Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Success = Comfort With The Uncomfortable

Poverty, hunger and disease. These three lethal enemies of man still haunt the earth.

While we’ve won many fights against poverty and hunger, disease has kicked our butts for tens of thousands of years. Not until we discovered penicillin did we finally take a round from the tiny scrappers.

And for that, we thank Alexander Fleming.

As a young bacteriologist in the 1920s, Fleming was familiar with inoculation and antiseptics as weapons against germs. But noticing how our eyes automatically kill certain germs before they invade the body, he was set on finding a natural defence against disease.

Years and several experiments later, Fleming had come up empty handed and decided to go on a holiday.

When he returned to his lab two weeks later, he saw one of his glass dishes that was supposed to be in the incubator on top of his work bench. He picked it up and noticed the worst had happened, the cultured germs inside his petri dish had begun to grow mold.

His experiment was spoilt.

But Fleming looked closer and found something astounding. He saw that near the mold, were no germs.

Fleming had discovered what would later become the world’s most used antibiotic, by accident.

The world is full of accidental discoveries. Insulin, Post-it notes, super glue, viagra—all flukes.

And so, the discovery of penicillin cuts two ways.

While the whole academic community eagerly embraced the bacteria killer, many scientists also felt cheated. Being outperformed by a stroke of luck feels unfair.

Every scientist, organisation or individual is working hard at making it big, but rarely does our effort fetch as large a pay off as Fleming’s luck.

Although we can’t guarantee our work leads to riches, we can increase our chances of success. And much of that has to do with focus.

You see, our work throws countless challenges at us. And it’s our job to reach into the tangle of issues and pull out the most urgent.

Because if you tackle problems as they come, you’re never going to be done. More importantly, being busy is often an excuse to hide from the critical.

So how do you stop wasting time on pointless problems and get back on track?

By asking yourself the next simple question, “What’s the biggest challenge for me?” The most uncomfortable action has a knack for being the most critical.

Next, get to grips with the difference between busy work and meaningful work. Checking your email more than three times a day is simply professional wheel spinning. It feels hollow. But finishing a single meaningful project feels like a day well spent.

Lastly, develop the habit of doing less. Grab a notebook and divide a page into three columns. Name the columns, ‘Less,’ ‘More’ and ‘None.’ Now assess your average workday. The harmful goes in the right file, the important in the middle, and the relevant to the left. Then write a shortened version on a post-it and stick it to your screen. 

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach