When obstacles happen the question arises: Should I alter my plans or keep things the same? Or, as they say in poker, “Do I hold ’em, or fold ’em?” This is an important question, and attitude has a lot to do with getting the right answer. Let’s take a quick look.
When do I hold ‘em—stay true to my course and maintain my directions and plans?
Here’s a good time to do that: when it looks like perseverance is the best strategy; i.e., when not being swayed from my original objectives or strategies by the difficulties I am encountering seems like the smart thing to do. “Sticking to one’s guns” can be an important quality in accomplishing any important goal. Without “stick-to-it-ness” we may end up being a quitter when we shouldn’t quit.
It’s been said that it took Thomas Edison over 1,000 trials to find out the proper combination of materials to make a successful light bulb. When questioned by a reporter about the high number of “failures” in the development of the light bulb, Edison is said to have commented that there were no failures at all, it was just a 1,000 step process.
Elbow grease…it can take a lot of it to get the job done.
Here’s a bad time to hold onto your plans: when you do so because you want to pretend that nothing is going wrong and that there really is no problem, or when you are afraid of addressing the possibility of change.
It’s been said that the company that develops the next “big idea” won’t be the company to develop the next one after that. Why? Because when a company has a big success it tends to cling to that success and lose their edge. One only needs to remember how popular Blackberry phones were for several years, and then observe their rapid fall from popularity as other phones came along and took away their market.
When to fold ’em—making changes in my plans because of an obstacle.
Here’s a good time: When it looks like my original goals may no longer be obtainable and that alternate goals or strategies need to be adopted.
Alcoholics Anonymous has a famous prayer that offers wisdom here. You’ve probably already heard it. It’s called the Serenity Prayer and goes like this:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference. (Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)
Changes made with purpose, courage, and wisdom often save the day. Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke was a German Field Marshal and is regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter 19th century. He is famous for the saying, “No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength” (or “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”) To survive one must change.
In another military example, Norman Dixon in his book On the Psychology of Military Incompetence writes of how many disastrous military decisions in the past have been made because of an unwillingness to change plans when intelligence reports suggested the need to do so. Change is inevitable, and though some situations do require perseverance, others require change.
Here are two bad times to change your plans: When you’re simply afraid of the obstacle and give up out of fear, or when you’re overwhelmed with exhaustion and have lost your vision.
All of us quit sometimes when we should keep going. We abandon perfectly good plans after become overwhelmed with fear. When this happens it’s time to go back to question one: Who should I talk to about this problem? The same thing is true when the problem is exhaustion or a loss of vision for the task. Take a break, pace yourself, talk things over with a friend, and get a renewed perspective.
I don’t doubt for one moment the sincerity of Academy Awards recipients when they thank those who supported them in their careers. None of us are our best without the support of others. We all need cheerleaders and wise counselors in our lives. Don’t let discouragement be the reason you give up on a goal. Talk over the situation with wise, experienced others and then make a decision about whether to continue your plans or change them.
But, in any case don’t fail to recognize that obstacles can sometimes result in a greater good than otherwise would have been the case—which brings us to our third question.