Some years ago my wife and I owned a Mercury Marquis that was one, interesting piece of work. It was a fine car, but we had it for quite some time, and over the years it developed some rather interesting, uh, habits. It had a rattle of some sort in the back wheel, but we got used to it. The dashboard light had a mind of its own and would come on and off on its own schedule, but we got used to it. It had a ding here, and some rust there, and the mileage wasn’t quite what we had in mind, but we got used to it. In fact there were a lot of nagging issues with this car, and we mumbled from time to time that we should probably get rid of it, but that was just idle chatter.
Then one day the car surprised us with a new interesting habit. Early one morning we drove to a friend’s house in a quiet little suburban neighborhood in Maryland and as we turned into the neighborhood the horn went off all by itself. As soon as we completed our turn into the neighborhood the horn stopped. Mortified, we continued on. A couple of blocks later we turned again, and again that horn with an apparent mind of its own went off again. Quickly, we completed the turn and it stopped again. As luck would have it we had to make at least four more turns, and each time we took a turn, that horn let all within ear shot know we were on their street.
When we finally reached our friend’s house and announced our arrival to the dozens of neighbors we no doubt woke up, we were clear on two things. First, we needed to cut the wire to that car horn. Second, we needed to say goodbye to this car. We had crossed that line in the sand between not liking something, and deciding to do something about it. We had made a commitment to change.
When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that we go through repeatable, predictable stages. However, within this cycle there is one, significant, moment of truth that seems to be missed by many, and yet, is vital to those who seek to change minds. In a sense, it represents a line in the sand.
I am in no way a cynic, but I am a realist. These two things I know to be true:
- It is human nature to spend months, if not years, living with problems we are capable of fixing… but we just don’t. We wait until these problems become big problems, and change often comes too late.
- It is human nature to fear change, and that fear can be so blinding that we can’t see size and scope of problems until there is a difficult, if not devastating, scenario.
We live with these problems, we justify these problems, we whine about these problems, we sulk about these problems, we turn away and we even deny these problems exist. And then something happens.
That something can be as simple as a comment that catches us by surprise, and other times it can be as lethal as firing at work, but something happens. When that something happens we cross a line I’ve nicknamed, “The fix, don’t fix line” and in a sense, it is mythical line in the sand. When we cross that line, we don’t commit to a solution; we commit to a change.
- We can complain about an unfulfilling job for years. We’ve crossed that line in the sand when we have a resume redone and begun networking
- We can complain about an unfulfilling relationship for years. We’ve crossed that line in the sand when we find ourselves a therapist and set an appointment.
- We can complain about a car that has too many miles on it. We’ve crossed that line in the sand when we find ourselves pulling into a dealership.
There are moments of truth in all our lives. These moments of truth frequently initiate change. Personally, I’d rather help someone avoid a catastrophe, then help someone clean one up, and that’s why this line in the sand is so important to me. Understanding this line helps to remind me how important it is to help others navigate this line. It’s not unusual to struggle with change; we all do. What is unusual is for people, on their own, to fix these problems before it’s too late.