Creating Confidence

I’m not sure about you but there are plenty of times in my life where I have had to just do the thing, whatever it is, in spite of how scary it feels or sounds. I don’t want to kick off the project. I’m scared to have the critical conversation with a friend. My toes tingle when I think about going into a new situation and ‘mingling’ or ‘networking’. I feel underprepared and prone to mistakes all the time. Usually though, I do it, I just don’t want to do it. That is how I define courage. Doing the thing even when it feels scary. Sometimes though I need to be pushed. I need someone who is going to stand right there and say do that. Did you do that? You need to do that.. Work is good for that. I mean, very rarely do people force you to do things you’re unsure of in your personal life. They will suggest, recommend, and try to support you doing new things but you won’t get pushed out onto the ledge. At work though, the show must go on and if you won’t take on the big new scary thing, they will find someone who will. For that reason, I can (and do) take on much more and grow more quickly professionally then I do personally. There just always seems to be someone there pushing me up to the edge so that I will take the last step to jump in.

To be honest I don’t even really need that much pushing anymore. I have the confidence to know that even if I don’t know what I’m doing I have the ability to figure it out. I have strengths and a foundation that I can look back at and say yup, I’ve got this, even when this is something I’ve never done before. I can listen to understand what the audience needs to hear, communicate effectively, and align with the strategy. Those are three pretty simple things that have taken me very far. When there is a new project, presentation, problem to solve (or other issue that doesn’t start with P) I can typically rely on listening and linking the key strategy with the needs of the audience to move forward. Knowing that about myself gives me the confidence to take on any number of things.

A confident captain of his ship, so long as he’s in the boat.

I want to convert some of that courage, convert some of that confidence in my abilities, into my personal life. So what do I do? What I typically do, look to my kids for my inspiration. Recently, we took our boys to the lake. It is a place they are familiar with and have boated, tubed, and swam in countless times before, the big ones have at least. Our littlest man always seems to take a little longer to warm up at the lake than the big guys ever have. His first couple summers he gradually warmed up on land but in the water, Mom had to hold him. This summer he was rocking it. He was all over the place, talked to all the people, and had no problem on the boat. When it came time to swim though, he wanted someone to hold him. I thought this was progress because it didn’t have to be me but still, at this point, if you have your life vest on and are board in the boat because you refuse to come out unless you’re held, you can stay on the boat (yes, I’m that mom). Finally a woman who is part of the group but he did not know went to sit with him. She did her best to get him in the water while he did his best to ignore her and yell to Mom to come get him. Finally, she won. Whether she convinced him or he was just trying to get away from her we’ll never know but he got in the water. Once he was in, you couldn’t get him out. He swam all over the sandbar, shot squirt guns at his brothers, floated among the adults, and discovered he could even touch the bottom in spots. His go to line when people tried to help him or turn him around, ‘My got this’. He would grin and swim all over repeating again and again, ‘My got this Mommy. My got this.’

We moved to the other side of the lake where the water is 20-30 feet deep so all of us adults could just float. The kids, of course still in life vests, were jumping in as well. Little man asked a lot of questions on the way to our swimming spot. ‘Can Mommy touch there? How do we float? Can I swim there?’ I was sure we’d be back to Mom holding him as soon as he saw that all of the adults had to actually swim or have floaties of their own but I was wrong. Once he was in the water he cruised everywhere. When an adult came to ‘save’ him from getting too far out he’d shoo them away repeating again, ‘My got this.’

My got this Mommy. My got this!

So what can I take from this? What can we take from this? As typical, life (particularly kid’s lives) is not so different from corporate America. My little man had someone in his life that day that was willing to push him to the edge and encourage him to jump in. Once he did, he had confidence in just a few things that made him confident on the whole. He could rely on his life vest to keep him afloat. He could have confidence that someone would redirect him if he got off course. By the end he had confidence in his own ability to up his game (from 3 foot water to 20) because of jumping in an trying. I guess personally and professionally we need someone to push us to the edge and the skill to see our strengths and abilities to build on what we are confident in.

Not Taking Feedback Personally

Do you ever make a suggestion or create a whole plan, thinking this is the best thing since sliced bread, only to find out no one else likes it or wants to do it? You get all excited, you have the idea all thought out and you essentially get a thanks but no thanks? This has happened to me countless times. So many times in fact that I coined a term for it; I say the person or group politely hated it. It is a joke around the office now that if one of my ideas didn’t go forward someone must have politely hated it. I have had everything from project suggestions, staffing models, to even little job aids and cheat sheets ‘politely hated’ in the office. Then at home, well sometimes it is less polite but, I’ve gotten similar feedback on dinner ideas, vacation plans, and home design. I will say though that I never take it personally (OK I’m human, almost never take it personally).

It takes time and practice to truly understand this, but I’m telling you right now 99 times out of 100, when someone hates something you worked hard on, it’s got nothing to do with you. Hard to actually keep in mind I know but it is truly not about you. I know it sounds kind of rude but a comment made from a past mentor really resonated with me, ‘It is really self-centered of you to think that way.’ Now in full disclosure we weren’t talking about this exact topic but it is the same concept. It is really a narrow focus on yourself to believe that any time someone doesn’t like something or doesn’t agree with something it is because of you.

