Last week’s post on Outgrowing your containers brought many comments (mostly on Facebook, a few privately through email) that showed me two things.
Thing One: this is important!
Thing Two: there’s more to be said.
This concept of containers applies to much more than what I covered in that first post.
As one person noticed, ideas, approaches, and priorities are also containers, and also tend to be outgrown.
But ideas, approaches, and priorities are abstract concepts, not anything as tangible as a community we belong to or as structured as a service we offer. How can they be containers?
An idea affects how we look at the world. We might have an idea – many business owners I talk with do – that our work doesn’t change the lives of our clients. As long as we stay within the confines of that idea (that container), we’ll present our work in ways that downplay its importance. We may not do this downplaying intentionally, but the idea “my work doesn’t change lives” is a container that holds and therefore shapes our messages about what we do.
And it’s a very different container from “My work changes lives!”
An approach affects how we interact with the world. If our approach is to be sure not to offend anyone (perhaps because we have an idea that our work doesn’t change lives!), we interact cautiously with the people we meet. We’re careful about how we talk about our work. Maybe we stay away from anything that feels too “woo-woo” or we soften our opinions about what we think someone should do – even if this opinion is what they hired us for. Again, we may not mean to do this, but the “don’t offend anyone” approach is a container shaping the ways in which we show up.
And again, it’s a very different container from “I choose to be who I am and do what I do in the best, most complete way possible regardless of what ‘they’ might think.”
A priority affects how we decide what to do next. It seems reasonable to have a priority of staying connected with the groups or communities we belong to. But that may mean we give a lot of time and energy to communities that aren’t truly ours. This is great if we’re learning and growing from those interactions. It’s not so great if we’re not getting a return on the time-and-energy investment or if we’re inadvertently neglecting other communities where we could have a bigger impact for ourselves and our business. So once again, the priority of “stay connected because I should / because it’s a habit” is a container shaping our choices about how and where we spend time and energy.
Prioritizing what brings us the most joy and spaciousness and offers us the most opportunities to have a meaningful impact is a significantly different container that will shape significantly different actions and therefore create significantly different results.
There’s no judgement intended in any of these examples. I think most of us start out wanting everyone to like us (after all, we think, isn’t that how we get clients?), not being entirely convinced that our work changes lives (especially – our thoughts might tell us – if we’re “just” maintaining websites or doing the bookkeeping), and prioritizing loyalty to groups and teachers who have supported us in the past.
Recognizing that a container doesn’t fit any more doesn’t mean the idea, approach, or priority (or whatever it may be) was wrong.
It just means we’ve outgrown it and are ready to move on into the next phase of our work and life.