Success Tip: You Can’t Train What Doesn’t Exist

On the surface this success tip seems obvious, yet how often do we frustrate ourselves trying to “train” people to do what we believe is in their best interest.


My wife and I took advantage of a gorgeous day to visit a nursery. We have several areas that need planting. One of the things we chose was a pyramid-shaped boxwood. There were three available; one did not have a center peak. 

My wife asked whether trimming could produce a point if one didn’t naturally exist. Our helper said that she’d never had any luck creating a point where none existed…even though she’d tried for years to do so.  Her statement reminded me that we cannot train what doesn’t exist.

What doesn’t exist

It doesn’t matter how much talent a person possesses, we can’t train them to use their talents effectively if they have no interest in those talents. As someone who has spent more than 15 years teaching college courses, I can say with absolute certainty that the key to any student’s success, and consequently mine, depended almost exclusively on the student’s interest in the subject. Later, as I reflected on my days as a student, I was reminded of how little work I did in classes in which I had little interest.

I can’t train an autocratic leader to be more engaging (less dictatorial). It isn’t in their nature. Similarly, I can’t train a paternalistic leader to have higher expectations of their employees for the same reason…it’s isn’t in their nature. Nor can I train an engagement leader to be more autocratic or paternalistic.

I can’t train someone who is deliberate in their decision-making to be less cautious or do less research before deciding. Nor can I train someone who assimilates information quickly, decides quickly and is willing to live with the consequences to do more research before deciding.

As we realize that we can’t train what doesn’t exist, we can avoid the frustration of trying to effect change when the possibility of change doesn’t exist. Awareness of this reality helps us choose a more productive course of action that will benefit all parties.

Once we realize that the conditions for change don’t exist, we have two options available to us. We can:

  • Work with what exists.
  • Walk away from the situation.
Work with what exists

If you can see a way to produce the desired result using what fits the natural styles of those involved, go for it. Over the years this has become a challenge I relish. I love seeing how creative I can be in finding ways to utilize what exists to produce results. 

This may not fit your style or temperament. If not, acknowledge this fact. This reality is neither good nor bad, it’s simply what exists. I’m grateful for people whose interests and strengths are different then mine. I know that they are resources that can help me achieve what I desire without having to fight my nature.

Walk away

When you can’t see a way of producing the result you desire using what exists, walk away. I’ve learned that these aren’t failures. Indeed, I view them as successes. I’ve successfully identified the reality that I can’t be successful because the conditions for success don’t exist.

By acknowledging this reality, I’ve saved myself:

  • Disappointment.
  • Frustration.
  • Anger.
  • Wasted time and energy.
  • Feelings of failure.
  • Hits to my confidence.

Instead, I experience:

  • Satisfaction of awareness.
  • Joy of avoiding energy-draining emotions.
  • Joy in pursuing opportunities in which I can be successful.
  • Increased confidence.
  • Heightened self-awareness.
  • Joy in my ability to be honest and objective in my self-evaluation.

Upon reviewing these lists, I’m certain that you’ll find the choice to walk away much easier than you might have previously.

So what’s all this mean for you?

For you

When you face a situation in which you feel compelled to provide guidance or assistance, first ask yourself “Does what I’m about to suggest fit the person’s natural style?” If not, ask “Can I frame my suggestion in a way that fits their natural style?” If you can’t, acknowledge to both yourself and the person, that you don’t have a solution for them. If you know someone whom you feel could be of assistance, make the introduction. 

Your ability to walk away from situations in which you can’t be successful because you can’t train what doesn’t exist benefits both you and the person you’d hoped to help. By not asking them to do things that are contrary to their nature, you avoid adding doubts, fear, anxiety and frustration to their already challenging situation. It’s easy to see how adding these energy-draining emotions will slow the attainment of a solution to their problem.

For our kids

Helping the kids in your life learn how to distinguish between situations in which they can help and those in which they can’t assures that their lives will be replete with:

  • Success in their endeavors.
  • Greater confidence.
  • Greater self-awareness.
  • The joy of helping others.
  • The joy of living.

Isn’t that what you want for the kids in your life…or for any kid?

Feel free to share this blog with those you feel would benefit from this message. It’s an easy way to say “I love you. I’m thinking of you.”

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link) (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link).

Follow dfurtwengler:

Latest posts from

2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, What effect does changing one’s perspective have on conditions for change?
    As always, I appreciate your profound insights and wisdom!

    • Dale Furtwengler


      In order for change to occur, all parties to the change effort must desire change. When the desire for change is strong enough people will change their behavior…even if it goes against their natural style. So, the real condition necessary for change is desire sufficient to overcome natural tendencies. If we use a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being high, you need desire that ranks 4 or 5 on that scale for change to occur…change that lasts. I hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *