Ambition in Transition

October 17, 2022

There’s an old country music song by Kenny Rogers which says, “You got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em. Know when to walk away. Know when to run.”

Life and poker bear a similarity in the fact that accurate awareness of the situation “in your hand” plays a significant role in knowing how to “play the game.”

A metaphor which has served me well of late is that of a manual car transmission. My wife and I are in the midst of one of the biggest transitions of our lives. After 27 years of permanent residence in India, we’re in the process of relocating our home base to the United States. The magnitude of logistics required in this transition has, frankly, caught us off guard. I’m usually pretty accurate when it comes to assessing workload. Regrettably, my estimates on this transition were grossly off! In plain English, that means that my wife and I have spent many man-weeks beyond our estimates just trying to get everything done which has, in turn, created a domino effect in terms of my available bandwidth to invest in non-urgent work items for a period of several months. A good example is my complete radio silence on The Wire. As the months have gone on, it’s been driving me crazy!! I desperately want to move forward, but often feel like all I am doing is going in circles.

The metaphor of the manual car transmission is helpful because I realise that “my hand” right now is our transition. Manual cars require us to apply the clutch when we shift gears. By definition, applying the clutch means that there is no forward acceleration. In fact, even if we “hit the gas,” so long as the clutch is down, we only rev the engine.

As I mentioned, my drive to move forward in this transition is driving me nuts, but I keep telling myself this is a transition. I am shifting gears. The clutch is down. This is not the time to accelerate.

While the duration of the transition is much longer than I had hoped, the fact remains that I will be in a better emotional place if I can recognise the season I am in.

Most of my executive clients are highly ambitious. It’s one of the many things that has made them so successful. But I have also seen that same drive become a source of significant internal stress when they hit a season where the clutch is down. Sometimes life happens. Sometimes, we simply have to focus on other things beyond pushing ahead.

Knowing and accepting what season we are in can become one of the key emotional factors for navigating these seasons.

If you’ve been driving yourself nuts with your lack of “forward progress” and not giving yourself sufficient grace for the season you are in, I hope that you might extend yourself the kindness of cutting yourself some slack. When the transition is over, the clutch will eventually release, and you’ll be back to hitting the accelerator once again.

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