I grew up during a generation where everything was more black and white than it is today. There were winners and there were losers…not everyone received a ribbon. There was right and wrong and a very small spectrum of gray in between.
Today, the zeitgeist is far more dappled than it was when I was a kid.
The evolution has been fascinating to witness and be a part of during such a brief period of time. Perhaps I was sheltered or maybe just naïve – either way I have adjusted my thinking on many “absolutes” over the past couple of decades, and allowed a multifaceted world to reveal itself.
When asked what the best advice I ever received was, a phrase comes to mind immediately, and I wish I’d heard these words long ago: “I reserve the right to wake up smarter.” I love this phrase. So freeing. So gracious. It has become a daily reminder to keep my mind, options and decisions open.
I reserve the right to wake up smarter. Doing so keeps me learning and replaces rigidity with flexibility.
The burden of being 100% right in a black and white world no longer weighs me down. The pressure of being accurate and meticulous doesn’t flank every decision in my personal life and at work. The anxiety of having solutions at the ready and being in control no longer precedes every action I make or every opinion I proffer. I reserve the right to wake up smarter. This means befriending the words “I don’t know.”
I’ve held a number of leadership positions in my life and I’ve always believed that a good leader had to be mostly faultless in their guidance. Every decision was a methodical exercise and well-researched before it was expressed. This required going down the path of every possible outcome and potential disruption in order to justify any of my decisions. I wanted to have all of the facts before putting myself out there. In doing so, I don’t think I was a very effective leader. I was afraid to be wrong. I set myself up for disappointment because I could never devise all possible outcomes and lynchpins to a problem. Beyond that, other’s input was not fully considered, because in my mind, I’d explored every possibility and had gained “control” over each outcome. Right!
As a consultant, waking up smarter has been a both a relief and a challenge. Lately, I’ve been trying a different tactic with clients. When they ask how something should be done, I don’t have a scrutinized answer to pitch. Instead, we work through the problem together. Even if I’ve successfully been through something similar to the current pain point, I don’t try to solve the problem the same way. This has led to more compelling discussions with the client about their concerns, desires and needs. I’ve come to understand that “consulting” is not about supplying answers. It’s about having courage to dig in to the heart of what needs to be solved, and exploring options collectively for getting there. Consulting is about collaboration and discussion. This insight has allowed me and the client to explore so many more possibilities, working off their subject matter expertise and my broad experience. Consulting has become more enjoyable and less onerous. It’s not about right or wrong, black or white.
Since I’ve adopted the right to wake up smarter, I have more fun at work. I’m still discovering how to sit back and let things flow more organically in conversations, but the more I do, the more I pick up. I’m excited and provoked by the uncertainty…about how to approach my work and my life in general. I no longer have to be unrealistically scrupulous, setting myself up for disappointment.
I reserve the right to wake up smarter. Let that be your mantra for one day…I’d love to hear how it goes for you.