The Needful

Cut Wood. Carry Water

Zen Phrase
Cut Wood. Carry Water

The last two years have given me a deeper recognition of the value of doing the needful tasks. As much as we all desire to leap, hack and accelerate, there are parts of life and work that need sustaining with deep and consistent effort and attention. Focus as much on the presence of the needful as on the transformative opportunity. They come together.

A Dreamy Impatience

I see better futures, a big picture, think strategically and have an impatience for change. Add an entrepreneurial streak, a fair appetite for risk and you get someone who is always looking for a way to leap, hack and accelerate. In my default setting, there has to be a way to improve the process and get there faster. For much of my career, that has been productive and rewarded with success, especially where I was smart enough to reinforce my impatience with team members who could bring the discipline and relentless execution that I so often overlooked.

Exercising strength should be encouraged. This dreamy impatience has worked well in my career and led to lots of opportunities that either didn’t appeal to others who couldn’t see the vision or lacked appeal to others because of the risks or the clear path. I have gravitated to communities where people share the same vision of potential and I have learned from their ability to execute and get the job done.

Stretching and creating new things also comes with the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. When things are good, they are great. However, much more of the time, there is challenge, failure and difficulty. Change agents know that all of the time the system opposes their work. You get used to disappointment and set backs. You come to recognise that even innovation is a grind.

The Needful

Some time recently, I saw the phrase ‘the needful’ somewhere on twitter. Who shared it is now lost to me. However, the phrase resonated deeply and has become a useful reminder to me on how to complement my strengths. I not likely to become the greatest completer finisher but reminding myself of what is needful has become a key to improving my performance and reducing my frustration at the challenges we now face.

Dreams, wants and desires are great. They inspire and motivate us. However, we have work to do to be present for and satisfy our needs, the needs of others and the needs of our community. ‘The needful’ has become my refrain to reinforce this work and to find joy and presence of mind in it.

The needful is not self-abnegating. It is a reminder that both my needs and the needs of others must be fulfilled for happiness and success. Equally, the needful is a challenge to remove all that is unnecessary that usually fills our lives. For example:

  • My needs: Do I need to take a break? Do I need to do this now? Do I need time off? Am I giving this the effort, care and attention it needs? How can I make my performance more sustainable? I am really doing the necessary things and eliminating the unnecessary?
  • Needs of others: Do I need to do this? Am I best placed to do it or would another be better? How can I be sure that we are truly meeting the needs of others? What more need I do? Is this request truly necessary or do we need to discuss another way?
  • Needs of work: What is most needful to do now? Am I continuing to do what is needed for success? What else do I need to succeed in this task? What else can be stopped to improve focus and performance?

Focus on the needful also acts as a reminder to me that some drudgery is required and that I have made efforts to remove the drudgery. The needful is not an alternative to dreaming of a better future, but it is a complement to yearning for change.

Our present circumstances have changed the scale and shape of our world and our ambitions. We need to balance our ambitions with attention to the needful if we are to maximise our happiness and performance.

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