Getting stuck in the wrong story can feel productive, but it traps us in conflict and prevents us from reaching our meaningful goals.
I was sitting in the cockpit of my sailboat one evening when I spied a small commotion out on the water. One of my neighbors was rowing out to the anchorage. Every minute or so, he’d stop and bail the water out of his boat. I could see his little red Ace Hardware bucket moving back and forth, and arcs of water sparkling and splashing in the fading sunlight. When he finally got near my boat, I could see he was getting tired and the rising water was slowly winning the battle.
“What seems to be the problem?” I asked. “Do you want to come aboard?”
“Water keeps comin’ in; I’m not sure where she’s leaking” said Ed. “Do you have a bigger bailing bucket?”
I went down to my tool cabinet and returned with a small jar in my hand. “It’s probably your drain plug,” I suggested. “Pull it out and smear a little of this lanolin on it. Here’s a rag you can stuff in the drain hole while the plug is out.”
Ed reached under his dinghy’s rear seat, fumbled with the plug, and then with the help of some minor gymnastics, he held the rag over the drain with his right foot while using his hands to rub a gob of lanolin onto the rubber plug. By the time he reinserted the plug into the drain hole and tightened it up, the dinghy was half-sunk and the oars were floating. Exhausted and wet but hopeful, he bailed the dinghy out again.
The leak had stopped.
When he handed the jar back to me, I was laughing too hard to speak. I was worried he’d think I was making fun of his predicament, but pretty soon, he understood and started to laugh with me. He tied up, came aboard, and we watched the sun set over Miami.
Sometimes, we think we need a bigger bailing bucket when what we really need is a boat that doesn’t leak. We think we need another cup of coffee when what we really need is more sleep. We think we need more clients and a longer workday when what we really need is to raise our fees.
Don’t get stuck in the wrong story. Don’t allow urgently needed solutions to distract you. Look for the meaningful outcomes. If your solutions aren’t bringing you closer to your authentic goals, it’s time to start thinking like a storyteller.