Development is incredibly important to me. As in, I think about if, in what areas, at what rate, and by what means I or people that I interact with are growing, multiple times a day. I truly believe that if you aren’t growing and developing a portion of yourself it is shrinking. Mental skills work just like muscles (I say this as fact when truly it just seems logical to me. However, my kid’s lesson in growth mindset from school has reinforced my perspective.) and we all know that a muscle will shrink just as fast as you develop it if you stop working it. So I work that muscle, and I try to ensure that others are doing the same. That may sound a little preachy, that I try to ensure that others are growing, but it looks more like encouragement. It looks more like taking note of where it appears a person is trying to grow and asking more questions about it. If there is an area that I know a person wants to shrink, for example consuming too much social media, alcohol, news, or whatever, I just try not to encourage it.
I used to think that I had to be at a conference or in a class or in a structured program to grow my strengths and fill my gaps. I had always been with managers who encouraged me taking those steps, I’d worked in a time when companies were able to allocate money to that, and I had been in situations personally that allowed for me to take the time and bandwidth to work toward developing myself professionally and personally. Then something changed. I was no longer selected to attend any internal programs as a representative from our group. When I would ask to join a meeting to learn from those involved I was told it wasn’t appropriate. Though I requested specific opportunities to grow skills I needed for my work, I was denied the time and funds to take the classes. When I requested the time to attend free workshops I was told it wasn’t a good use of time. If that wasn’t all frustrating enough, it was difficult to find the time at home too. Most of those opportunities were out of town, if not out of state, and would require my husband to be sole caregiver while I was away.
I was devastated by this. It sounds silly that I would have that much stock in representing the department, or taking a class, or being mentored but that was one place where I saw companies show their employees that they were valued, and I was missing it. To me, it was similar to someone cutting your paycheck. If I don’t get to learn then my future potential is being limited. As I said in the beginning, I take this pretty seriously.
That was when (let’s be serious, it was after about 2 weeks of self pity for some real first world problems) I started to have a realization that changed how I viewed growth and development. I was putting too much stock in the employee and employer relationship. As terrible as this is going to look in print, the company that employs me, and the manager I report to, have no responsibility to have my best interest at heart. Now, let me unpack that just a little because if a company wants to be successful they need to grow their talent and if a manager wants to be a true leader they do need to understand their people and grow them based on their talent and the needs of the company. I do think that by-and-large companies, and the leaders within them, do strive for that. (I had to reread and rewrite this next part because originally nearly every sentence ended with, that doesn’t mean you can’t grow. It was a bit much but if you could just imagine it repeating through the background as you read, it would help. Thanks.) However, no person or entity is going to be perfect in this, and neither will you. No matter how amazing and important you or I think we are, if the company or manager doesn’t agree, or our skills don’t align with the direction the company is going, they are not going to give the opportunities to us. They may be 100% right and justified in that decision and it does not diminish your worth because the amount any entity or person values you does not determine your value. It also, does not determine what you’re able to accomplish personally or professionally, and what muscles you’re able to work.
We all have the opportunity to grow and develop all of the time. As in, all the time. You can be growing while you’re answering emails, out for a walk, making dinner with your kids tugging on your shirt hem, or sitting on the couch watching TV. It is all about whether or not you choose to. Yup, sad to say it because I know I would rather that it is only possible during specific times, places, events, so that a. I wouldn’t have to be alerted to it all the time and b. it wouldn’t be my fault if I wasn’t growing and developing. However it’s true, this one is on us individually. Now, of course you can get help and align the areas you want to focus in with your company, local clubs, conferences, classes, on and on. While I would encourage you to do that, the best opportunities come out of just living life and leaning into difficult situations.
When I say, lean into difficult situations, I mean smaller, daily, frustrating situations that teach you life skills. This could be things like answering emails while pretending the person writing it truly had best intent, strategizing a better conversation to have with your children when they haven’t cleaned their room after the 15th time asking, completing the work project that needs to be done and pushing your phone (with all of the notifications) to the side, having a constructive conversation with your partner when they aren’t helping out the way you need them to, the list goes on and on. If you’re focused on building truly transferable skills, things like perseverance, listening, focus, time management, relationship building, influence, etc, you can do that at any time, in any place. The trick is, you won’t just get them. What you will get is, the opportunity to practice them.
