Are there times when you feel you are striving against the odds but must keep going? Are there other times when evaluating where you are, seeking input, and deciding your next step may be best? When does persevering make sense, and when does pivoting make better sense?
Mowing the Lawn
I love to mow the lawn. As a single Mom, I remember working full time and taking a full course load in my master’s, yet, finding that the highlight of my week was cutting the grass. As strange as that may sound, I enjoyed creating a manicured lawn with the edges neatly trimmed. I changed the pattern I mowed each week to allow the grass to flourish after each cut. I edged with care and then blew off the grass trimmings from the walkway and driveway. I relished the effort because many things at the time seemed out of my control. I did not love my job because my boss was a negative Nancy. My teen daughters were often at odds with one another and with me. Although I enjoyed my master’s program, it was demanding. For three years, I never watched a television show. Instead, in the evenings and weekends, I did my homework, wrote papers, and responded to others’ posts. Along with the pressures of work and single parenting, it felt like I was running on a treadmill and couldn’t see light at the end of the tunnel. However, when I looked out at my vibrant, healthy lawn with pride, I could say, “You did that, and it looks fantastic!”
How often are you working hard but feeling less like you are getting anywhere? When is persevering the right thing to do? When is considering other options might be the better course of action?
A coaching client, Madeleine is a seasoned engineer and a mid-level manager with an international engineering conglomerate where “churn” seems the best word to describe its culture. She has commandeered a constantly changing workforce with employees from several countries and cultures. In some cases, some engineers are not as qualified as others resulting in rework and cost overruns. In addition, she has inherited poorly planned projects with unrealistic timelines. As the economy has softened, the company imposed unlimited paid time off, which some of her employees interpret as a means to plan layoffs without hesitation. In the past, when there were more projects than people, some of her best engineers would ask to be assigned to work more in line with their personal likings and career aspirations. With fewer projects in the pipeline, Madeleine must fend off complaints and convince her engineers to take on work they do not want to do to ensure they remain billable and employed. Unsurprisingly her most talented employees jump ship for enticing opportunities offering stability. While dealing with retention issues, Madeleine must continually interview new personnel to ensure she has the staff to accomplish projects waiting to be approved. With constant fires to quench, this leader finds work less engaging every day. A West Point graduate and Veteran, Madeleine has a strong work ethic. In her mind, to leave this job when she wouldn’t be going out “on top” would be a failure. My coachee is stuck on a treadmill striving day in and day out.
When asked what gives her joy and purpose, Madeleine appears thoughtful and replies, “I would love to move to Japan and teach young engineers how to apply their college educations with actual project work. The idea of enabling Gen Z engineers to use their book smarts in real projects is similar to the joy I find in lawn mowing. Madeleine as a mentor, would gain some immediate gratification. She must dedicate time to learning Japanese to make this dream a reality. Yet her current 80-hour work week leaves little time for this pursuit. Madeleine, though, is taking one step forward by engaging in a conversation with a coach.
Striving is the belief that I must work the situation until I am successful. The emphasis is on me and me alone to figure things out. Exhaustion usually follows when I focus on what I can do and accomplish through my effort. When I am in striving mode, I can be demanding of others. I don’t consider how my persistence may impact those I work alongside. The temptation to manipulate the situation exists when I am striving. I can add dysfunction and damage relationships to an already challenging scenario. Buying into the premise: “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me” is self-limiting.
The other option is what I call yielding. It’s recognizing that what I am doing is not working. For high achievers making this admission requires a degree of humility. It means accepting that I may be lost, or like a hamster on his wheel, running in circles and going nowhere fast. Yielding does not mean stop as we know from traffic school (as I attended twice). A yield sign means to prepare to stop and continue with caution. In life, yielding means I need to step back, assess, consider alternatives and at times seek help. It takes wisdom to ask for assistance from others, especially in workplaces with low trust. As a person of faith, however, when I recognize I am lost or frustrated, I ask for divine guidance and trust that He will show me my next steps.
When you yield to Him, you will find you are far from alone when you do. The Barna group found that 79% of Americans report praying at least once in the last three months. And surprisingly, 28% of those who claim to have no faith admit that they pray. So, join the majority and ask for His guidance.
When I partner with God, He often helps me work through things more organically, with less personal intensity, and with more profound thought. Instead of taking on the world, I ask for guidance on who I might partner with to address an issue.
For example, I made some mistakes in growing my speaking, coaching, and consulting business. Believing it was all up to me, I noted what other speakers were doing on social media. Although I never felt comfortable promoting myself, I posted all over those platforms. Without seeking wisdom, I posted on a private Facebook group that I thought might enjoy leadership quotes. My chosen authors offended a few people, and I was asked to refrain from making further posts. In retrospect, I had over-promoted myself and damaged some relationships. Later, I paid for a Strategic coach who talked a good game; I soon discovered that he took days to return calls and deliver on his agreements. I learned my investment lined his pocket but did little to extend my customer base. After several months of frustration, I ended the business relationship.
Through these mishaps, I learned to ask more questions, consider offerings with greater scrutiny, and pray before signing up. Most recently, I stopped associations that seemed to not serve me well and found unexpected and surprising opportunities.
Whether you are a person of faith or not, it is essential to distinguish between when you are striving without results and when you need to be open to asking for help. If you are consistently working without progress and you are becoming increasingly discouraged, frustrated, and even exhausted, this is when you should consider other options. Here is how to quit striving and begin to yield:
- Admit you are striving, and it isn’t working.
- Look up and ask God for wisdom and direction.
- Listen to what He has to say.
- Take action.
If you are new to asking God for direction, it may take some practice to distinguish His voice. For me, first yielding to His will gets me out of trying to make things happen on my terms. I also combine exercising my faith in Him with reading scripture, meditating on verses and literally talking to Him about the challenge I am facing. Often His voice is a nudge to consider someone to consult or some action to take and then I follow through on that direction. I am not stressed but restful as I take faith-based action.
Several months ago, I stopped striving and enlisted His help to grow my business. I stopped several services that hadn’t yielded much of a return. An Executive contacted me through LinkedIn as I had done some work with a sister company. I reached back out and developed a relationship. I attempted to ask her what her needs were and suggest some solutions. We would connect from time to time, but no real work came from our discussions. I never worried about it but focused on other opportunities. Then a few months ago, I received an email from my new friend, which led to a speaking engagement and the purchases of hundreds of copies of my book. I never felt I had to sell my services, and I genuinely enjoy preparing for this upcoming event. This opportunity is just one of several examples of how partnering with Him resulted in new business that I find fulfilling and rewarding.
Are you fed up with striving? If so, I suggest you yield, take the leap of faith, and discover answers in unexpected, organic, and delightful ways.
I am always delighted to learn from my readers. Let me know your thoughts and experiences with striving and yielding.
 Silent and solo: How Americans pray. Barna Group. (2017, August 15). https://www.barna.com/research/silent-solo-americans-pray/