Last week, a client was struggling to get to the executive components of her work. She was mostly able to stay on top of the rote work but had been dropping balls on her high-value activities for the last week.
Unsurprising to me, the ball dropping coincided with her mother staying with her for the week. My client’s big goal was to have her mother stay with her without a blowup and she had successfully met that goal, but I reminded her that hosting someone is a project even if you have a great relationship with them. If your relationship is challenging, it’s even more of a project.
Also, with her mother being there, her kids were acting differently and it was stressing her out. One of her sons is especially attuned to how she’s doing and has stress responses when she’s stressed. So she was trying to manage herself, her kids, and her mother.
The light bulbs went off for her. The work she wasn’t doing was the heavier emotional work.
So I asked: “what if you’re not really behind and there’s a part of you that’s strategically waiting until you can do the work well??
Her response: “I get what you’re saying and that makes sense. But it feels like it’s letting me off the hook.”
Me: “Why do you want to stay on the hook? What’s that doing for you?”
Unpacking “Being on the Hook”
The hook metaphor is an interesting one. Think about its fishing or hunting origins for a sec. No living being wants to be put on a hook or stay on a hook.
Before you discount the emotional weight of the metaphor, sit with the reality that many besides my client are suffering because they’re snagged by reality and what they think they should be doing diverging. So much of the Air Sandwich comes from the gap between our values, dreams, and big goals and our day-to-day reality.
Even worse, some people keep themselves on the hook to punish themselves or let themselves off the hook only by punishing themselves with stories about their character, which is only putting themselves on another hook. If you have a story about not being a finisher, planner, creative, writer, coder, leader, parent, sibling, friend, or [insert your thing here], there’s a good chance that you can’t really let yourself off the hook for something.
I don’t have a good answer for why it’s so hard to forgive our past selves. I just know that we all – myself included – let too many yesterdays eat our todays.
Ultimately, my client decided to intentionally punt the heavy work until her mom left and then I nudged her to add a few transition days before she picked it back up. In the grand scheme of things, delaying it four days was a better choice than trying to hero through it and bungling it and there were other team factors that actually made delaying it a few days a smarter choice. But she could’ve also chosen to do the work without the extra baggage of wondering why it was so hard and then beating herself up about why it was so hard.
Where Being On the Hook Might Serve You
As much as I don’t like the metaphor, there are circumstances where being on the hook can serve us well.
For instance, for the last two books, being on the traditional publishing model has worked well for me. When I sign the book deal, I’m “on the hook” to deliver it by a certain time. There have been plenty of times where I’ve chosen to write what I’ve agreed to rather than having a conversation about why I haven’t done the work; this was especially the case for the way I wrote Start Finishing.
Hiring a trainer served the same function for me. It converted going to the gym into something I could do or not do at any time to a specific commitment.
All can put you “on the hook” in a way that serves you.
But if the suffering and pain of being on the hook aren’t serving you, maybe it’s worth getting off the hook.