On November 7th I was honored to give a TEDtalk at the College of Wooster. The event’s theme was “green light” and speakers were free to interpret the topic as we wished. Here’s how I approached it. The concepts that follow apply equally well to our business and personal lives.
Green light moments are opportunities where life, God, circumstances, or our own restlessness trigger the road to open ahead of us. Usually there is urgency at these times too, as if the driver behind us might beep the horn. In my experience, we have three alternatives at these green lights:
1. Escape the Current Situation (exit the current discomfort, pain or failure)
2. Recreate the Current Situation (with a newer but oh-so-familiar situation)
3. Pursue a Better Situation (that looks, feels, and is better)
Naturally we want #3, a better situation than the one we’re in now. But often we go through a transition only to discover that we had chosen #1 or #2. Have you ever changed jobs and found out later that you’re in new surroundings but the same old rut? Or maybe you’ve moved to a new city and yet after the honeymoon period wears off not much in your life has improved? We need some techniques to help us pursue a truly better direction – and that allow us to permanently turn the corner on the past.
End, Don’t Escape
While escaping a dangerous situation is a valid choice, rarely does flight lead to a thriving life. For example, if a mouse darts my way I’m going to recoil in the opposite direction (yes, every time). When it comes to life’s green light moments, when we act without thinking (either automatically or emotionally), we often just escape what we don’t like. Things might be improved for a moment, but it doesn’t last.
In his book Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud explains that we humans have a tendency to carry relationships, habits, jobs and other aspects of our lives well beyond the point they serve our best interests. To thrive, Dr. Cloud advises that we treat our lives like one who prunes a rosebush – by removing the dead branches, the sickly buds, and even the buds that will be mediocre at best. This allows the healthiest roses to get the room, nutrition and sunlight they need to blossom fully.
So too with us. When we learn to end situations that aren’t working for us (and even treat this ‘pruning’ as normal), we are much more free to blossom as individuals. It’s much healthier to end the condition that is not working, whether it be a job, relationship, or habit. Putting an end to things is necessary for growth: think caterpillars and butterflies. The best part is that once the current condition has ended, there is no need for escape!
Create, Don’t Recreate
Okay, great. We took the time to end the current situation… and we feel free to make our move into the future. But if we’re not careful, we may recreate the past by hoping a new person, situation, or geography will somehow fix things. Things may start off well but then we wake up one day and find ourselves in the same old mess.
Now’s the time for some self-examination and clarity because once we choose our path, we will be focused on making our decision work.
We should answer a tough question: “What aspects of my past or present simply do not belong in my preferred future?” Even better, let’s make our answers personal. In other words, we face our own contributions to the current situation (without blame, guilt, or judgment) and consciously decide not to repeat these same patterns.
I got married quite young. It lasted five short but painful years. I knew I wanted to be married again but I first had to admit to my share of our marital troubles. It was vital that my next marriage would not abide those behaviors and attitudes. Thankfully, my wife Donna and I recently celebrated 23 years together. So far, so good.
We all get green light opportunities. Some we choose and some are placed upon us. So that we don’t settle for merely escaping, let’s get closure on our current situation by ending it first. Next let’s decide which elements of that circumstance don’t belong in the future for ourselves, our families, or our businesses. Then we can hit the gas pedal and not look back!
Coming Soon: the published TEDtalk, where I illustrate these concepts through my own personal journey. I hope you enjoy it!