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Doing What You Have To Do

Most of us have had the experience of working in a job, position or situation that we don’t like- maybe even hate- and stay in because we just have to. Whether for our own financial needs, supporting a family, or perceived external obligation or pressure, we keep at it simply because we must. In many of these cases, though not all, the misery seems at least somewhat tempered by some goal, some possible future outcome that we are looking or waiting or hoping or striving for: getting our entrepreneurial endeavor underway and successful, getting some promotion or raise, going back to school, marrying rich, retiring, etc. It seems that in these current times of seemingly constant economic (and cultural) turmoil, even more of us are experiencing this than ever before.

Recently I spoke with a young professional who is in just this type of situation. He’s suffering through his current work while looking to create a new business and direction, and besides just not being personally satisfied, his performance is (predictably) suffering as well.  The question presenting itself seems to be, how do I deal effectively with my current circumstances while building toward the future I’m committed to?


To be able to see how I can increase my performance, I have to be able to see what has it be what it is currently, which means I have to be clear on the overall source of my performance- my action- in the first place. To begin, let’s deal with what it’s not.

I found in our conversation, that this gentleman (let’s call him YP) is- understandably- under the impression that his performance has been subpar due to his feeling uninterested in his work and having his thoughts occupied by his desire and plans to leave and begin something new. This is a very common and totally understandable view… And, dare I say, wrong. See, this line of thought is rooted in the (taken-for-granted and therefore invisible) assumption that our performance, our action, is caused by our thoughts and/or feelings.

It’s not.

Now, before you stop reading or start arguing with me silently in your head, just consider it for a moment; do you always do what you decide to do? Do you always do what you feel like doing? Do you always do what you think you want to do? If the answer to any one of these questions is not, “Yes, absolutely reliably 100% of the time”, then I’d ask you to, just for now, set aside your strongly held opinions and beliefs and just “try on” what I’m saying. If it doesn’t fit, feel free to take it off when we’re done.

I’m going to spare you the mountains of neuroscience research amassed over the past 30 years that overwhelmingly confirm what I’m saying. I won’t bore you to death with their repeated tests, demonstrating that your brain is in fact preparing the “action” pattern of neurons almost half a second before the neuronal pattern fires that shows up for you as your thought or decision or feeling. Just trust me on that (or feel free to contact me and I’ll show you where to find it). The short story, in brain terms, is that neither external stimuli nor internal states cause your actions.

As I’ve said in past posts, your actions- and your thoughts and feelings- are correlated with how your situation shows up for you. Not the situation itself, but the way in which it occurs for you.

Therefore, if you want to improve your performance (and satisfaction) in your current job, you’d want to check that out; you’d want to look and see how you’re interpreting what you’re dealing with, what you’re making your situation mean, and then go ahead and set that aside for a moment. See if you can wake up to the situation (and your performance) as it is. Like, “here it is, I’m committed to starting something new, and I’m not doing that now. I work here now. It’s not what I want, but until I go in some other direction, it’s what I’ve got.”

See, if you can get clear on how it’s been showing up for you, set that view aside, and then deal with the facts as they are, you may find yourself with a new experience of the situation. Notice that this doesn’t require changing your circumstances or even trying to change your own thoughts or feelings (with positive thinking, self-discipline, etc.), in fact it’s not about changing anything. It’s about allowing things to be as they actually are. And yet, inside a fresh perspective, with no fixing or struggle required, your performance and your experience of yourself and your situation can alter radically and very quickly.

From there, it works to create something, like a new commitment- or even to get present to what you’re already committed to. You may see some new opportunities to take action toward realizing your commitment that perhaps were invisible while looking from your old viewpoint. If you do, I recommend you schedule those actions and take them.

Pardon me if this occurs overly simple, but truly it is. Simple, but perhaps not easy.  It takes courage and power to set aside one’s assumptions and beliefs, and look from a new place. It requires giving something up, but I think you’ll find that, in any place where you don’t have the results or fulfillment that you really want, it’s worth it every time.

Also, I’d like to quickly deal with this “have to” view.  Consider: there’s nothing you have to do. Really. There’s only what you’re doing, and everything else. Your choices and actions have consequences, no doubt, and they always have and always will. AND, as far as we can tell, the only thing you have to do is die. You may find some freedom in owning your choices as just that: your choices. “Have to”, “should” and so on are simply interpretations- and as you can see, usually disempowering ones at that. I invite you to see them for what they are and set them aside. Again, it’s not the situation that’s robbing you of your satisfaction, it’s the way it’s showing up for you. Feel free to let that go, and just see what becomes available!

As always, if you are unclear on anything that’s been said here, or would like some support in dealing with your current situation and fulfilling on your commitments, please let me know at or in the comments section below.

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