14 May 2024

We have more power than we think

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woman at whiteboard and people at laptops listening

It is a simple and common mistake to expect change to always come from the outside. Photo: Bellewether.

Bruce Kasanoff reflects on a lesson he learned at business school – that no-one has to wait for change to happen if they are willing to work hard enough to make it happen themselves.

When I was in business school, one of my less-traditional courses was titled simply ”Management”.

I say less traditional because we spent much of the time sitting on the floor, out in the woods, or watching one or more of our classmates literally run from the room, overcome with emotion.

On the last day of class, the professor was asking for our comments on the course, trying to discover what we had learned during the semester.

When my turn came, I spoke about the time we spent three days in the woods engaged in an imaginary community. During this exercise, the professor would occasionally appear to change the rules of the community.

My comment was that I wished the rules had changed more often; that we got stuck for too long in unproductive situations.

The professor started jumping up and down, shouting: “Yes, yes, yes!”

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He slapped his hands on my desk and sort of hugged me. I was just as confused as the rest of the class, but by this point we knew to be patient and wait for his explanation.

Eventually he settled down and said: “This is one of the greatest lessons you can learn. People always look elsewhere for change.

“They want someone else to change the rules, but in the vast majority of cases, nothing is stopping them from changing things themselves.”

We talked about this for a while. When things got stuck, could I have changed the rules myself? Could I have convinced others it was time for a change? Or could I have done something dramatic that would have changed the flow of the activity?

Absolutely yes: I made a simple and highly common mistake: Like the rest of my classmates, I expected change to come from the outside.

Ever since that moment – which is the only time my actions caused a fully grown professor at a well-respected university to jump around like a monkey – I have taken this lesson to heart. Lately, my conception of which rules I can change has expanded quite a bit.

I used to think about changing the rules of my career – did I have to work for someone else all my life or could I create a new, independent role for myself? (If you have read my column over the years, you already know I did that).

Then, I focused on initiating change sooner than most would suggest, not waiting an ”appropriate” amount of time to shift things in the direction I wanted. Now, I’m thinking about the rules of reality.

You and I are energetic beings with consciousness. Our internal state controls what we experience in the material realm, not the other way around. To offer a simple example: If you walk through life filled with anger and hatred, you will experience the world as an ugly and violent place, but if you bring love, compassion and gratitude, you will see those qualities reflected around you.

Once you perceive that your internal state controls what you experience in the ”real world” – the one with cars, restaurants and iPhones – you acquire the ability to change the rules.

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No other lesson I learned at Wharton School has stood the test of time better than what Professor Kenwyn Smith taught me: We have a much greater power to instigate change than we might think. The only real question is, how much are we willing to pay to produce the change we desire? ”Payment” is usually due in terms of time, effort and risk, rather than in monetary form.

For years, I thought I grasped the full truth of his lesson. I was wrong. The rules we can change go much deeper than I ever imagined. They include things I once considered to be immutable facts, far beyond our control.

There are no rules beyond your ability to change them. None. The only question is how much effort you are willing to expend.

Bruce Kasanoff is the founder of The Journey, a newsletter for positive, uplifting and accomplished professionals. He is also an executive coach and social media ghostwriter for entrepreneurs. He can be contacted at kasanoff.com. This article first appeared at kasanoff.com.

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