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You Don’t Have To, You Get To

About 12 months ago I got told that my role at work would be changing as part of a restructure and that, as part of the change, I would manage all operations for a key part of the business.

On the one hand, it was a real opportunity for me, but at a more basic level, this presented some significant challenges. I’m not the most detail focused person on the planet (by a country mile) and routine tasks frustrate and bore me. I’d also agitated for a shake up of how we did things for a number of years, so this was a bit of ‘be careful what you wish for’ as well as being a personal challenge... could I make the necessary changes? Could I do this better than before? Was I up for the pressure and the stress of leading a team through change... a team that largely didn’t know me and who only saw one side of me that may not have filled them with excitement...

What followed was a serious amount of introspection and self evaluation. I had to change the way I went about my business, I had to find a way to make things that weren’t fun and interesting a priority and I had to connect back with the core of the business. Most importantly I had to make sure that I was up for it... there’s a saying I often use though I’m not sure of its origins...”it’s often easier to fight for principles than live up to them” and this was the time to live up to those principles I’d been bandying about...

My regular readers (both of you and Hi Mum) know that around the same time this happened I jumped on the CrossFit bandwagon of pain and suffering, so if putting myself through the pain of revolutionising how we operate at work wasn’t enough, I also had to deal with the pain of sore muscles, joints, bruised egos and what not. Talk about the perfect recipe for disaster.

I spent a bit of time feeling sorry for myself and while I’m not proud of it, briefly considered calling it quits and using the excuse “maybe I’ve done my time here and it’s time for someone else to step in”. Pretty pathetic, really.

Because of CrossFit, I started following Ben Bergeron, one of the more prominent coaches in the world, on social media, and came across his podcast, Chasing Excellence, and his book of the same name. Bergeron has coached both the male and female winners of the CrossFit Games - the Fittest Man and Woman on Earth. An ex investment banker, he strikes me as being one part elite athletic coach, one part life coach and philosopher. He draws on management experts like Stephen Covey, Jim Collins and the like to prepare his athletes for competitions. He is also an overwhelmingly positive person who seems to thrive on the concept of controlling the controllables.

One of the sayings in his book that really hit home with me was a reference to the concept of “I have to”... said with matching tones of resignation and slouching shoulders. Bergeron challenges the philosophy of 'having to' and instead talks about 'getting to'. In other words, you don’t have to go to the gym, you don’t have to go to work... you get to.

Perhaps more than anything, that was the proverbial slap in the face I needed. I was in a space of “there’s so much to do, there’s so much I don’t know, the people don’t like me or trust my objectives, it’s all too hard” which is a really dark place. Shifting the mindset from 'having to', to 'getting to' wasn’t easy, but it helped refocus how I was approaching things.

In his autobiography Final Word, former All Blacks coach Graeme Henry referenced ex-captain Tana Umaga telling him how he didn’t enjoy being the captain, or playing for the All Blacks, because there was so much pressure to win that it was no longer fun. As an All Black, the expectation was you have to win every match and losing just isn't tolerated. Henry and his successor Steve Hansen were able to successfully turn this around for the team by switching the emphasis (fixing the culture and game plan also helped a lot) ... rather than fear losing, why not set challenges about how good you can be and focus instead on the positive?

Both (all three actually) super coaches realise the power of positivity in mindset. In my case, I was worrying about all the things that could go wrong, looking at the situation I’d inherited as a series of problems, each more complicated and compounding, rather than an opportunity to make small, incremental changes, to shift the needle a bit on significant challenges we were facing. Rather than “oh geez I’ve got to do this and that and the other”, it became “ok, well this sucks... it’s not how we’d like it to be, and not how it was intended to be. But it is what it is. Now we get the chance to fix it”.

The great thing about this approach is it almost becomes like a child playing a game. The focus is on doing something because it’s fun, it’s an opportunity, rather than a chore that has to be done. A little bit Mary Poppinsesque perhaps.

The same absolutely applies to mowing the lawn, exercise, writing an article and so on.

As a bit of a postscript, I was talking to a friend the other day about some of the current challenges and he stopped, cracked a wry smile and said “you seem to be in a really good headspace despite the challenges you’ve got”. Almost instinctively I replied “yeah because there’s a lot to do, but I get to do something about it, which is kinda cool”.

What do you get to do that you feel like you have to...?

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