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The secret to figuring IT out

"I just have to figure IT out before I can do that," I lamented to my coach this summer.

This has long been a theme for me. If I look at my journals over the years I see this story I've been telling myself over and over again, unfolding in a continuous loop like the Uroboros.


It's the more ambiguous version of, I'll be happy once I have that house or find that special someone or insert otherworldly possession here.

It's the story of needing to have IT all figured out before I can feel confident, successful, capable. The limiting belief that I can't ship my work until I have every aspect defined, and neatly organized like a sock drawer.

However, my work and my life are not as compact and simple to organize as a sock drawer. It's not just that it's complicated, it's also a moving target I am aiming at. That's one thing 2020 has reminded all of us - disruption happens and changes everything like the tectonic plates we stand upon colliding to cause an earthquake.  

Not only is it impossible to have it all figured out, but there's also a great need to reframe what it means to figure IT out.

After my coach urged me to press forward, to show-up and ship with a small fraction of IT figured out I excitedly proclaimed to her a few months later, "Doing the work is how you figure IT out."

One of the problems I see for many leaders and young professionals is this habit of holding as much in their minds as possible. Even small things like keeping a running to-do list in their heads is limiting. Let alone more nuanced challenges like preparing for a difficult conversation by rehearsing what they're going to say in their minds.  

When I asked Journal Jam sponsor Ben West why he promotes journaling among his team he answered with this. "So many people's ideas exist as this Salvador Dali like dreamscape in their mind, where things don't have to connect in natural, normal, physical ways...just this act of taking this idea you have that you feel really strongly and passionately about and putting it on paper almost immediately exposes that...there's this very real obstacle to that and one, saying, is this actually a manageable obstacle or, two, am I asking for something crazy."

Indeed, an important first step in figuring IT out is getting IT out of your head and onto paper. This is why practices like journaling are so powerful, the act of getting your ideas onto paper shines the light of day on them and exposes holes in your thinking. It is also the reason that programs like Seth Godin's Akimbo workshops are so effective because his programs give you permission to share ideas when they're messy and incomplete. 

We need to be encouraged to figure IT out by doing the work, which is vulnerable and filled with uncertainty. And then we must take the sometimes excruciating next steps of putting our work out there for others to see and react to even when we think we're not ready. 

Because a big part of figuring IT out is getting feedback. And an important part of this process is the give and take that happens when we let our ideas mingle with the real world. Figuring IT out is a creative process that requires external agents to catalyze new insights that allow the pieces to come together and form a cohesive whole. 

This means shifting the notion of figuring IT out as a solitary act to a co-creating process. This is a keen take away for any entrepreneur or leader working to solve a complex problem. We aren't solely responsible for figuring IT out nor would our solution be as exceptional as we want it to be if we tried to do it all on our own. 

If doing the work is how we figure IT out we must first get the ideas out of our heads and then engage the others in shaping them. As a result, our solution will be better than we ever imagined possible. And approaching it this way creates the space for IT to continue evolving as small changes or large disruptions shift the foundation upon which we stand (as is inevitable). 

In this way, figuring IT out is a nuanced and never-ending dance. While it might feel frustrating to accept that we will never arrive at having IT all figured out, we can choose to embrace that this means things can be better than we ever imagined possible. That feels like a worthwhile trade-off to me.

Want to connect with others and get support using your journal to figure IT out? Save the date for the next Journal Jam on Tuesday December 1st at 1pm MST.

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