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MCLEOD: Why it's never just one thing

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

Life is complicated. We know this, but yet we always want to find the one thing.

The one thing that made everything go wrong. Or the one thing that will make everything go right.

The one thing the parent did wrong that made their kid turn to drugs. Or the one thing the entrepreneur did to revitalize their business.

The one thing that caused a person to lose the deal, get sick, go bankrupt, get divorced or go insane.

We always want to know the one thing to do or not to do that will make everything OK.

And when things are OK, we want to find one thing to blame.

Because if one thing caused the problem, then one thing can fix it.

The only problem is: It's never one thing.

All the things are connected.

My daughter was struggling in school. She found many of her classes excruciatingly boring and excruciatingly difficult. Not surprisingly, she was having trouble disciplining herself to study.

I offered suggestions, "Let's set up a study system."

"Let's find some interesting YouTube videos on the subjects."

"I can start quizzing you."

"But you don't understand, Mom" she said. "None of those things will fix it."

To which I answered, "I do understand, you have a big problem and no single one of these things is going to 'fix' it. In fact we may never completely solve this big problem. But if we can find 10 things that will each improve the situation by 1 or 2 percent, it will make a difference."

When you do 10 things you not only get the benefit of each thing, you also get a compounding effect. Like a snowball picking up weight as it goes downhill. Each flake gives the other flakes more energy and momentum.

It wasn't what she wanted to hear. She wanted the one thing. And the one thing should be one thing that wouldn't cause her any pain, discomfort or extra effort.

But life doesn't work that way.

If you want to solve a big problem you have to face reality and admit that it's never just one thing. It's lots of things. You can't just fix one thing; you have to fix all the things.

Grownups know this.

Sometimes we try to deny it, because one of the things that needs fixing is something that we should have fixed a long time ago, and we don't want to admit that it might have contributed to the really big problem.

But let me be clear: Every minute that we waste trying to deny that our one pet thing is part of the problem, is a minute that we could be fixing that one thing, so that we could move onto the next thing so that all the things together could get us closer to solving the really big problem.

Every snowflake in the avalanche claims it's not guilty.

But if your child is the one crushed, you don't care which thing was 1 percent and which thing was 2 percent.

You blame them all. Because together they created a situation where you have to wake up every single day with a black, jagged hole in your soul where your beautiful child used to sit.

The people who say that their one thing didn't contribute to the problem are probably the people who don't have to face a black, jagged child-shaped hole in their soul.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," which the Washington Post named as a "Top Five Book for Leaders."