Become a more inspirational and resonant leader by fully aligning who you are with how you communicate.

I recently finished acting in a production of an original play. This is the first play I have acted in since 2009. It was exciting to get back on stage and wrestle again with words, dive into a character and collaborate with other creative people. The script, set and blocking (where to go on stage) kept changing right up until we opened. While it was great to revisit the art of acting and to stretch myself again, I had forgotten one important thing about putting on a play, especially an original one that has never been performed:

that the process is messy.

(Like my kids’ rooms.)

No matter how many books I read about learning, productivity and performance I am always surprised by how scary, difficult and exhausting the process is. When I try to describe it to friends I liken it to building a sandcastle while the tide is coming in. No matter how hard you work at it, the waves keeps coming up to wash it away. Impermanence, impermanence, impermanence.

If you are someone who likes to have structure to everything that you do and who likes to know exactly how things will turn out, then the creative process will be difficult. (Much to my chagrin, I am one of those people.)

It isn’t just creativity that forces us to look at process this way. Learning a new skill, traveling to a new place with a different culture and attempting to change and organization’s culture are all similar in that they require us to understand and adhere to a process that is both messy and unpredictable.

The success of any process comes in our willingness to lean into it despite our fear and our discomfort with the mess. The more we trust the process itself (like learning a new language) the more we grow and improve, even though it may seem like we are getting worse.

What are the obstacles to having success in that process? Here are a few that I have identified from my recent experience:

  1. Expectations
  2. Beliefs
  3. Time
  4. Communication
  5. Discipline

Expectations

What are your expectations about yourself and your ability to learn things and how do those expectations impact the length of time that you are willing to put into this new skill?

If you have reached a point in your life where you have some mastery of a skill or have acquired a level of confidence with your ability to do certain things, you may find that your expectations are that most other things will come easy as well.

It is incredibly easy to take for granted all the work that we did to get to this place in our lives and to assume that we just arrived at this spot because of talent.

This is what happens to CEOs of companies that have grown to become successful and it is what happens to adults who have reached a plateau in their work. Because they are so successful in one thing, they believe that they have this god-given ability to do anything. The results are unrealistic expectations, a lack of humility and profound absence of patience.

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Look to your frustrations with process and you will usually find a series of expectations that might be unrealistic. Just because you speak Spanish fluently, does not mean that you will learn Mandarin Chinese easily. If your expectations are that you will be able to learn a new skill or deal with change without making a mess, you are going to feel frustrated.

Beliefs

What are your beliefs about the world and about yourself? If you are dealing with change management or creative process, you will probably need to get in touch with these beliefs so that you can understand where you get stuck and where you are resisting the most. An honest audit of our own belief system will help us to understand where we get hooked. For example, do I believe that I have to be perfect? Do I believe that change is supposed to be easy? Do I believe that uncertainty is bad? Beliefs like these can make us tense and fragile, especially in the messier parts of process.

Time

Time takes time. What I mean by that is that no matter how badly we might want to speed up the process of learning, change, or creativity, it takes what it is going to take. Think about it in terms of boiling an egg. It takes what it takes. If you want a specific outcome (hard boiled egg), then you will need to wait for a specific amount of time for that change to occur. While we can get our minds around the boiled egg metaphor, we can get lost in the amorphous process of change and learning because we have beliefs and expectations of how long it should take. The more we understand that process is something that we are doing all the time and that we cannot rush it, the easier it gets to relax and trust that we are moving forward.

Communication

Are you being clear with other people about what your want, need or see? Your ability to articulate clearly with others and to sincerely listen to them when they are speaking is the key to making the process successful (especially when you depend on others to deliver the result). The clearer we are in our communication, the more connected we feel through the process. This connection allows us to feel less scared, uncertain and alone. Trying to manage change without focusing on communication skills is only asking for trouble.

Discipline

This one is obvious to most people, but can get lost in the messiness of learning or change. Music teachers will say that what matters the most to a student’s improvement on an instrument is the time that she spends practicing with the instrument. (Sounds obvious but many of us don’t adhere to it.) The discipline to sit with the process, even when it doesn’t feel like any momentum is being made is the key to growing as a musician. What does it take to be present for a process even when that process is ugly and messy?  (Think about the courage it takes to speak a new language even though you know you will make many mistakes.) We have to have the discipline to do it regardless of how badly it may appear. No matter how talented you are, learning (like adolescence) will have an ugly period to it.

Trusting the process is a lot like swimming. We have to give ourselves over to the water and not fight it. This doesn’t mean that swimming isn’t hard work. The first time you learned to swim, you had your expectations and beliefs challenged in a profoundly important way. To struggle against the water is to ensure drowning. Give up the struggle and trust the process of swimming and you will stay afloat. Fight the process and you will sink.

(Or look foolish)

What being in this recent play taught me was that if I trust both the process of learning and myself in that process, I get to discover new things about myself and what I am capable of doing.

Even though the process is messy and full of uncertainty, learn to trust it and yourself.

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