I’ve realized that I’m always trying. Trying to do, trying to be. Trying, trying, trying.
The whole idea of ‘trying’ has value to me because I believe that I have agency – a lot of agency. When I work towards my goals with enthusiasm, intelligence, and emotional-awareness, my efforts are typically correlated with results. All my experience supports this: I send emails, stuff happens. I make slides, stuff happens. I talk to someone on the phone, stuff happens. It’s a pretty straightforward view of the world. Further, it’s a view of the world that has allowed me to be happy and successful to date (since I’m so good at trying). Keep trying, and there will be success.
But what happens when I don’t try?
When a friend asked me that question last weekend, it leashed an avalanche of defensiveness and self-justification. “Not trying?! That’s inconceivable!” huffed The Defensive One in my head. (I imagine him wearing an old-school British barrister outfit as he argues each point.) “That’s an incredible betrayal! It controverts the very idea of intentionality, one of your core values!” He gets only more flustered and riled as he continues. “For heaven’s sake, why invite the Queen to tea if you’re not going to show up?!”
It’s true; after observing the effort/result correlation enough times, I’ve been duped into believing that voice. I’ve come to see that the world moves forward when I try – and therefore, I have convinced myself that I must keep trying.
So what happens when I don’t try? With this worldview, presumably nothing. And yet, I increasingly observe that’s in fact the case.
This Wednesday was a good case in point. I worked all day developing a new piece of training content, figuring out the flow of the module and tailoring each exercise so it would serve the learning goal. I sat in front of my computer, revising text, swapping slides, changing pictures. As I finished the day, I had the sense that something was mildly off. I decided to step back, take a break, and go for a pedicure.
Thus I found myself an hour later, sitting in the pedicure chair, feet in a shallow pool of water and journal on my lap. I was writing about whatever craziness I typically journal on. And I was giving myself a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back for creating time for self-care. But then, with three of ten toes bright orange, I realized: “Ahh! I know exactly what needs to change in that module! I see how to reformulate the question to really make it sing.”
I’ve worked for so long under the belief that my efforts, directly exerted upon the task at hand, will create the most movement. But I’m learning that sometimes there’s more movement when you stop trying and let things be effortless. This isn’t just true because the subconscious parts of my brain get a chance to process the information (as in this example), but also because things external to me seem to work in a different way when I stop trying as well. People line up to support a new idea. Someone sends an email with the information I need. A new offer comes to the table. It sounds crazy and semi-magical, but something happens when I stop trying. And much of the time, that force moves the world forward more powerfully than my trying ever could.
So here’s my challenge: I am going to try to stop trying. Or, phrased more positively, I am going to see if I can relax and let go. That way, I may just find my way to that productive and elusive place where trying and not trying meet.