Be the Water, Not the Dam

Something incredibly addictive and seductive happens when we change someone’s mind. We want to do it again and again. It’s lovely having so many people aligned with our beliefs. And for those who resist our efforts, we double down, confident that if we keep at it, someday we’ll prevail, and they’ll see things our way.

After yet another disagreeable conversation with a determined resistor who was part of my inner circle and who wasn’t going anywhere, I took a step back. I needed to see with beginner’s eyes. I didn’t like what I saw, which was me being disrespectful and egotistical.

I used to think that changing people’s beliefs was part of being a leader who made a difference.

I don’t think that way anymore, and it is a very liberating place to be.

Approaching life, love, and leadership like it’s an ice cream parlor that offers at least 31 flavors—and maybe more—has made my life richer.

The journey to my liberation was difficult. Anger, tears, frustration, misguided persistence, self-righteousness, ugly words, and lost friends littered the path.

Losing friends was the worst. I liked those people. I missed the fun times with them, the sharing and how they made my life better because they were a “different flavor.” That’s something I didn’t realize until they were gone.

As much as I like chocolate ice cream, a steady diet of it becomes unsatisfying. There’s no tingle of anticipation of something new. There’s no comfort zone growing aha moments. There are no new thoughts that invite exploration of the unknown. There’s just me and the chocolate ice cream that, while comforting and comfortable, isn’t make me better or making a bigger difference.

It took me too long to realize that making a difference depended on differences.

  • I had to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • I had to let go of trying to change someone’s beliefs and acknowledge their right to have them.
  • I had to give respect to get respect.
  • I had to let go of certainty to find fulfillment.
  • I had to concede that my blind spots and hot buttons were indications of my weaknesses, not my strengths.

Most complex problems have multiple solutions. We have to pause and consider the big picture and the context of the moment. On some days, focusing on results is the right thing to do; on other days, nurturing relationships is what moves things forward. Sometimes, it’s teamwork that carries us across the finish line; other times it’s the autonomy of the solitary contributor. Some days, the right answer is my way; and on others, it’s your way.

Making room in our heads and hearts for those 31+ flavors of life, love, and leadership makes us compassionate and successful.

Today, when someone criticizes another for their beliefs, I don’t pile on like I used to. Instead, I honor their right to think and believe differently.

While it’s still sometimes hard to do, I’ve finally learned to be the water.

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” ~ Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher