October 3. “There is a time to let things happen and a time to make things happen.” (Hugh Prather)
Right now there is a commercial for an Insurance Company that features the country singer Kenny Rogers playing poker. During the commercial he reprises a portion of his classic hit, The Gambler, as he sings:
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
Know when to run
(Quick aside…you are welcome for me making that song be stuck in your head the rest of the day today).
When I read the quote for today, that song immediately came to mind. Hugh Prather and Kenny Rogers (the singer, not the left handed baseball pitcher), are both really giving the same advice. That is that in life you have to know when it’s best to act.
Some years ago at work I was helping someone turn some work over to another person. The person receiving the work wasn’t really prepared to take on the new work, and was resistant. The person who was turning the work over was very concerned. She needed to complete this turn over so she could move to another assignment. She really wanted to get on to the new gig, but she also felt a lot of ownership for the old job, she didn’t want to see it done poorly, or have work fall on the floor. We had appealed to the new person’s management to intercede, with no help.
Finally I had to tell the person that was giving up the assignment that sometimes you just need to let the train wreck happen. Sometimes the effort required to prevent something is so great, that it is beyond your control. Trying to control something that you can’t only leads to headaches and problems. Sometimes for real change to happen, you have to let the system fail.
As it turns out a few things did get dropped on the floor, and the quality of work did suffer for a bit. Eventually the person received more training and additional guidance from management, and all eventually was well.
This is a great example of how sometimes you have to let things happen.
As a conscientious worker, I don’t have any trouble identifying when I need to make things happen. I am a man of action, so I am ready to step in and step up to make things better at all times. I have been known to ignore my own advice and stick to an impossible situation, hoping I can make a difference, when the reality of the situation says that I just need to let go.
I think I am not alone. I think that most people, when they see a situation going wrong, want to step in and help. But it takes wisdom and careful judgment to know when that is the right thing to do, and when it is better to step back.
About 10 or 12 years ago my wife and I were preparing for a vacation. It was a warm summer night, and the windows and doors were open. Suddenly I heard a commotion in front of my house. It was my neighbor (whom I did not particularly get along with), arguing with a person I’d never seen before. The argument was quite heated to the point that I was worried that violence was about to break out. I called 911 and was describing the situation. My wife walked right past me and went out to try to be a peacemaker. Moments earlier I’d seen the two men with a baseball bat and a lead pipe about to throw down, and I began pleading with my wife to come in. The 911 operator was on the same page with me and as she was dispatching the law, she was also telling my wife to get herself out of harm’s way.
As it turns out nothing bad happened to my wife, but my neighbor did end up being taken away in bracelets. In that incident, I chose to let things happen, and my wife chose to try to make things happen. It’s hard to say who was more right. Perhaps me for keeping a distance and calling for help; perhaps her for stepping in and possibly defusing the situation.
In life it is sometimes hard to know when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em. It takes years of experience, and lots of mistakes to build that wisdom. Even then, you can still be wrong.
Today my reflection is on knowing when to make things happen, and when to let things happen.