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You don’t want it if you’re not willing to sacrifice for it

Last week the Valenture exco spent nearly three days reviewing the highs and lows of 2021, refining our long-term strategy, interrogating our budget, and planning our H1 priorities.

When you work on strategy and planning for a business, one of the things you realise very quickly is that strategy is the child of scarcity. With limited time, people and resources, we have to prioritise and focus our efforts. We have to think very carefully about where to deploy our most scarce asset: human time.

In business this process is very common. We know that we can't do everything, and we certainly can't do everything at once, so we step back, reassess our long term goals and mission, prioritise the things we want to do for the next few months which contribute to the long term goal and mission, then we put together a clear plan with a measurable goals and tracking for each project. Many many many ideas, projects and opportunities have to be pushed to the side and sacrificed in order to allow the business to do a few things properly.

We realise that we can't change if the ideas just float around in our heads, so we write down our priorities, share them with others, delegate and refine the details through the organisation etc.

A business is very much like an individual - full of possibility, but limited by scarcity.

Outside of work, I tend to be a lot more lax with the discipline I apply to prioritising, planning and allocating my time. There is some rigour, but this most recent exco advance has got me thinking deeply about areas of my life which will stay underwhelming if I don't get serious about changing them, and really forced the question as to whether I'm willing to do the work to change them.

As with many of you reading this, there are a lot of things I want in my life: I want to be a great father, a caring husband, a loving brother and a good friend. I want to have a light footprint on the world and not destroy the earth. I want to play a major role in solving the education crisis in South Africa. I want to support budding entrepreneurs. I want to live a long and healthy life... the list goes on.

Part of the challenge for me personally has been distinguishing between the things I really want and I'm willing to sacrifice other things for in order to make sure they happen, and the things I wish could happen but I'm not willing to do anything about.

One of the tricks of my psyche is the sense of nobility I get from having a long list of things that I want:

Of course I want to preserve the planet!

Of course I want to help those less fortunate than me!

Of course I want a great relationship with my wife!

These noble desires float around in my head and make me feel like I'm a good person, but if I'm not willing to do much/anything about them, then am I not just lying to myself?

One of the clearest points from my reflections so far are that I don't really want something unless I'm willing to sacrifice for it, and I need to distinguish between the things in my life that I really want and that I'm willing to sacrifice for in order to make them happen, and the things I desire but am not willing to do much about.

Do I want a better relationship with Ash? If I really want this, then when last did I read a book on flourishing relationships after kids? When last did I have a courageous conversation with her about the things in our partnership which are bothering me? When last did I prioritise the things she asked me to do for her? If I'm not willing to do any of these things, then I can't say I actually want a better relationship with Ash. I might desire it, and hope that magically somehow it just happens, but I don't actually want it.

Do I want a better relationship with one of my colleagues at work? If I do, then when last did I write down that thing they said they really like in a passing conversation, and then go to the store to get it, and leave it on their desk as a surprise? When last did we sit down and create the safe space necessary for an honest conversation to emerge? When last did I roll up my sleeves and help them to overcome a challenge at work? If I'm not willing to do any of these things, then I can't say I actually want a better relationship with my colleague. I might wish upon a star and hope that magically somehow it just happens, but I don't actually want it.

It’s no wonder more of us don’t apply the annual and quarterly business process of planning and prioritising in our personal lives - seeing clearly is very intimidating. The subsequent process of rank ordering what I’m willing to sacrifice for, and what I’m not, shatters the stories I’ve told myself for a long time about who I am and what I’m about. Am I actually someone who cares about the environment if I’m not prepared to do much about it?

It’s too easy to sit with a long list of things we want and feel like we’ve done our part through the wanting. We need to stop kidding ourselves about the things we want but aren't willing to sacrifice for - those are just wishes.


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