When it comes to taking “the next steps” on a project, I’m usually pretty good at figuring them out. The ideas come at odd times and in strange places. I often joke with colleagues that I do my best thinking in the shower. They cast funny glances, laugh and say something along the lines of, “Okay, what is it this time?”
But last week, I found myself in a royal funk of not being able to figure out what to do next. A pet project of mine had been rejected (rather rudely, I might add) as “not corporate enough.” The baby wasn’t just ugly, it was the wrong gender! It was apparent during the discussion that the rejector and I looked at the same concept from two entirely different standpoints. It was even more apparent that anything I might say would be met with total disregard. It was a good time not to back an angry opponent into a corner, I reasoned.
I didn’t feel personally rejected, rather I was personally frustrated because this project was to become a tool to help thousands of company employees. My goal was to help others, something that seemed right at the time. But I felt stuck and totally unable to move forward. The next step eluded me.
I was driving to work when my cell phone rang. It was a friend who, somehow, sensed something was up (or, in this case, down). I told him about what happened and he very calmly said the problem was not about winning or losing, it was really about finding the “gift” in the situation. It doesn’t have to be a setback, he reminded me, rather, it could be just the opposite. “Don’t give in,” he prodded.
That’s sometimes easier to say than to do, especially if you’ve been dealt what feels like the sucker punch of punches. But when I paired the “gift idea” with the “don’t give in thought,” I realized it wasn’t a matter of giving up the idea/project concept but not giving in to discouragement.
The more I thought about it, the more I saw that the disagreement was deeper than I originally believed, and that I didn’t have to make anyone (including myself) right or wrong.
And then he said something that really hit home: Stop thinking about it! That’s like telling someone to get an image of a pink elephant in their head and make it vivid, and then telling them not to think about it. While that seems funny, it’s also true that ruminating over a problem doesn’t help solve it. Maybe a shower would help, I thought.
It’s now several days later, and I still don’t really know “the next step.” I do know that being open to the world around us–and the people around us–often leads to the next step. I’m not fearful, lost or uncertain anymore, because I know that the next step will be there. I’ll know what it is when the time is right.
Your turn: how do you “find the next steps?” Share your ideas by adding a comment.