Let Go of the Good

Are you a hoarder? A minimalist? Or something in between? 

I moved house recently, which is always a pain. On the bright side, every time I move I get to engage in my favourite activity – throwing things away. Every time I shift, I sort through all of our things, and I become merciless with what qualifies for box status. No danger of hoarding around here! 

I’ve always loved the prospect of clean slates, letting go and fresh beginnings. There’s something so mentally freeing about turfing out a box of old things you don’t use anymore. 

If just reading about me throwing away my stuff makes your heart beat a bit faster, you’re not alone. It’s hard to get rid of things we already have and do – even when we know they’re not serving us, or there’s a better option out there.  

We’re inherently loss averse – we value things we already have more highly, simply because we have them. One in the hand, two in the bush and all that.  

“Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on. Growth itself demands that we move on. Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.”

― Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

I see this at work too. I ran a wonderful Strategic Focus workshop last Thursday where we were racing through the programme – priorities, outcomes, action streams, tick tick tick. Everything came to a screeching halt, however, when I asked the group to make some trade-offs, so we could find the time and money to get change happening. 

Strategy is all about choices, and the hardest part of any choice is the road not travelled (or box of stuff thrown away, or project, relationship or commitment we need to let go of!) 

I hear the same protests all the time - “I have to do everything I’m doing!” “Nothing is negotiable!” But the thing about real change is that it can’t be as well as – we’re already at maximum capacity. Real change needs to be instead of.

Which is fine if we’re releasing things we don’t enjoy, that don’t add value or that we don’t care about – like my boxes of stuff when I move. Those are choices between right and wrong. 

How about when we need to choose between right and right? Or chuck out stuff we’re still using? This is hard, uncomfortable territory. We have to let go of the good, to get to the awesome - or we don’t grow.  

Henry Cloud nailed the best analogy for this issue in ‘Necessary Endings’ when he talked about pruning rosebushes. 

Rosebushes produce more buds than they can sustain and require regular pruning to be healthy and thrive. Cloud distinguishes between three types of pruning – the first is to remove dead branches. These branches are no longer contributing,  and are taking up space that makes it harder for the others to grow. Easy. The second is to remove sick and diseased branches who are unlikely to recover and are taking energy away from healthy branches. Not bad. 

The third type of pruning, though, is the removal of perfectly healthy buds. Having too many ‘good’ buds prevents the rosebush from totally thriving, by directing energy away from the buds that have the potential to be great. Without this critical third type, your rosebush will never be fabulous. 

What perfectly healthy things do you need to prune, to get to great? 

Til next week 

- A