Two women were struggling in different ways to get past their blocks to doing what they wanted. Their difficulties were insurmountable—to them. When I looked at their situations, however, their problems seemed self-imposed, and quite easy to change. Even without tapping.

“Angie” has a job she hates. She has been working toward getting certified so she can start looking for a bookkeeping job she will enjoy. But she has two more classes to take and won’t be finished for at least six more months. So she won’t be able to make a change for at least that long. And she can’t quit because she is the sole provider for herself and her ten-year-old daughter. She is frustrated that she can’t make a change now. Except maybe she can.

gordian knotShe is already doing bookkeeping for her current employer. And she assures me that she doesn’t need to be certified to provide bookkeeping services in her city. So I floated an idea. Why not start offering bookkeeping services to small companies that only need a few hours a month. She can do that in the evenings or on the weekends. She can charge a lower rate while she is getting up to speed. And by the time she has finished her certification process, she will already have a business. When she feels ready, she can go after bigger companies which will pay more, using testimonials from the smaller clients she started with. And when she has built up her client list enough, she can quit her hated job.

Angie looked at me when I suggested this with surprise and excitement. This approach meant she could start earning extra money right now (which she could save to give her the cushion she would need to make the transition to having her own business). It also meant she could take steps towards change now, instead of having to just grit her teeth and wait at least six months. Yes, she will still be working for the unpleasant employer, but at least she will know that she is on the road to getting out of that company. Finally, it allows her ultimately to be in the driver’s seat, choosing the clients she wants to work with, not having to work with anyone she doesn’t like. At least she won’t be stuck working for one employer, whether she likes them or not.

Angie is excited to get started on her new plan. She’s thinking of friends and friends of friends to approach to see if they need a few hours of bookkeeping services for their small businesses. It never occurred to her that she could make a change so quickly, or that she could eventually stop working for someone else and start working for herself. Now it seems totally possible.

“Becca” is coming off a ten year stint as full-time homemaker and mother of four. She needs to start bringing money in soon. Her husband “Zeke” has seen the writing on the wall—his company has been laying people off in waves over the past two years. He knows his time is coming. So he wants her to get a job. She knows she “should,” but it just doesn’t feel right to her.

Becca has a lot of irons in the fire. She is currently selling jellies and jams from fruit she grows in her garden. She is in the process of learning to be a life coach. She and Zeke are turning a stand-alone building on their property into a space where they can hold retreats and workshops they are creating. When they aren’t using it, they can rent it out to different groups in their community who currently have to travel over an hour to find space in the nearest city.

A couple of groups have already expressed interest in renting the space, but some cupboards in one corner need to be refinished and some additional electrical outlets need to be installed. She and Zeke have done all the rest of the work, but for some reason he stalled out when it came to these last items, which Becca doesn’t have the expertise to do. (If only Zeke were working with me. We could get rid of his blocks to finishing this project in no time!)

So Becca was ready to pack it all away and start sending out resumes for admin jobs that would pay very little. This didn’t make sense to me. If she had potential renters, why not just schedule them? The deadline might get Zeke moving on those the last projects. Even if it didn’t, though, she could take the money the first renter would give her and hire someone else to finish the projects. Either way, the building would be finished, and Becca and Zeke could start making money right away from the renters. They would also be set to schedule their workshops and retreats as soon as they wanted to.

Becca hadn’t thought of it like that. She had been stuck in her first plan, in which she and Zeke did all the remodeling themselves. In fact, she just couldn’t make the leap to thinking of herself as a business owner. Sure, she had been thinking that “someday” she wanted to be in business for herself, but that seemed like such a long way down the road that she couldn’t get her head around the thought that she could be up and running with a business in a month. So I had to break it to her. Becca was already a business owner. (Remember those jams and jellies?) She has already jumped that hurdle.

In fact, Becca’s an entrepreneur, coming up with business ideas one after the other and getting them started. What she isn’t yet is solvent. However, she was almost there even if she hadn’t realize it. With her property ready, she will be able to bring in a lot more money and do it soon.

Angie and Becca were suffering from the same block—limited thinking. They each had a problem. They each had a plan to solve their problem. Angie was going to finish her certification, then look for a new job. Becca was going to wait for Zeke to finish rehabbing their building then rent out space and hold workshops in it. They had figured out their plan and were holding onto it tightly—so tightly, in fact, that they couldn’t see any other, better ways to accomplish their goals. It took someone who could look at their situations with a fresh eye to see the opportunities that were right in front of them and help them cut the Gordian Knot.

Time for a little mythology lesson. Once upon a time, the Phrygian king had a cart that his ancestor had tied to a post with an extremely complicated knot. (Why? No idea. Mythology isn’t always particularly rational.) An oracle prophesied that whoever undid the knot would become the king of Asia. Many tried, but the knot defeated them all. It was just too difficult. Then along came Alexander the Great. He took one look at the knot, pulled out his sword and sliced through it. Problem solved. The Gordian Knot is now a metaphor for an impossible problem that can be solved easily by creative thinking.

What’s your Gordian Knot? Where have you been struggling to get out of a difficult situation. What problem do you think will take months or years to be resolved? It’s probably something you have thought about a lot. You may even have a plan to change the situation but, like Angie, it will take a long time or, like Becca, you are stuck waiting for someone else to do their part. The big sign that you have a Gordian Knot is that you can only think of one realistic way to fix the problem.

Once you’ve identified your Gordian Knot, the easiest way to untie it is to bring in an Alexander. Talk to other people about it. Don’t go to people who you’ve already been bemoaning your fate to—your spouse, a close friend, a business partner, your mom. You’ve already convinced them that there is only one way out of your dilemma. They’re happy to commiserate with you and assure you that you’re not doing anything wrong. They are stuck thinking like you.

Instead go to someone who will hear about this for the first time. Ask fellow business owners you meet at networking events. Maybe the parent who headed up this year’s PTSA auction is someone who can always find a way to get things done. Take her out for coffee. Pick the golf pro’s brains while you are working on your short game. If you already have a mastermind group…well, you’ve probably already taken care of your Gordian Knot.

When you’ve found someone with a fresh perspective, tell them you are stuck and can’t seem to come up with a new way of approaching your problem. Say you think there might be a different, easier way out, but you can’t come up with it yet and hope they can see something you are missing. Then shut up and listen. Don’t shoot down the first idea they have because you’ve already thought of it and all the reasons it will never work or you will never get to the second, third, or tenth idea that could be perfect for you. If the first person you talk to draws a blank, talk to someone else. Keep going until you find your Alexander.

Yes, there are some problems that only have one answer. But there are a lot fewer of them than you think. So don’t give up after one or two conversations. Assume that your Gordian Knot has a simple answer and go looking for the right person to give it to you.

Heck, if all else fails you could always hire a coach!

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