FlipBoard General Counsel Cecily Mak discusses the importance of patience, deliberation, and thoughtful assessment when it appears you’ve hit a wall
I grew up very much a tomboy: fishing, building treehouses, collecting rocks and bugs, playing a variety of sports, and generally making and then breaking all kinds of things. I never owned a single doll or pink item of clothing and wore what we called “tennis shoes” all the way through grammar school (with a lot of decorative scrapes and bruises, of course).
As such, I spent a fair amount of time working on an array of projects with my crafty and curious father. Fixing fishing lines, building birdhouses, figuring out small building projects, rigging crawdad traps, messing with ski/tennis/soccer gear and props, exploring flea markets, and tying and untying knots. Naturally, these activities resulted in an endless string of opportunities to put things together or take them apart.
On many occasions, typically when we were “stuck” on a project, my father reminded me: “Don’t force it.” When you are trying to get a piece to fit, a line to thread or a binding to lock, often you have to take a step back and figure out why the clever engineering behind a design is failing you. If you don’t, and just apply extra pressure or push things too far in your frustration—force it—you often break whatever it is you are trying to force.
I think about this regularly in my professional life. Whether it is adding a team member, trying to close out a difficult transaction, solve a complicated business problem, orchestrate a networking event, or schedule a meeting, sometimes things just don’t “work” or “fit” for some reason. Most of the time, this is a great opportunity to take a step back. Observe the various factors, people, dates and other moving parts in play. Think about why you are encountering so much resistance, and apply some creative thinking to an alternative approach.
This might mean reconfiguring plans, attendees, headcount, goals, timelines or expectations. It might mean just waiting a day or so for an alternative and more efficient path to be revealed. In the worst case, it might mean abandoning an undertaking altogether and starting with a clean slate. Whatever it is, a pause for perspective and clarity rarely hurts.
This does not mean we should stop working hard, let up on persevering when the going gets rough, or not work to shore up our own weaknesses to achieve goals. Whatever our professional goals or undertakings, it is often the most challenging when also the most fulfilling and enlightening; we should always work to persevere despite the inevitable obstacles. This means moving through our days with an attention to detail and heightened perceptiveness that will give us the advantage of knowing how to pace our work, when to pause and take stock, when to recognize we are forcing things at the expense of the best possible outcome. It is with this heightened awareness that we can be more effective.
As a mother of two young sons today, I love seeing my kids learn this lesson themselves. Whether it is scheduling a play date, building a Lego model or fixing a bike chain, they are learning.
Sometime you just have to pause. Take a step back. Take stock, or a breath, or a walk. When done the right way, their projects and problem-solving seems to go a lot more smoothly. And as big Star Wars fans, they get a kick out of the advice, “Use the force, but don’t force it.”
Cecily Mak is General Counsel at FlipBoard. She will be featured in Issue No. 14 of Forefront magazine.