There are a couple of skills that I am particularly working on right now so why not use those as examples. One is patience and another is time management. Do you know how many times a week, or a day even, I get the opportunity to build my patience muscles by taking a deep breath and counting to ten before I repeat whatever I just asked my kid to do when it appears he ignored me? I think its in the neighborhood of 873,234 times a day. Do I get them all right? Absolutely not. Do I get an opportunity to reflect on how I could have done better and make a change? You bet, because number 873,235 is right around the corner. I have shared this struggle with my kids too. I told them that it is frustrating when it seems like they didn’t listen to what I said. I then compared it to when they interrupt and get upset that we don’t immediately change the conversation to what they are talking or asking about. Now, there are even some instances where I hear, “Mom!! (pause, then very quietly) 1, 2, 3…” It’s adorable but it is also transparency for both of us while we each practice this skill. Another area I’m developing is time management. I am terrible at estimating how long things will take to get done and I consistently believe I’m capable of making things go faster. I believe I can make a meal in 30 minutes or less because the recipe says it will bake for 30 minutes. I have complete amnesia that there is recipe reading, chopping, measuring, sautéing, re-reading, combining, remembering a side dish would be good, searching Pinterest for quick sides, reading, boiling, searching substitutions for things I don’t have, and finally the dinner is on the table about 90 minutes after starting. I then will promptly blame anyone who spoke to me while cooking for my tardiness. (I know someone can relate to this right?) It’s not just with cooking either. I do the same thing with writing, sending emails, phone calls, laundry, on and on. So again, I get the opportunity to practice getting this right many many times per day. There could be better planning, more focus during the time I’m working on it, prep work, and just being realistic about the time it is going to take.
These types of skills also present themselves in groups. So it is not as though you need to attend a day’s course on time management and day two is patience. You get them working in tandem in true situations. For example, you’re working on sending one last critical email for work however your spouse is asking you questions, one child wants a snack, and the other wants to show you the project they made by cutting up all of the paper plates. This, my friend, is an amazing opportunity to develop a lot of skills. Rather than rubbing your hands up and down you face and barking, “I just need 5 minutes! That’s it; and maybe a glass of wine. But mostly just 5 dang minutes!” Think of how you could use this opportunity to your benefit. Look paper plate kid in the eye and ask one question about art project before telling him how amazing it is. Explain to spouse that you would love to talk over dinner when you can take a breath (and maybe have that wine) and if they can handle snack kid, you’ll be ready to chat in 10 minutes. Then, and here is the key, stick to the time you set. You already set the groundwork for listening, relationship building, and time management through being realistic, lets bring it home with some time management, focus, and delivering on the promise of time will further promote the relationship. Leave your phone where it is, do not come up with some other distraction like getting water, reading another email, or making a mental list of what needs to be cleaned in whatever room you’re in. Get what you need done in the time you promised.
Even if your situation looks a little different from mine (and you aren’t working full time complete with team development, system implementations, organization wide projects, and an email that looks like it may boil over; with your three kids in the background while you and your amazing husband balance them back and forth to complete school work) I assure you, you have plenty of these skills to practice. You might be a nurse in the eye of the storm spending every moment devoted to either helping patients heal or preparing to receive them and protect yourself and those around you allowing you unlimited opportunity to build your skills in relationship building, organization, and perseverance. You might be a grocery store employee, you can add light to the few people most are seeing in a day. Your attention to the customers and to the new standard operating practices of the store are important to further development of relationship building, prioritization, and focus. If you’re working from home you can be building your listening skills on conference calls, focus during the few child free moments, and better understand the culture of your team. If you’re not working right now maybe you’re living with children or a significant other, see above examples, you are certainly still able to develop. Remember you can use your new skills in the situations you developed them in and they will serve you just in the capacity you practiced them. You can also think of them as training ground for the future. Take them with you to your next performance review, your next job interview, the next time you need to use them in any host of situations they’ll be there, ready at your finger tips, because you took the opportunity to develop them.
Things I’m reminding myself of
In a season of social distancing, no matter how we’re experiencing the season, we’re always able to further develop or relationship building skills. No matter where you are or how you’re working or not working or how many people you get to see or not see, you can build relationships. This is so very critical for well being and success.
The learning doesn’t come in getting it right all of the time, it comes in getting it wrong. Yes, you read that correctly. When you think about it, how much do you learn by getting something right? Not a whole lot, but when you get it wrong, that is when you learn. Think of when someone was trying to give you directions and you made it to the destination, did you give it a second thought of how you could improve your listening? Maybe you should have written down more notes, asked more questions, or noticed when they sounded unsure of a turn and verified it. If you didn’t make it, if you got lost, I bet there was a lot of discussion of those directions and, in the kindest terms, how you maybe could have listened more and they could have communicated better. So give yourself grace when you get it wrong, because you will and you need to to improve.
Experience isn’t the best teacher, reflection is. Anyone can gain experience by virtue of aging. You can maximize your experiences by acknowledging those experiences and reflecting on them.
Practice makes permanence. Whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, you’re practicing these skills every single day in every situation I noted and about one million more. The more you practice the more your habits get ingrained and the harder it is to stray from them because muscle memory starts taking over. We want that to happen and when it does, we want that muscle memory rooted in an intentional, positive foundation.