On a quiet night three years ago, I was in the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan having tea with a former client and friend. Since we both had front-row seats to the success and challenge of national reform, I lamented the struggle and the seeming impossibility of real and lasting peace. He assured me it was possible.
Given what he knew and all he’d seen, I didn’t understand how he could hold on to that belief. He gently smiled and said, “That’s because you’re American. You think of time in terms of presidential elections; Afghans measure time in generations.”
He’s right, it’s all about time.
Western culture breaks the world into bites of short seasons marked by icons we can remember. (presidents, athletes, and performers) Our greatest ally in success, time is regularly treated as an enemy.
Time is the financial magic in compounding interest. It’s the secret sauce of consistency in mental and physical adaptation. And time is the rewarding master to all who continue to fight for one more sale or innovation.
Our problem isn’t that we don’t understand time, it’s that we give up in the uncertain face of it. We aren’t convinced we can hold on long enough.
We don’t expect to sink a nail with a single strike, yet we give up after so few attempts. Consistency over time all but guarantees success. As the days progress, you’ll get stronger, or the wood will get weaker, but the only way to fail is to quit. Our language reflects our fear of time.
“This always happens.”
“It’s never going to change.”
“It’s all my fault.”
Martin Seligman, by way of Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Plan B, says there are three perspectives on challenges that cause us to quit: personal, pervasive and permanent. These are the markers of learned helplessness, and we need to cultivate the inverse ideas.
This Isn’t Permanent -If your language is, today will be tomorrow; it will be. Learn the phrase, “I haven’t yet…” I haven’t yet figured out how to close the 6-figure sale…, talk to my spouse about…, motivate my team.
This isn’t Pervasive -Not everything is terrible. Don’t catastrophize. Limit the problem to things that are problems.
This isn’t Personal -It doesn’t just happen to you. You’re not to blame for the world’s problem. You’re not a victim; it wasn’t a personal attack.
Your secret power is your perseverance. Develop these three perspectives to keep you hanging on.
And much like the developing peace news out of Afghanistan this week, you’ll likely discover that changes are possible if just given enough time.