Just a few months ago, I was going through a tricky patch in my professional life. I found I was being put in a situation that I felt uncomfortable in. You see I’m a manager (or was) of a team of lovely staff, and my boss had started pushing me to look at my ‘team structure’. Warning bells went off in my head and I started to panic…I felt protective of my team and compelled to defend the qualities of each individual, because they were all smart, brilliant people.
What I didn’t realise was that I was making the whole thing more convoluted and painful (mostly for myself at the time) than it needed to be. My emotional involvement with the situation was clouding my ability to make decisions. I was all in a tangle, and I couldn’t pick a direction so I was stuck, and no-one was benefiting from the situation. At the time, I remember comparing myself to a character from a book that my parents used to read to me when I was a little girl.
On my fourth birthday I was given a book that became very precious to me – Terry Jones’ Fairy Tales – a collection of original short stories with beautiful, lavish illustrations by Michael Foreman. Terry Jones is of course better known for being a member of the Monty Python team, but apparantly he also knows how to spin a good yarn for children! The book was also rather special because the person who gave it to me added their own illustration and a short (rather gruesome) story all about me!
Of course when I was little I just enjoyed the stories in their own right. However traditionally, fairy tales have a moral behind them, and I find myself thinking back quite frequently to the little lessons that were hidden behind the magical lines.
The straight way’s short, but the long way’s pretty…
So in my dilemma, I started thinking about one of the stories in particular – Katy Make-sure. The name says it all really! Katy Make-sure was a little girl who couldn’t make up her mind. In the story, Katy is out for a walk in the woods when she bumps into a goblin who offers her the once in a lifetime chance to visit Goblin City and get a reward (for finding his lost shoe). But the problem comes when she asks how to get there, and the little man replies:
Short or long to Goblin City?
The straight way’s short,
But the long way’s pretty!
Katy can’t decide which is the best way to go – the long or the short way – and each time she asks the goblin for advice, he simply repeats himself and she gets more confused! Eventually after she’s asked his advice over and over she asks “How can I be sure i’ll like it whichever way we go?” The goblin finally becomes impatient and disappears, leaving Katy all alone, and she never does get to visit Goblin City in the end poor thing!
But isn’t it all too easy too caught up in trying to ‘make sure’ a decision is the right one? Especially when it’s an important choice and the consequences are an unknown quantity, we can sometimes spend too much energy worrying and not enough finding a solution to the problem. Our uncertainty paralyses us and we become like Hamlet, a victim of our own inaction. It can be comforting to be indecisive, but what if we were to be brave… start down the long pretty road, or just get there quickly instead of dithering around. Maybe we’ll make some wrong choices and we might get burned, but we can only make the best decision we can at the time and learn from our mistakes, arriving our destination a little wiser. Perhaps what prevents us is that don’t want to get to our destination…but even then, does standing still help?
In the end, I took action – moved forward. Ultimately, my choices resulted in positive (if surprising) changes for my team, the company and for myself – including deciding to leave my job on my own terms instead of staying on for a sense of security. And the best thing is that I feel so much better for it. I found out that by taking action you can actually influence the destination you come to. Which is kind of wonderful, I think.