About a decade ago, I was a Class A Drama Queen. Granted, I was writing a book at the time and it followed that the higher the pile of chaos, the more subject matter I had to stuff into the pages. Buying into drama, though, became a habit, and was costly in the end.
Fast forward a few years, and a conversation with a group of bankers in Sydney helped put an end to my Drama Queen ways. After giving a seminar on the seven types of busy, I invited discussion from the audience. The conversation turned to how it feels to be ludicrously overwhelmed by ‘too much to do’.
Many in the group shared their experiences, but the main story I took away was told by a manager who worked in New York after 11 September, 2001. To this day, the story gives me goose bumps.
The man spoke of how he was given the grisly task of re-building a branch of a business that had been located in one of the Twin Towers.
Imagining the intensity of what he faced, suddenly every previous work-related hurdle that I’ve encountered seemed to pale in significance. The times I’ve battled several competing tasks; the time I struggled with a difficult colleague; the times I’d been forced to step up and take something over in someone’s absence, as unprepared for that as I might have felt…
Those experiences had seemed challenging enough for me, but it was incredibly humbling listening to someone who was handed once-in-a-lifetime pressure – starting from scratch amidst the physical, personal and emotional ruins of that terrorist act.
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The manager explained that he’d felt completely overwhelmed professionally and personally. That he was “staring at a brick wall”, which towered over him and cast him in pitch dark, obscuring any clue on where to begin. He’d been frozen.
He turned to his mentor, who agreed that yes, there was an imposing brick wall. What he had to do now was to reach out and remove just one brick – and doing so will let in a shard of light.
That light will be enough to illuminate the next brick, the mentor had said. And then another… So, from the rubble of his own Ground Zero, this manager reached out and removed that first brick. As more and more light flooded through the small gap that he created in the wall, he began to see what he had to do. He was able to pick up speed and move with purpose.
With this ‘just one brick’ strategy, he picked himself up and led his shattered team out of the darkness – when they needed him most.
In front of you right now is a brick wall. There are many, many tasks that need to be done.
The question we often ask is ‘where should I begin?’ and that can be paralysing. For many actions in life and work, there is never a ‘right place’ or a ‘right time’. There is just now, and an imposing brick wall of possibilities.
What I’ve learnt is this:
- Break in anywhere.
- Start now.
- Begin before you are ready.
There is no need to get dramatic about it. Simply start with just one brick, and you will soon be on the other side of the mountain of work challenges that currently looms ahead, looking back and thinking ‘that wasn’t so hard…’
What are your tips for breaking through a brick wall in your business?