Nothing is Wasted

Whether it’s an aspect of your work, a project, or perhaps repeated struggles in communicating effectively with a particular colleague or client, there are times when our work just feels ‘off,’ like it’s just not flowing.

If you’re like me, once in a while this leads to larger esoteric questions of whether I’m even on the ‘right’ path, if I have missed something really important. I’ll get leery, wondering if I’m doing something ‘wrong’ that has led to this feeling of misalignment.

I’m not quite sure why I leap to questions of such magnitude, but even after all these years in my field, this can still grab me from time to time. What I notice is a certain all or nothing quality that comes over me. Instead of meeting these ‘off’ feelings with curiosity, I approach them with suspicion, looking for where I may have slipped up or gone far astray.

There is a different, far more compassionate way to look at these feelings. It’s almost impossible to see once you are off and running, but if you can pause as this bubbles up, there’s a good chance you can re-direct this train of thought.

Because even feelings of discomfort or misalignment are useful. If you are living a Wild purposeful life, it really does matter that you feel lined up, at least in some aspects of your life.

Here’s the thing that can bring me back from the freefall of catastrophizing or questioning everything… Nothing is wasted.

That’s a big deal and important to take in. Nothing is wasted.

That means that the job you stayed in longer than you probably ‘should have’ still held value. It means that if you thought you wanted to be an accountant and realized—after becoming one—that your childhood dream of being a vet is actually what you are meant to do…well, that isn’t wasted either.

It means that the thing at work that you put lots of time and energy into, and that turned out not to be the best direction for the project, that, too, is not wasted.

The principal here is that we can’t see the whole picture, or step out of linear time enough to recognize how things might connect or intersect later. No doubt you’ve had experiences that at the time felt really misguided and frustrating, only to find later, that those very experiences set you up for success in surprising ways. Or you discovered something important to who you are because of the very thing that felt like a mis-step at the time.

What if we could make that shift? What if we could remind not just ourselves, but our colleagues, clients, or work team of this principal? Imagine how different it would feel.

The software that didn’t pan out…nothing is wasted.

The meeting that was supposed to make the group come together, and it didn’t…nothing is wasted.

The chance you took as a new leader to inspire your team, that wound up not going as planned…that’s not wasted either.

Mistakes, feeling ‘off,’ questioning your path…all of this is going to happen and keep happening from time to time. How different would it be —how much more engaged and connected might your team be— if you could remind each other of this simple, but powerful truth?

And then, days, months, maybe even years later, when that thing circles back and plays a part, how great would it be to remember the unlikely beginnings that wound up being useful and important in the long run.

How do we do this? For ourselves, it means pausing to reflect and notice where you are feeling aligned and where you aren’t. To bring curiosity rather than judgement to those places that feel ‘off.’ It’s helpful to remember parts of your story where those things that seemed way off and wasted became invaluable later on. Remind yourself of these experiences that have already happened along your own Wild path. Trust. Lean in. Listen. Practice self-compassion.

For your team, remember that words have power. Describe the principal behind ‘Nothing is Wasted.’ Use the phrase often. Help it become part of your organization’s vocabulary. Ask your team or colleagues to pay attention, to remind one another of this simple truth when the team or an individual is struggling. Your organization already has abundant stories of when the Nothing is Wasted principal circled back and lined up beautifully with current needs. Unearth those stories. Tell them. Celebrate them.

Imagine if your organization adopted the Nothing is Wasted principal as part of its culture. Consider how that might impact things like dealing with change, innovation, and communication, to name a few. It would be a good model for a Wild workplace!

Chris Heeter