Making space where attachment once suffocated

“To soar, we must leave anything that weighs us down” - Saru Singhal Sometimes our ideas get so big that they stop allowing better things into our lives. They suck up all the oxygen and don't let anything else grow. When we let go of our attachments, however they have manifested, it's amazing what can grow in the space. Ok, so now you're thinking "Mike, put down the green tea this sounds like airy fairy crazy talk!" But please stick with me while I explain.

Detaching myself from my precious ideas, misconceptions and perceived needs has enabled huge changes in my life.

It's almost like detachment has two forms; detachment from and detachment to. The more I let go, the more I can let people in, the more room for something better to come. I'm starting to understand that learning to detach “from” allows something “to” happen.

Detachment from what?

To give you some context, we've made massive changes to the business that has fed my family for the last 13 years. The feeling that something was wrong had been gnawing at my brain for at least 2 years. Not from a service perspective (we do more now than we ever have for people) but at the heart of the business model. The contingent recruitment model. We were doing an increasing amount of work for decreasing reward. We knew that if we didn't change, things would only get worse. Our model was upside down and I felt like King Canute trying to fight the tide.

To fix it, we tried using technology to build efficiency and we gave away more and more. We tried to add value by doing more, but we ended up getting less. Less respect, less traction and less enjoyment. Our model was upside down. This is when I realised that I wanted to add more value to both the firms I work for and the lawyers I help. I also wanted to enjoy the process. Coming to that realisation was the easy part. The hard part was the “now what”? Wanting a more efficient recruitment business, I tried inventing different models to make it work. But the more I tried, the more it became obvious that the answer lay outside the paradigm.

To step outside the paradigm, we first had to simplify things as much as possible. We put pen to paper and brainstormed exactly what we wanted to achieve. What did we come up with?

  • “We want to help people have better careers and lives”.
  • “We want to help people feel free, accomplished and valued”.
  • "We want to make lawyers better people"

There was no mention of “recruitment”, “job” or “headhunter”. Aha! I realised that I was trying to solve the problem with a hand (or two) tied behind my back. I needed to cultivate a proper "blank page" mentality if I was going to find a solution.

Weighed down

The “now what” was the next lesson on detachment. It took the next 12 months to begin understanding, which was about 6 months too long! Over this time I failed to detach from some of my own misconceptions and I failed to ask for help. I tried to take on everything myself because I'm a control freak and I like to be right. And instead of utilising the people around me, I fumbled around in the dark. I wasted so much time because I didn't ask for help. From building a website to designing stuff I had no experience in, I tried it all. What happened when I actually asked for help? Everything changed for the better.

Within a month we were pivoting. We were finally working on something with real purpose. Best of all, we were making our ideas come to life. We started a new website, signed new agreements and brainstormed a podcast.

Everything I had been working towards but couldn't seem to do on my own. We put the concepts down on paper and pulled them apart to add value. It went from this big and beautiful (but complex) mess in my head to reality. People started coming into my life to help. Others came up with suggestions I would never have stumbled upon. Straight away, we were moving at a far greater pace than I could on my own. At the same time, I found out Maciek had been through a similar process. He had been unsure of the next steps but had been developing his own approach. He had insight that I didn't, and I had wasted months by not being able to tap into it.

Detachment from outcome

One of the biggest things I've had to detach from is the need to be in control of the outcome all the time. Being outcome-driven is fine, but sometimes it stops us from doing things that get better results. For instance, I could sit here and say "I won't make a change until I am sure doing X will make me Z financial return". In this case, I'm almost certainly going to miss out on the “Y” that is part of the process to make it happen.

Put another way, sometimes we let the attachment “control” the end result. We let it hold us back from making a start in the first place.

You will have to make so many decisions without knowing the outcome. You have to let go of the outcome to create room for advancement to occur. For us, pivoting from EA International to Beyond Billables has been empowering. We've moved away from the mindset of “we have to find something to do to make X dollars”. Now we think, “how can we best fulfil our purpose of helping people have better careers and lives?".

Detachment from needs

“Failure shows us the way—by showing us what isn’t the way.” - Ryan Holiday, “The Obstacle is the Way”

Part of the process has been starting to think about what I do and don't “need”, and what I do and don't “want”. Why do I want what I want? What has driven me to that? It's worth asking yourself these questions when you start to reconsider where you are, or pine after something you think you need.

Consumption has always been a big motivator for me. I love the new toy and I love the process of getting it. But recently I've started to wonder if that new toy is worth the pursuit. It's the power of obstacles that allow you to start thinking this way. If I were cruising along and everything was easy, I wouldn't have a need to ask these questions.

This has made me realise that I don't value a lot of the things that I thought I did. I had projected them as “obstacles” (disappointment, failure, etc). In a physical sense, I've realised that the house we live in and the nice stuff we own, isn't as valuable as I thought. In fact, we've started letting them go, to embrace freedom and travel, which means much more.

Why did I have these perceptions of need? Well, we're all conditioned to it one way or the other. I still love nice things and still want my 5-star experiences. I'm simply no longer willing to pay a price if it detracts from my real values.

There are some great resources on how to cut the clutter and create breathing room. To start thinking about the weight of our attachments. Some good starting points are Minimalism - A documentary about important things, project 333, and some of James Altucher's writings.

Making space

Lots of other, smaller, things have happened since I started to embrace detachment. A few of the job placements we were hoping would happen didn't eventuate. Instead of retreating, we doubled down on communicating and on embracing the pivot. On a particularly hard day after a role fell through, we made the big decision to move forward, guns blazing, with BB.

We had to move staff on, including my own wife! We had to reimagine how we saw ourselves in our business. We had to embrace better communication.

All these things could only happen because I decided to let go of my ideas, let go of control, and embrace the uncertainty of the future. People are now coming out of the woodwork to help. New ideas keep popping up. And other people's actions are filling the space previously filled with my thoughts.

Take aways

So, do you just let go and hope everything will sort itself out? No.

If you haven't done the work, or don't intend to, it's unlikely that a fairy is going to bless you with good fortune. The important things are these:

  • Starting to let go
  • Finding ways to focus on what you want
  • Understanding that your reaction to situations is the important thing.

Give yourself space for good things to come. If good things have stopped happening to you, it might be your attachments that are holding you back. Let go of attachments that don't serve you anymore. Start letting others in, or start creating some space in your life. This is a good strategy to allow good things to come.