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What is preventing us from reaching excellence?

A friend was telling us about her advice to her son. “I used to tell my little boy at times of facing challenges ‘Don’t just sit there and cry, get up and try!’ A few days ago when I repeated the same words, he responded: ‘Mom, you either do it or don’t do it, there is no TRY.’”. Perhaps the boy had been watching a Star Wars film where Yoda said to Luke Skywalker: “No. Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”  This attitude has somehow become part of our culture and a dictum of a better way of living our lives. There are no half measures; nothing less than total success is acceptable.

Hollywood tells a story and before we know it a fictional character is guiding our approach to life. This is not surprising. After all, how we see the world is only a story; a story that governs our attitudes, moods and actions. Our initial challenge is to accept that our view of life is not the universal truth but the result of our constant conditioning. The second challenge is becoming aware of the sources of influence and to question them. This awareness allows us to become more involved in shaping our perceptions and the consequences that come with that.

Yoda’s words have been interpreted in many ways, but largely to validate a certain point of view. My interest is not in the interpretation but their consequences.

  1. ‘You either do it or you don’t’ – Living like this limits us to take on only challenges that we can fulfill at a given point. It ignores the need for supporting structures which enable growth.
  2. ‘You don’t try half heartedly; you commit to the end goal and make it happen’ – This outlook of life empowers us, brings focus and a mood of possibilities. But it is based on assumptions that everyone is competent and the environment surrounding us is perfect for all individuals to achieve their goals. Even if these assumptions prove wrong, we all have the capability to identify our shortcomings, find ways around all hurdles and remain in a constructive mood.
  3. ‘Decide what you want to do, believe you can do it, put the effort in and eliminate all  anxieties and negativities, then it will happen’ – This is only a more elaborate version of the previous.

Modern culture places the achievement of end goals as what is important in our lives, associating this with happiness and making each individual responsible for their own wellbeing. As a result, we now undervalue the joy of just doing, the sense of community has been taken away, and so we live a life full of anxieties and then wonder why we are not fulfilled and lacking committed teams.

I would like to think Yoda was actually saying, ‘Luke, you know I am master in this domain and committed to our cause. As your coach, I know you have the core ability to fulfill this task. You need to learn to stop trying. When we focus on trying our intellect gets in the way and prevents our skills from flowing naturally. Just do and let your capabilities flow.’

There is a certain type of joy and satisfaction when we are at one with the task in hand; we call it being in a flow. We all have experienced it and associate our best performance with it. The question is, why can’t we do it all the time? Our anxieties get in the way; we either don’t believe in ourselves or are afraid of failing and getting hurt. But anxiety is there for a reason; it is a trigger telling us “I am at risk.”

We are the product of our genetic ability and conditioning, after which our environment determines what we can or cannot achieve. Our shared attitudes, which we call culture, only value the achievement of predetermined results to such an extent that even considering the outcome of non-achievement can of itself bring about self-doubt and anxiety. It is our modern culture supported by today’s business environment that is preventing us from reaching excellence.

We have forgotten the basic rhythm of life; without trying, not achieving what we intended, and then trying again or trying other solutions, there will be no learning and no innovation. Above all, without that freedom, there will be no joy in our everyday working lives.

Author: Saiid Ordibehesht

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