When I was a shiny faced graduate trainee learning the craft of management skills in the Distribution division (what they now call Logistics, I believe) of a large brewery, they decided that I needed to get my HGV Class 1 driving licence.  Apparently if you are going to manage someone you need to know how to do their job as well as they do.  (I believe this view has become a little outdated, in certain businesses at least, thank goodness.  This was the Dark Ages, remember?).

Mine wasn't quite as big as this.

Mine wasn’t quite as big as this.

After a 2 week intensive course involving drinking lots of tea in greasy spoon cafés and reversing around traffic cones on a disused airfield, , I was ready to drive my 35 ton vehicle to the dreaded Test Centre and undergo the 2 hour practical exam.  I’ve never been so nervous.

“Turn right at the first T junction”, the examiner said as we drove out of the test centre.  This junction has a pedestrian crossing just before you get to it, and no traffic lights, so the only way to get to turn right is to nudge your way up to the junction and wait for a break in the traffic.  This I did, only the traffic was very heavy and I had to sit there for a while, with my 40 foot trailer straddling the pedestrian crossing.

To my horror, a lady appeared at the crossing with a pram, and she had to stand on the pavement waiting to cross it whilst this idiot in a lorry blocked her right of way.  “That’s it, I’ve failed, 5 minutes into the exam.  Well done, you dipstick”, I said to myself.

Thereafter I treated the rest of the exam as a day out in the country, my and my lorry trundling around the lanes, nice guy in the passenger seat doing the navigating, what’s not to love?

When he write out my PASS certificate I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I had passed by not trying too hard.

I can think of so many other instances where this has worked for me.  I applied to win an organ scholarship to Cambridge University.  I messed up so badly it was embarassing even to the examiners, I think.  When I had another go, this time to Oxford, again I was thinking I had no chance and that I should just enjoy the break away from the school regime.  Again, stone the crows, I confounded no one more than myself by getting in.

Advising you to stop trying so hard seems to fly in the face of so much tried and tested theory:  visualise yourself succeeding, make sure your self talk is positive, set yourself ambitious goals, and so on and so on.  Yet I am sure there is something in it. One well known creativity tool is to let ideas gestate, to let them work in your subconscious.  For this to happen we have to relax and let things take their own time.  Maybe that’s partly it.

I also think that we are turning into such an anxious species, constantly checking our phones, never switching off, worried we’ll be seen as lazy if we go home too soon etc. Kids are required to survive the most punishing of regimes both in and out of school, for what?  So they don’t slip behind their peers, and probably to address the anxiety of their parents. Where does this all end, I ask myself?

lemmingsSo, controversial as it may sound, I ask you reflect on whether you are trying too hard, and whether there is a more fruitful and less stressful way to achieve success.

Are you getting the balance right, or are you being led down the same path as the rest of us lemmings?

I’d love to hear your stories of when you succeeded by not trying too hard.  Hopefully I am not totally alone on this one!



Cartoon ©Matt Wuerker