Thrashing The Water

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

I’m not a very good fly fisherman.

Actually, I’m terrible.

The only time I seem to ever hook into one of those finned rascals is when I am under the watchful eye of some grizzled, taciturn fishing guide, who spends most of the time untangling me from the bushes behind me.

Nonetheless, I am a stubborn, undeterred soul. So much so that, on a trip a few years ago, I was fiercely determined to catch this one lunker of a trout that was lolling in a deep pool beneath a rocky outcropping. I must have cast into that pool a dozen times before I felt the hand on my shoulder:

“Quit thrashing the water, fella. He knows you’re trying to catch him by now.”

Resigned to the defeat, I sloshed downstream a bit and stayed busy most of the rest of the morning discovering other spots that yielded some nice fish stories of their own.

Fishing guides call it thrashing the water, combat pilots call it target fixation, investment bankers call it deal heat, Einstein called it insanity, but we’ve all been caught in trying so single-mindedly to create an outcome beyond our control that the fight itself becomes the fight.

There is a lot of present day nobility assigned to dogged determination, but we can burn a lot of useful energy and opportunity staying at something too long when the evidence clearly adds up that it’s time to find newer pools to ply. It’s not just in deals; it can show up in pushing a strategy, trying to force behavioral change, or pestering some prospect or business partner who no longer is rising to the bait.

It’s a perverse incentive that goads us to stay at something longer than rationality would suggest. It’s that sunk investment that is so hard to abandon, a sense of loss. Maybe we suffer from the mistaken belief that it’s our only option. Sometimes it’s just ego. What is squandered in that doggedness is talent, resources and positive energy that is more likely to yield even better results in more promising ventures.

There is a time to focus on a new pursuit, redeploy lagging assets, make the tough call, or just call it a day – and sometimes a guide is needed to help you realize that. Either way, having a bail-out plan, and the emotional courage to reach for it at the right time, is the only way to really appreciate that it is our gifts, talents and drive that create good outcomes, not always the circumstances.

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