Sunday, February 20, 2011

Unstruck Notes – Learning to Let Go of the Little Things

The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.
-W. C Fields

It is said of one of the famous composers that he had a rebellious son who used to come in late at night after his father and mother had gone to bed. And before going to his own room, he would go to his father’s piano and slowly, as well as loudly, play a simple scale, all but the final note. He would leave the scale uncompleted and retire to his room.

Meanwhile the father, hearing the scale minus the final note, would writhe on his bed, his mind unable to relax because the scale was unresolved. Finally, in consternation, he would stumble down the stairs and hit the previously unstruck note. Only then would his mind surrender to sleep once again.

The father is emblematic of what happens to leaders who are unable to let go of the little things. The father could not sleep until he went down and hit the last note on the piano. What unstruck notes from work and other obligations rob you of your ability to relax? Do you find it hard to relax and unwind when away from the office? How long can you go on a weekend without checking your Blackberry or iPhone regarding work?

The technology that makes our lives so efficient and productive in our work can be the same technology that disrupts our life when away from it. Be it looming deadlines, budget anxieties, personnel concerns, staff meetings, investor relations, etc. they can all be unstruck notes that can cause us to worry. Here are three things to remember the next time you are stressed and tempted to strike the last note.

If it’s not your music don’t fret about it. Even though the last note on the scale was not played, the father could not sleep until it was. It is likely the son did this on purpose knowing the effect it would have on his father. How often do we take on issues and concerns that do not belong to us?

Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.” When you take on worries that do not belong to you it can cause you to lose focus on what is your responsibility. Take ownership of what is yours and leave the rest alone.

If it’s not a mountain don’t turn it into one. How many times have you seen this scenario played out in your organization? The issue at hand is not that big a deal, but too many minds and too much energy is expended tackling the perceived problem. In the end, what was only a mole hill has now successfully been turned into a mountain.

Jim Rohn said, “Let others lead small lives, but not you. Let others argue over small things, but not you. Let others cry over small hurts, but not you. Let others leave their future in someone else’s hands, but not you.” And this must be your attitude toward the little things – not you. See things as they are, but not more.

If it’s dependant upon you, don’t sweat the small stuff. As a leader you understand that there are some decisions that only you can make, a vision that only you can cast, and responsibilities that you alone must give account for. It’s the way of leadership.

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Don’t take tomorrow to bed with you.” What great advice. When you learn not to sweat the small stuff life begins to look and feel different. While leadership has its demands and responsibilities, it should not prevent you from enjoying life, it should enrich it.

Letting go of the little things begins with a changed attitude about unstruck notes. It begins when you understand that the playing of the last note can wait if it wasn’t your song to begin with, that mole hills don’t have to be mountains, and I don’t have to sweat the small stuff.

It’s time to let go of the little things, are you ready?

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

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