A Better Way to Get What You Need

Why you should stop chasing, and start receiving.

Welcome to One Thing Better. Each week, the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine (that's me) shares one way to become more successful and satisfied — and build a career or company you love.

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Ever feel like the harder you chase something, the further it gets?

In last Tuesday’s newsletter, I wrote about how to stop obsessing over the things you’re waiting for. In response, a reader named Sande Golgart sent me a piece of wisdom from Rumi, the 13th century poet.

It was this:

"When I run after what I think I want, my days are a furnace of stress and anxiety; if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain. From this I understand that what I want also wants me, is looking for me and attracting me. There is a great secret here for anyone who can grasp it."

Sande then wrote me: “As I am building my business, it can be a struggle between chasing what I think I want and letting things flow to me. Do you have any thoughts or insights you care to share?”

As a matter of fact, I do.

The first thing it makes me think of is dating, and what so many people learn during that process: When you’re desperate to find someone, you won’t. And when you stop looking so hard, the right person comes along.

Until that Rumi poem, however, I hadn’t considered how broadly this applies to other parts of our lives. Our most fulfilling personal relationships may come in ways we weren’t looking for. Our most fulfilling work may happen in arenas we never planned to reach.

That’s certainly true for me. Being the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine changed my life — but I’d never even heard of the magazine until much later in my career. And honestly, when I first connected with the company, I didn’t take it that seriously.

This even applies to the way I write. If I’m struggling to find the next sentence, or to figure out where a piece of writing is going, I will not find the answer by staring at the computer. Instead, I walk away. I do something else. And that is when, suddenly, I know what to write next.

Why is this? I’m sure there are many psychological, philosophical, and perhaps even biological reasons. I’ll leave those to those experts.

Instead I’ll offer this:

Years ago, I spoke with Malcolm Gladwell. I asked him about the work he does, and how he chooses projects that are just so distinctively “Malcolm Gladwell.” How does he define himself? What is his filter?

His answer surprised me. He said that, to the best of his ability, he tries not to define himself at all.

“Self-conceptions are powerfully limiting,” he told me.

In other words, the more you define who you are and what you do, the more you’ll miss all the amazing opportunities that don’t fit that narrow definition.

I believe this is the reason that, as Rumi wrote, “if I sit in my own place of patience, what I need flows to me, and without pain.”

When we are actively chasing something, it’s as if we are saying, “I need this, and it must look and feel exactly like this.”

In turn, what we’re really saying is, “I will not consider anything that doesn’t match this very narrow definition.” And when we do that, we filter out so many incredible opportunities, ideas, and people.

The problem is our filter. The problem is our own conviction about what we need.

When we’re open to the wide world of possibilities, we find the ones that matter most — even if they don’t match our original desires. So maybe, next year, we need to step back a little more. Widen our bands. Embrace that the best things can also be the ones we weren’t looking for, and the greatest satisfaction can come from being surprised.

That’s how to do one thing better.

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