A farmer is sitting on his porch in a chair, hanging out.
A friend walks up to the porch to say hello and hears an awful yelping, squealing sound coming from inside the house.
“What’s that terrifyin’ sound?” asks the friend.
“It’s my dog,” said the farmer. “He’s sittin’ on a nail.”
“Why doesn’t he just sit up and get off it?” asks the friend.
The farmer deliberates on this and replies:
“Doesn’t hurt enough yet.”
If you listened to episode 13, with my coach and friend, Justin Duguay, you heard us touch on the idea of change resistance. How people can know that something is wrong in their lives, or something could be improved or maybe a behaviour could be replaced with a more productive behaviour, yet so many people still feel resistance. Based on the feedback I received from the episode, this idea seemed to be a strong point of resonance for some of you; the idea that sometimes we have trouble being honest with ourselves about changes we need to make. Or perhaps we are oblivious to the real task at hand, which we can look at as weighing the pain of going through the change we’re looking at versus the pain of not making the change.
At the risk of being unclear, I want to look at some of the nails that we may find ourselves sitting on over the course of our lives. For some, it may be a job. I’ve sure as heck been there. In fact, I’ll share a totally gross story about sitting on the nail until it became infected and gangrenous and a massive part of my life had to be amputated.
A friend recently shared the following on quote on Facebook, two-thirds of which I’ve been able to attribute to Jesse Jackson and the last bit I’m not sure about:
“You can’t teach what you don’t know,
You can’t lead where you won’t go,
You can’t reap what you don’t sow.”
With that in mind, here’s a little backstory to help contextualize the parable of the ole nail in the arse story.
For a bit over thirteen years, I was a business owner. I had no training or education to make me a business owner, I just had what you might call a compulsion. There’s a purity to that type of motivation, but maybe not much of a business case. Not only did I want the freedom that I associated with having my own business, but I was also sitting on a huge nail at the time myself. I had a job that was a terrible fit for me: I was working midnights, which was messing with my health, my life and even my mind to a certain extent. Fortunately, I had the presence to say to myself, “Man, screw this nail!” and, being quite young at the time and having very little to lose, I started a little retail business – at first with a couple partners, but then I bought them out and worked as sole proprietor for a while, eventually building up to three locations and around thirty staff. In those early days though, I would work until 7 AM, sleep in my car in the parking lot of my primary supplier until their warehouse opened at 9 AM. Invest the previous day’s sales in more inventory, then drive to the little store and sleep there for a couple of hours until it was time to open. Open shop, work that place, grab a nap, go back to the nail.
Right out of the gate, the little shop was so exciting and so much fun; it never occurred to me that this would be a way to earn a living someday because back then it never occurred to me to think terribly far ahead. Remember; no kids, no mortgage, no marriage – no worries, right? I could live off less than a thousand bucks a month and, besides, I was too busy to do much else. The nail became more comfortable to bear because I started to sense that I was easing myself off of it and, after a year and a half or so, I entirely removed myself by resigning from the job.
A funny thing happened though. As time went by, my business really became my identity. I was running the shop, I was promoting underground music concerts, playing tons of shows with bands, and it was all a whirlwind of easy interrelatedness. Tons of fun and still, with no attachments in life, it was no problem. My identity as that guy felt smooth and natural and exciting; like an extended state of flow. Curiously though, I was unconsciously plotting to create my next nail to sit on and ended up sitting on it hard and for a long time.
It turns out that as much as I value freedom, I also value family very much and once I became a husband and father, I found I had created competing tensions in my life that were not natural compliments to each other. I was having a collision of my previous identity as rock and roll business owner with my new status as family guy. I was in an ego trap, really, but unfortunately, I was too dumb to see it at the time, and so the tension between these worlds went unresolved. I didn’t have the energy or inclination to work ludicrous hours anymore, to stay out late promoting concerts or get home at 4 AM after playing a punk show off in God-knows-where. I wanted to put my family first and, admittedly, I probably got a bit extreme about that.
So what happens? The business, since it was not built on a strong foundation of systems and planning, started to be compromised. Then it started to falter. Then it full-on failed.
Dang – I sat on the nail too long.
I knew it was there, I could feel it every day, and still, I didn’t get off it. I would try and cram, approaching the business in bursts of energy the way a student who has goofed off for a semester may hustle to prepare for an exam. But a business is not a system to be hacked. A business is more like a farm. Can you imagine trying to hack a farm? Ignoring the need to till the land in the spring? Ignoring the need to fertilize and replenish the nutrients in the soil, and then expecting to be able to plant a successful harvest at the last minute by just out-working the forces of nature in a short burst?
People tried to help me rationalize the failure at the time and I get it and I appreciate the words. They said it was about the economy or the changing market conditions but to me, a failure of a business is a failure of leadership. How else can we explain companies who have been around for decades and decades or even multiple centuries? Did the economies fluctuate during that time? Did the marketplace shift? You bet your ass.
So, here’s the point: I felt the nail, and I knew it was there, but I kept hoping the pain would just go away. That instead of getting up off the nail, perhaps it would just fall out of me on its own. Or maybe that not changing my behaviours would somehow get me new results. It’s funny how obvious it must have been to those observing it and yet I couldn’t see it myself, even as the principle player in what was happening.
Now, what does that have to do with living happily, healthily and optimizing your life for awesomeness? It has a ton to do with that. A really cool and unexpected benefit of creating this podcast for you has been the increase in the amount of meaningful personal discussion I have enjoyed with other people about life and about our journeys toward being our best selves – whatever that may look like for each of us. One thing that keeps coming up is how in life we may tend to look at that journey as an exercise of constant addition. What do I mean? I mean that when we look at what it takes to improve our lives at any given time, the first place many of us look is toward things we need to add: “what new knowledge do I need?”, “what special gear do I need to optimize my life?”, or the old cliché, “how do I add more hours to the week?”
What I’m driving at with the nail metaphor (woohoo – #dadpuns!) is that often when we’re feeling compromised in our health and or our happiness, the first place to look is not for things to add to our lives in order to “fix” them; more that we should look for things that need to be removed and often those things come in the form of our behaviours. What things do we do unconsciously each day? What behaviours or outcomes do we accept in our lives because we either won’t own our complicity in creating those outcomes or we don’t feel like we have enough influence to control them.
I can’t tell you what nails you might be sitting on in your own life; for one thing, it’s honestly none of my business. For another, our nails often exist in the form of extraordinarily uncomfortable or inconvenient truths about jobs, relationships, finances, or day-to-day behaviours. I can tell you this though from experience; whether you are reading this on New Year’s Day 2018 or some other day of any year, and you are thinking about changes you want to make, directions you want to move yourself in or new realities or outcomes you want to create in your life, there is a chance you will get to a sticking point. The sticking point is where you believe that there is something external standing in your way. That you can’t get the result you want because you believe that there is some action you can’t take or some current condition or truth about your situation that you can’t change. This is a good indicator that you have found your nail.
Good luck. Be brave. Have a great year and have fun creating a great life. Talk to you soon.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen R. Covey