Don’t Let “What If” Overshadow “What Is”

By: Rose Cartolari, Sr. Consultant, Executive Development Associates, Inc.

As the holidays wrap up and a new year approaches, I am trying harder to focus my thoughts on gratitude and kindness. I always feel a need to step back from my daily worrying, fixing, yearning, and striving to change what doesn’t work in my life. At this time of the year, I often think of the “The Wolf You Feed”, an old Cherokee Indian tale. Here’s an excerpt:

One day a Cherokee grandfather was telling his grandchild about a battle going on inside of people. He said, “My son, inside us all there is a battle raging between two wolves. One is evil: anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson, after thinking about it for a minute, asks “which wolf wins?” The old Cherokee replies “the one you feed”.

I am struck by how much, as humans, we focus so much energy on all that is missing in our lives – on what we want but don’t yet have. How much time do we spend on self-improvement? On fixing ourselves? Smoothing over our rough spots? How much good does it do us to spend so much effort on who we aren’t rather than who we are?

Of course, we all have areas we need to work on, and personal growth is critical for meaningful and fulfilled living. But, usually, we tend to be harsh task masters with ourselves. We are often quick to criticize, not forgive or concede one inch. We tend to nit-pick every little detail. And, paradoxically, this only results in increased stress, anxiety, tension, negativity, and self-doubt.

Perhaps worst of all, we don’t even achieve the results that we want. Studies in the talent and leadership development arena show that the larger headways in growth and excellence come about when people expand their strengths rather than fixating on their weaknesses. In other words, we will be more likely to get the results we want when we focus on what we have, what our goals are, and get to work! (And frankly, even if we don’t get the results we want, being positive means that we are living a happier life, so we feel better.)

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Beating ourselves up leads to the permanently dissatisfied place of “never enough” whereas compassion, gratitude, and understanding lead to peace….and on purely practical terms: better results. So why don’t we always focus on the positive?

It’s that little engrained wolf in us that is now a part of our goal-oriented, efficiency-driven culture. Human beings are hard-wired to look for what’s missing. But the search for what ifs often robs us of the what is. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that in life you have to be happy and cheerful all the time. Sad, stressful things happen, and it is natural that we react. I am only saying that we can, with a great deal of dedication and practice, learn to control and take charge of our attitudes and approach to ourselves. We can choose which wolf we feed.

As always, I am interested in hearing about your thoughts and personal experiences. You can contact me here or on LinkedIn. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and successful 2019!

About the Author:

Rose Cartolari is a Sr. Consultant, Facilitator, and C-Suite Coach with Executive Development Associates, bringing extensive experience in helping leaders create strategic growth for themselves and their organizations. Rose has a broad background developing and delivering tailored leadership development programs for clients ranging from multinational companies to corporate executives. Having lived and been educated in India, Indonesia, Somalia, the United States, and Italy, Rose is at home in many cultures.