I was with a client this week and he was telling me about one of the strategies we’d discussed that he shared with his team.
“Yeah, no-one had anything much to say.” He said. “I don’t think I’ll try it again.”
“Why would you only try it once?” I asked him, puzzled.
While he paused to think about that, I was reminded of a conversation with a philanthropist I know who’s been working in the country his foundation supports for the last ten years.
“It took us seven years to get any results at all,”
he’d once told me.
“If you were to graph our progress you’d see a very long, flat line, and then a sudden jump. Now we’re in all the schools in X. But it took us seven years to get there.”
Don’t Do It for You
My client wanted to understand more about why his team didn’t resonate with his experiment.
“Yeah, but if they didn’t like what I was sharing, why would I keep doing it?” he asked.
“Why is it in any way relevant what you think?” I asked.
“We keep showing up, day after day, without expectation or attachment. That’s what love is. That’s what gets results. That’s what ‘doing the work’ means. As long as you have enough of a feeling that you’re doing the right thing, why would you stop? Because you don’t feel appreciated? You might never get any thanks but how is that relevant?”
I went on to share a conversation I’d had with my youngest teen the previous weekend. He was just back from a day out with his friend.
ME: “Do you want any food?”
HIM: “No thanks mum.”
ME: “Did you eat anything today?”
ME: “if I make a sandwich, do you think you could eat some?”
HIM: “Yeah, probably.”
He and I have had conversations like this, oh, several times a week, maybe even several times a day, for the better part of his eighteen years. By my rough calculations that’s many thousands of conversations where I’ve offered, or just made, something for him to eat without any expectation of gratitude or appreciation.
On that occasion I got a smile, a cuddle and an empty plate. But often I don’t get anything.
Sure, he’d be fine if I didn’t make him food, but it occurs to me to do it, and so I do. I don’t do it for me.
Just like the philanthropist who kept his projects going for all those years with no results, tweaking and adapting and making the changes he thought would move them in the direction he thought would make most of a difference.
Because it felt like the right thing to do.
Because he could.
Keep Going Until You Run Out of Time
Why would we stop doing what feels like the right thing to do? Even if it doesn’t get the results we want? The first time, or indeed, ever?
My client laughed.
“You think I should try again, then?”
“Oh, that’s up to you!” I replied, “I just don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t.”
About the author
Cathy Presland is an expert in personal and professional leadership and an advanced transformative coach. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind so they can make more of a difference with the work they do.