Digging Ditches

As someone who always advocates celebrating successes, this is going to sound weird.

Being in business isn’t all about the successes.

It’s not all about the highlights, the celebrations, the ideas that go viral, the launches that sell out, the results that go way beyond your wildest dreams.

We think it is, it’s what we hear about, it’s what we cite in great examples, role models and industry leaders.

Often when people ask me “how’s business?” I feel this pressure to reel off the highlights – achievements, successes and what’s gone right, whilst brushing under the table what’s flopped, what looks crazy and what I’m still trying to get working.

And if I say I’m busy, people think, ‘that’s great, you’re busy with clients’. But what if I’m not? What if I’m busy getting clients – isn’t that just as important, or even more important?

I recently sent this out on Twitter and judging by the amount of times it was re-tweeted, I think it really resonated with a lot of people:

“One reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with other people’s highlight reel”

That quote came from Steven Furtick, a speaker I was particularly encouraged by recently at leadership conference, in a talk he gave about digging ditches.

He talked about a biblical story where the kings of Edom, Israel and Judah were leading a campaign to overcome the Moabites, and found themselves in a dry and barren land where they could not water their armies. The prophet Elisha gives them a message to ‘dig ditches’, even though no clouds could be seen, that the rain would come and fill the land. They dug. Rain came. But the digging wasn’t to bring on the rain – God could send the water regardless – it was preparation, so that everything was in place ready for when the rain came.

Sometimes we find ourselves in dry and barren times, when it is hard work and there’s no sign of rain. Those are the times when we question our vision, when we’re tempted to give up and start looking elsewhere, where the grass is at least growing, let alone greener.

But sometimes that’s precisely when we need to dig ditches.

Digging ditches means believing enough in a vision to act on it, even when there are no signs of certainty or success. In fact the difference between a forecast and a vision is that a forecast is limited to what you can see immediately in front of you, whereas a vision goes beyond the horizon, where nothing is certain and anything is possible.

Not that a forecast gives certainty either – it just feels safer to react to a forecast than to act towards a vision that (at the moment) can only be seen in your heart.

It’s having audacious faith. As Furtick put it “the difference between a vision and a daydream is the audacity to act and faith to get started”.

Are you acting on a vision, or just simply following the forecast?

Digging ditches means you put in the hard work now, to be ready for the opportunities that are yet to come, rather than waiting for a sign or chasing rainbows.

And it goes beyond that first moment of inspiration, which can sometimes seem fleeting or ungrounded. It’s the act of putting your stake (or shovel) in the ground and saying I’m going to see this happen. I’m going to work towards this vision. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, but I’m going to invest myself and prepare for it nonetheless.

Digging ditches doesn’t look successful. It can seem pointless, even laughable, especially when you see no sign of rain. Sometimes what we’re working on doesn’t look successful or fruitful. There’s nothing glamourous about digging ditches. Sometimes it looks like dry and hard work. But it’s precisely this work that prepares you, stretches you and grows your capacity to take on, harness and run with the opportunities when they arise, to reap the blessings when the rain comes. Remember Noah? He looked ridiculous building an ark… until the rain came, then it made sense. Only with hindsight does digging become obvious.

Digging ditches means your focus is on your behind-the-scenes efforts, rather than staring longingly at other people’s highlight reels.

That’s what I mean when I say being in business is not all about the successes.

It’s about the work we put in, before it looks successful, before we see any signs of certainty. It’s about what we do behind the scenes that enable anything to happen out front.

That’s what real business is about. Digging ditches.

So next time you ask me how it’s all going, and I tell you I’m digging ditches, this is what I mean – it’s all good 🙂

PS. If you liked this post, please do go ahead and share it, and let me know your thoughts in the comments box – I love hearing from you!

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