Last week I did something I have never done.
I’m something of a geek, as my kids will tell you with a mix of humor and tolerance. This means I can’t wait for the next version of anything. Particularly software. When a new version hits, I tend to jump on it, gleefully, eager to find what new things I can do with my tools of choice.
So when the main piece of software I use to run my business, Intellect, came out with a new version several months ago, I was on it, day one.
This was a major upgrade. They had changed much of the underlying code, changed the database they used and added a ton of new features.
At first, I was enamored with all the new features. It didn’t matter that most of them really had little to do with what I do and how I operate. I was like a kid in a candy store. I always am,
But then I noticed something. All that new hardware and code under the hood slowed things down. Sometimes it just stalled for a few seconds, like an old person who can’t remember a name. Every now and then, I could not get out of it at all without crashing out of it and rebooting the program.
I love the people who make this software. They have real tech support people who get on the phone with you and do whatever it takes to get you going, solve your problems. I’ve used their software since version one because it did everything I needed and because it was fast.
But they could not help me. They tried, but they could not. In the end, they fell back on the tried and true (and it really might be true) “there must be something in your hardware” answer. That’s when I did what I have never done.
I went back a version.
I had to ask myself – “When was the last time everything worked right for me?” And it was the last version. Then I had to ask “Did that version do everything I needed to do?” And the answer was yes.
This was not an easy step back. I had to reset everything. I had to convert a database and re-arrange data, and trust me, while I am a geek, I am not THAT much of a geek. It was work. It took me a whole day.
It would be easy to say that day was wasted, but it wasn’t Because once it was done, I had the things I valued most back – speed, reliability and comprehensiveness.
Sometimes we have to do the same thing in life.
Rarely do we make choices that change everything in our lives, causing us problems and dissatisfaction. No, instead the choices we make, and their consequences are like a slow erosion, slowly chipping away at our joy, our feeling of happiness, our fulfillment. And we do what I did when I got the new version of software – we work around it.
Because we’re supposed to move forward.
Our whole society, our business models, is built on progress. Moving forward. “Never look back!” is the battle cry of many.
What I have learned, sometimes the hard way, is that looking back is sometimes our best tool.
Twice in my career, I moved too far forward, outwardly a success, but honestly, not doing the things that brought me the most joy, that I was the most effective doing, or energized me.
I have had to do this in my personal life too, having to look backward at my life to find out where I had gone off the tracks and began to move away from my best self.
In my case, I needed help to get started. But since then, I’ve learned the process, and it’s become part of my life – a periodic “check up”, something I do every year or so. I’ve learned that the process works for others too. I’ve walked engineers, pastors, artists and others through it to good results.
Here’s the process
- First you have to ask yourself when you last felt joyful, fulfilled and successful.
- Secondly, you ask yourself what was happening during those times. What factors contributed to your joy, your fulfillment, your success? Write those factors down.
- Next, write down what has changed in your life since then. Some of these things will be clear, like loss of a job or a new boss or some other event. Others will be less clear, like a slow change in a relationship. But it is important that you look at what has changed.
- Fourth, ask yourself how these changes affected the things that are important to you.
The temptation is to think that this is easy. Four steps, right?
Well, I am here to tell you that it’s not easy. Many of us don’t really know what factors bring us happiness. We fall back on the societal norms – money, power, control, whatever. The truth is generally deeper than that.
For instance, I like to make good money. And for most of my career, I have. But when I examined myself I discovered that when it comes to money, I am just as happy with money enough for a simple lifestyle I lead. I discovered that I didn’t live that differently when I had tons of money than when I had modest amounts of money.
What I really liked was to make good money doing things I am good at, with people I like and respect. I like mentoring people. And I like growing people and companies. I like to work hard, with a flexible schedule that allows for the craziness in life.
It took me a while, to figure this out. And I could not have done it alone.
In fact, for a long time, I needed help. I had mentors, friends, and a pair of wonderful counselors who helped me sift through my life with more self honesty than I was capable of at the time to see myself clearly.
This is why many successful people use life coaches, or counselors, or mentors to help them learn HOW to sift through things.
So don’t expect to do this in an hour or an afternoon. Spend some time with it. Let it simmer. Re-examine things. (one of my counselors likens it to peeling an onion.) Look at it. Look at it again. Be honest with yourself and don’t go into it thinking you know the answers. Go into it looking for the answers.
At some point, you’ll start to see where you went off the tracks. And then it’s time to rethink some things. Can you go back to where you were and be happy? Or are there ways that you can adjust or change where you are now to bring back the real things you want back in your life?
My experience with people is that most of us don’t need to go back to some mythical place in our life where all was sweetness and light. But if we take the time to step back a while, we can learn what is important, and make significant changes forward, without throwing everything out and starting over.
But it all starts with going backwards for a while.
I am wonderfully effective again with my older software. When I get a new computer, I may look at the new version again, but for now, going back was the right choice. It was worth the lost time spent going backwards.
And the same can be true in our own lives, I think. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It’s counter-intuitive. it takes time and work that at first may seem non-productive, but it’s often the best way forward.
In fact, it almost always is.
Take care. Journey wisely.