Get out of your own way

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s school was very strict, particularly in Scotland. Perhaps not as strict as the infamous Wackford Squeer’s Dickensian School in Nicholas Nickleby, though certainly significantly more than a 21st Century School today. At the schools I went to in Scotland any incursion was swiftly dealt with by using a wide thick leather strap that would leave each of your hands stinging for the rest of the day.

I remember that even at the age of 7, the Head Master, Mr. Slarach, would regularly meter out punishment across my hands after a quick interrogation of what I had supposedly done to warrant the strap. Barely a week would go by without receiving the strap, for such minor offences as talking during dinner – at one time I received the strap for politely replying to being asked if I wanted more Brussel Sprouts.

I refused (never have liked them) and Mr. Slarach heard me say it. Actually upon reflection it was Dickensian. I am qualified to say that it was tougher in Scotland as I went to 3 schools in Scotland and 4 in England before my 11th birthday. In England I was told to stand in the corner.

On one of the occasions it was explained to me why I was being given the strap. The problem, I was informed at the age of 8, had already been entered on my school report. It was: Colin is intolerant of other people’s opinions, particularly the teacher’s, during class. Of course I saw it differently: I was questioning the teacher, which was something in those days you did not do – you did as you were told, you followed rules or you did not fit in. The strap was for answering back on one occasion after being told to desist from doing so.

But as I was an avid reader and even read the whole 10 volumes of our Home Encyclopedia Set before I was 10 from cover to cover, there were occasions when I disagreed with what we were being taught. Okay, I sound like I was a boring kid, but there was no TV, the internet had not been invented, the nearest neighbour was miles away and in the Highland it rains a lot, so you read books.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid thirties when my parents, while having had a big clear out, gave me a bundle of stuff that contained all my old reports from primary schools – and I came across the actual report: ‘Colin is intolerant of other people’s opinions, particularly the teacher’s, during class.’

But there was more to the statement. It continued: ‘To develop himself Colin needs to get out of his own way.’ Now it is useful to know that in Scotland, they use odd phrases. For example when you arrive at a friend’s door as a guest you will be invited with: ‘Come away in.’ Such phrases actually to go straight to the point with a frugal use of words. This example translates: ‘Don’t stand there in the cold. Move away from there and enter into the house and be welcomed.’

Upon reading this report for the first time, naturally I began to reflect upon the statement. And I reached a Turning Point: I decided that it was spot on. First, I was intolerant of the opinions of others, and, Second; I had been the common denominator in all the challenges I had encountered in my life. I had been the one that had actually got in my own way, while vehemently believing that I was doing the best I could.
How can you tell when you are getting in your own way?

First, when you think that you are the only one that can do what is required to get it done, and Second; when you start defending what you think you know is the right way to get something done, and Third; when you think that only your opinion counts.

There are 2 points to explain here.

First, there is an Eastern Aphorism: The harder you push, the further what you want will move away. Driving or pulling a business ahead with you, venture or project is different to pushing it.

Think of the links of a chain, when you push hard, the links go in all directions. When you pull the chain, the links travel the direction you want then to go.

Taking the metaphor further: When you pull the chain just on your own, you can only pull your own weight. When you employ a block and tackle you can pull a huge weight. The block and tackle represents an organized system outside of yourself. Trying to do it all on your own will exhaust you – you will just get in your own way.

Second, there is another Eastern Aphorism: The less you do, the more you achieve, until in doing nothing, you accomplish everything. An example of the simple truth in this is that after 10 years of experience you are more accomplished at doing whatever it is you do than when you started: in which case you achieve more for less effort.

There is actually a deeper meaning to this: When we know what it is we want, have made a plan accordingly, put in place a proven system to make it happen we develop a clear expectation of what the result will be. However we have no control over the result of what actually will happen – because it lies in the future; we only have command over the process that we expect will deliver the result – because it occupies the present.

Whenever we need something very badly, our inclination is to focus on the result in the future. In doing so our focus of attention is on the future, which we have no control over, and removed from the present, which is the only factor we can influence. Which means: When we get out of our own way, we get more done.

The secret is to let go of the emotional ‘need’ that you have attached to a ‘future’ result as this does interfere with the clear thinking you need to apply to the ‘present’ process. If it is not what you expected, then don’t defend or argue that you did everything right – as in your opinion you did.

And this is the key:

When you spend time arguing your opinion then you are getting in your own way.

When you spend time defending what you think you know then you are getting in your own way.

Getting out of our own way is not easy as it involves giving up defending what we think we know. Those who can delegate effectively will find it easier than others that cannot delegate. EasyJet would never have become the leading European discount airline in such a short space of time if my friend Stelios, the founder of the airline, had not got out of his own way just at the right time.

Which brings to the mind a third Eastern Aphorism: The only things we never lose, are the things we give away.
This is a challenging Turning Point and requires reflection on your part in relation to your own particular circumstances and the way you currently either run your business or operate professionally.

We can all accept that as well as being our best advisor; we are often our own worst enemy. It is for this reason that Getting Out of My Way has been a significant Turning Point for me that has brought measurable results: both in growth and more time.

Try to Get Out of Your Way and see what happens.

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