In his classic text, M.R. Kopmeyer teaches, “push your wheelbarrow upside down.” Walking through life with your wheelbarrow right side up allows anyone to dump their burdens, worries and issues into your wheelbarrow, making your load heavier to carry. When people see that there is a man going around collecting problems, they will easily add their problems to his load. Kopmeyer wasn’t teaching people to be indifferent to the burdens of others, but to be selective.
Only by being selective can we be effective.
You were not appointed Chief Problem Solver of the Universe. You are not even the President or Governor or Mayor. Then, why do you worry about all of the problems they should be solving? Do you read the newspaper or watch the nightly news, worried and frustrated over the solution to problems that are outside your control? How often to we spend precious time and energy fretting over things outside of our control, only to realize we don’t have enough time to work on the issues that really matter to our practice, our families, relationships and our future? By being selective, we can work on the problems we are best-suited to solve.
If someone asks you to serve on the board of an organization with which you have little skill, little background knowledge and little to contribute, but your neighbor or friend is well-suited in that area with decades of experience and is better positioned to help that organization, why would you carry your wheelbarrow right side up and accept the added burden of serving on a board where you know you won’t have much impact? Instead, recommend your friend or neighbor. Go load that item into your friend’s wheelbarrow. Keep yours turned upside down.
Conversely, when you see something you know you are good at and where your highest contribution can serve others and get massive results, stop, make time and turn your wheelbarrow right side up so that you can fill it with something that is a pleasure for you to carry and not a burden.
Steve Jobs was famous for asking his lead designer, Jonathan Ive, “How many times did you say no today?” It’s another way of keeping your wheelbarrow turned upside down until you know you’ve found something worth adding to your load, where your contributions can produce results. Most doctors I work with are carrying far too many items in their wheelbarrows. Sometimes by choice and other times by default. Many of these doctors would rather carry the burden than learn to delegate effectively or simply say, “No!” from time to time.
What happens, unfortunately, when you decide to load too many things into your wheelbarrow is that you become horribly ineffective at lots and lots of things that don’t matter. Instead, why not focus on being really effective at the things that do matter?
When you pick the contents of your wheelbarrow, your load seems light no matter how heavy the burden.