I was working for my father’s industrial tool distribution business in the 1990s, satisfied that I’d found a job that provided a regular paycheck. Working in the family business gave me a sense of comfort and security. Everything was flowing along well until I felt that something was lacking. I’d gotten complacent; too comfortable. I felt a deep need to do something new and creative, which led to feeling frustrated. I expressed my frustration to a friend who told me, “You’ve got a good job. Don’t reinvent the wheel.”
We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t reinvent the wheel.” It’s a metaphor that emphasizes the value that existing solutions provide. Sometimes we hear others use the phrase “Reinvent the wheel” to emphasize the importance of questioning existing solutions, breaking old patterns, and stimulating new thinking. We feel the need to “reinvent the wheel” when we haven’t been utilizing our creativity to learn and grow.
We have two basic needs: a need for safety and security, and a need for learning and growth. Basically, a need for comfort and a need for stress. When one need becomes satisfied, the other need expresses itself. In other words, when our need for comfort is satisfied, we seek stress, and vice versa.
There’s a tension between these two basic needs. As one need is progressively met, the other need expresses itself more strongly. A simple example is the need for rest and the need for activity. We sleep at night to rest and are active during the day to apply ourselves. We wake up rested, full of energy. Then as we progress throughout the day, our energy diminishes, so much so, that going to sleep in the evening is inevitable. Then, as we progress throughout the night, our energy builds, so much so, that waking up in the morning is inevitable. It’s a dynamic cycle that’s self-perpetuating.
I was comfortable in my job at the family business, going through familiar routines: set up sales calls, meet clients, process orders. The job satisfied my need for safety and security, but as I stayed in it for several years, I felt the need for learning and growth building. The job wasn’t fulfilling my need for stress. A distinction is important here. I was stressed in my job. Selling industrial tools was stressful because it wasn’t something I was passionate about or interested in. My coping mechanism was avoiding the stress of changing my situation and getting frustrated. The helpful aspect, though, was how frustration piqued my awareness of the need to reinvent my career, to seek the kind of stress I wanted to engage.
I decided to start a career in climbing, something I was passionate about. A career in climbing is too broad, however, so I examined what I was particularly skilled at and interested in. I found that it was mental training. I had no idea how to create a mental training program; I had no idea if anyone would be interested in it; I had no idea if it would sustain me financially. These unknowns created a lot of stress, but I could navigate it effectively because I was passionate and interested in what I was learning and doing.
Working in a job we’re passionate about, though, isn’t the end of the cycle. The need for comfort expresses itself again as we progress through stress. I developed systems that supported a one-man operation and got comfortable with it. Thus, the need for comfort was satisfied. I resisted reinventing what seemed to be working well. However, as the business grew, the one-man operation was no longer sustainable. The need for stress and reinventing the business steadily grew until it was inevitable that it needed to change or die. Currently, I’m reinventing the business by building a team. The team will bring new perspectives and ideas to help the business grow to realize its mission.
I think the important point here is that life is about dynamic balance, and we tend to be static. Life is constantly progressing between our need for comfort and our need for stress, yet we hold onto the comfort, thinking it’ll last forever. Inevitably life forces us to change, to engage new experiences so we can meet the need for expressing our creativity. Doing this brings out our best. It’s also a way of serving life instead of serving only ourselves. Comfort is nice and needed, but to languish there violates the greater whole—the world and others—that we are a part of. Life forces us to realize the importance of service.
We can rely on what works in our lives, don’t reinvent them, still understanding that what works won’t last forever. We pay attention to tension building within ourselves as the need for stress—creativity and learning—manifests itself. Then we gracefully shift into meeting that need, to relieve the tension, as we express our creativity, learn, and grow. The best we can do is become aware of our tendency to be static and the dynamic nature of how life cycles between our two basic needs. That awareness will allow us to flow with how life is, so we can enjoy and be at peace with our lives.