Make things easier by getting out of your own way
I often think back to a period of time in 2012 when I was really struggling at work. I was leading a platform team where there were a lot of complex cross-company politics, and no one was ever happy. I constantly felt frustrated, frequently complaining to my career coach about how hard everything felt.
Finally, she looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you try swimming downstream?” I looked back at her, puzzled about what she meant. She explained, “You sound like you are spending a lot of time fighting an uphill battle. Why not just swim downstream instead?” She went on to reflect back to me how I was making things harder than they had to be, and how I ought to look for ways to go with the flow.
Together, we brainstormed how to do just that, leading me to put together a company-wide roadmap and bring it directly to the executive group. In doing so, I was able to bundle up multiple conflicts on different fronts and escalate them all at once, bringing more visibility and clarity. Just like that, things started to change. Suddenly, we were all on the same page, and I was no longer feeling like I was disappointing everyone.
Swimming downstream can mean a lot of things depending on your role and responsibility. Ultimately, however, it’s about making things easier on yourself and getting out of your own way, leading to less friction, less conflict, and a clearer path to success.
So, how can you go from fighting an uphill battle to swimming downstream, in your work and your life? Let’s explore a few time-tested ways.
Pick your battles
When my son, Jonathan (now 16), was young, we were very careful not to expose him to violence. We only let him watch shows that we had carefully considered. We never let him play with toy guns. We even debated whether squirt guns were permissible. But reality smacked us in the face when one day we saw him holding a stick, saying, "Pew, pew, pew, pew!" We asked him what he was doing, and he looked at us innocently, replying, "I'm a fireman, and I’m shooting water at a fire." To this day, I'm not sure if he was trying to tell us what he thought we wanted to hear, or if that was truly what he was doing. Either way, it was a reality check for us, bringing the realization that we couldn't protect him from everything forever.
By the time we had our third child, we had learned to swim downstream. Danielle was playing Halo by the time she was eight, and she now enjoys Assassin’s Creed and The Witcher alongside her brother. She does not have any particular fascination with violence. She is a well-adjusted 11-year-old who enjoys video games (but insists that someone be in the room with her—you know, just in case a scary monster pops up while she’s playing).
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