February 2, 2021

Pluck Your Splinters

Josh Gentine

My son came home from school the other day with a splinter in his finger. It was both a badge of honor and, concurrently, a source of annoyance and pain. This splinter dominated his day as he worked relentlessly to avoid succumbing to its pain. Simultaneously, he refused its removal. The fear of dealing constructively with the splinter brought him to tears and so he continued wincing in pain when his pesky splinter was brushed, bumped, or otherwise disturbed. He tried riding his scooter, but one-handed scooting created other issues far greater than the splinter. He tried playing with his trains, but with each push down the track he quickly pulled his hand away leaving Thomas and Friends sitting idle. Dinner was a hot mess as holding a fork bothered him, and bath time was a bore as he didn’t want to zoom boats around the tub. Poor rubber ducky bobbed helplessly in the bubbles. This little irritant impacted his life in unimaginable ways, and guess what, like Henry, we all have splinters we refuse to pluck that are impacting our lives.

Our splinters are buried deep inside. Think of your splinters as all those moments that create fear, anxiety, loneliness, and pain. In working with my clients – coaching, talent advisory, or succession – I’m constantly running into splinters (rest assured, I have them as well) and we’ve all created structures, operating agreements, and risk reduction strategies to avoid the pain. We fundamentally alter our lives in profound ways to avoid the slightest disturbance of our splinters. Let me give you some examples. A succession planning client uses his organization’s President as a buffer between him and his kids, so he doesn’t have to have the difficult conversations about what’s next. A talented team at an exceptional company does operational gymnastics to avoid the fact that its leader is micromanaging every detail of their work. And finally, a coaching client with a fear of failure uses an array of structures (aka, excuses) to avoid stepping into the limelight she should rightfully assume.

All of these clients have altered their lives and created complex operating systems in an effort to protect their splinters. However, the more efficient approach is to simply pluck the damn thing out and move on. Years of pain can be eliminated when we simply decided enough is enough and we decide to sit down, take a hard look at where that pesky splinter is buried and then, dig it out. The choice to live with splinters is just that, a choice. You (or your team) are making a choice to create complexity and frustration by living your life like Henry, one-handed. You are following Henry’s course with unnecessary bumps and bruises, idle opportunities, messy situations, and a tub of dirty water.

So, how do you pluck out the splinters? First, you need to find them. Easiest way to do that is to be aware of those moments that cause even the slightest internal disturbance. A twinge of anxiety. A pucker of jealousy. A vibration of remorse. The awkward moment in the meeting. These are indications of buried splinters. In those moments you need to pause, reflect, and decide now is the moment this splinter is coming out. Some of the splinters can be removed with a simple conversation. Others may require more aggressive action.

In either case, dig them out by acknowledging them, owning the impact they have had on your life (and others) and then let them go. Seriously. It is a choice. When you see the pesky thing, recognize that holding onto it is causing more pain than is necessary. Again, some will be easy to flick away, others will require sitting on the floor and digging. But in either case, you just decide to stop living with it. If you can do this, what you’ll find is that it wasn’t all that painful to do so. That momentary pain will turn to relief and the feeling will be liberating.

If you need help identifying or removing a pesky splinter or two in your life, reach out, I’m happy to help.

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Bench believes in the innate potential of all people and the power of organizations to make a profound impact in the world. We coach, consult and advise individuals, leaders, entrepreneurs, and teams.