I’ve probably written about this a few years back, but I still find this mantra useful and worth repeating. It applies to the situations where we’re stuck but we don’t know that we’re stuck – not yet.
When we’re in this state, we have a sense that we’re still moving forward, and we’re making all the right moves. We get upset when our friends or colleagues cautiously share with us that we might be spinning our wheels. Yeah, there’s some loss of traction, but if we just keep going, we will figure this thing out. Just one more push.
Particularly for technologists and other admirers of modernist thinking, the likelihood of becoming stuck in this way somewhere along our careers is pretty high. The idea that if we know what we’re doing and we’re doing everything right, then things should work out according to our plans – it’s just so damn seductive.
We can last quite a bit of time in this purgatory of delusion. There are just so many options to choose from. It’s the environment around us that is all wrong. Someone is actively conspiring against us. There are some indicators that show clearly that we’re still moving forth as planned. The more clever and quick-thinking we are, the more likely we are to come up with a story that keeps us stuck.
Inevitably, there’s a moment when it all comes apart. We finally hit the wall. We’re in shock, feeling injured by the cruel reality and betrayed by it. But – it is only when we hit that wall do we get the chance for self-reflection. There’s an opportunity, when the shell of self-delusion is cracked, to actually gain some clarity. We might remember our colleagues’ gentle hints and worried faces, the early signs of stuckness we’ve chosen to ignore, and the now-obviously illustory stories we’ve told ourselves.
Should we experience it, this moment is a significant milestone. It allows us to create a little space between reality and the stories we tell ourselves. It allows us to hold our stories as objects instead of being subject to them. Experienced once, it’s a perspective that can be temporarily lost, but never fully forgotten. Next time the allure of modernism tempts us, we might still feel the pull – but think twice about answering the call. Once we’ve hit that wall, we’ve learned that “knowing what we’re doing” and “doing everything right” are just stories we tell ourselves, and they have little to nothing to do with reality.
The somewhat sad part is that this lesson can not be taught. No amount of explanation or teaching will bring one closer to the precious insight without the painful experiential part. This particular bit of wisdom can only be gained by face planting into the unyielding, uncaring reality at full speed. Sometimes you just gotta hit the wall.