stay in. You get to decide whether you call it the “wrong” wall, or whether you get to look at it and say “it was a nice wall for a while, but I think I’ll hitch a ride on that guy’s stilts there until I get over to that bridge and maybe I’ll walk along that bridge until the hot air balloon picks me up and carries me over to that mountain top and I’ll see what the clouds have to say once I’m there. I’m tired of ladders anyway.”
My dream was to write and play music. And part of the process of doing that has involved many times where I’ve said, “This was my dream. But I’m totally unhappy right now. What’s wrong here?” And it felt like a wall, for sure. But it never was. It was a call to change the HOW of my life, not the what. And if I ever stop doing music or writing, then I will change that as well. But I won’t buy into the belief that I have done the wrong thing all these years. I’ll change directions. I’ll become the CEO of Everything. (And I will probably say “Zoinks” on occasion.)
So, my advice is set your intent, pick a wall, lean your ladder, and get the hell going. And replace Stephen Covey’s thought with the words of Miles Davis: “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”