Nonetheless it is a very easy thought pattern to get stuck in. I have made dinners that I chose specifically because I thought my kids would rave about it to be met with whines and the overly dramatic, I wish I was in a different family! I have spent weeks drafting and refining a well thought out proposal to improve processes only to be told it wasn’t needed or useful and overcomplicated what was already working well. I have grown so that in both of those situations I walked away with lessons and ways to improve for the next go round. So the next question is how. How do you not get drawn up in the ‘What was wrong with my idea? Why didn’t they like it? Would they have liked it from someone else? What did I do wrong? Should I just not even bother?’ type of spiraling thought pattern? The answer is by asking questions to get to the root of the real problem. This is part of developing curiosity and continuous improvement strategies. Sound a little woo woo? I suggest starting with three primary questions and a follow-up.

  1. Was it the wrong solution?
    Be really objective about what the problem was you were trying to solve and if your solution was truly the right one. Now, there are typically good, better, and best solutions and each stakeholder may have a different perspective but you need to evaluate if the solution you prosed was the right one.
    For example, my solution was a fast semi healthy early dinner after a long vacation. The problem, they (the stakeholders) were hungry and at about 4. My best solution, dinner at 4:30 after skipping lunch, didn’t match theirs, snack before dinner at the normal time.
  2. Was it the wrong timing?
    Understand the situation you came into. Was the timing right to implement any solution let alone the one that you’re suggesting?
    In this example the timing of ‘dinner’ was very off and confusing for the kids. It also implied that they would be going to bed within a couple hours which made them pretty angry.
  3. Was it the wrong delivery? part of this could be in the timing too.
    Explaining the why, how, and what is critical but did you also make sure that you articulated in a way that they could understand how it would benefit them? (the ever important WIIFM)
    My delivery was way off for this one. I started by calling them in the house, saying no to a snack, and ignoring the reasons they might be upset and demanding they sit down and eat.

Once you understand where you stood on all of these for your situation follow each up with one question. How can I improve on that? How can I improve on the solution, timing, and delivery. For this example, the bulk of the opportunity was in the delivery. The solution was right, even if they didn’t care for it. Timing could have been a bit better but there was a reason. The delivery though was rough and didn’t explain a thing to them.

Now, none of you will be frustrated the next time your kid cries over grilled chicken breast (right?) but how else does this apply? I will tell you these are the same questions I asked myself when it came to my proposal too. The solution was good but perhaps solved a more specific problem with a couple groups rather than the broad brush of the solution for the entire organization, which is what I offered. The timing was OK (there were some really clear examples of where the solution would have been a benefit if it was already in place) but could have been improved. It was a busy time and my solution would have required resources that weren’t available. The delivery though was spot on. I knew my audience, articulated the why, how, and what and had a clear benefit to not only the audience I was pitching too but the customers of the solution as well. So, how do I improve? I will refine my solution to impact the areas that would see the most benefit and share the information again during a time that isn’t as full of competing priorities.

This framework of questions has helped me over time to get better at my personal and professional growth and development by focusing on what I can change and not on how I feel. Being objective, reflective, and taking action to make a difference will always serve me more in the long run.

Continuously Improving on Sound Logic

The other day I saw my kids stacking a small stool onto another larger stool that was already on top of a kitchen chair. As the 6 year old was getting ready to climb up the DIY latter I walked into the room and said, Whoa what exactly is the plan here? They had let a balloon float to the top of the very high ceiling and thought if they stacked everything they could jump from the top stool and be able to reach the balloon. This my friends is what is referred to in our house as ‘sound 6 year old logic’.

Another time at work one of our team members announced she had been setting up a process that would require an additional call and letter for every customer that was serviced in the department. She was already weeks into setting up the process and building out the letter when told her team leader. When asked to clarify the reason and she said that it gave the best customer service. The process set us up to handle this item in compliance to the letter of the law and as a bonus allowed us to walk through it with our customer at the exact moment it came up for them.

These two stories are the same situation. Now you might be cocking an eyebrow thinking no way! the team member is helping the customer and your kid is a nut and so are you if you call that ‘sound logic’ at any age. Both the team member and the little guy were making the best decision they could with the information and the focus they had. The problem is they were working in a silo, working in a vacuum, whatever you want to call it. Both of them set up a plan based on what they wanted to accomplish and neither one of them took a step back to say, what other consequences could come out of this? The consequences for the 6 year old are clear right? For sure injury and probably damage to something based on stools and chairs flying everywhere as he jumped. For our team member they are a bit more complex. There was work in developing a new letter and the process to use it, added work for employees to make the additional customer contacts, and it could back fire on customer service. It may be confusing or worse yet frustrating to the customer to get multiple letters and calls rather than a single point where everything was discussed.

But Mommy I’m not going to fall in. See I can step on all of those rocks and get across!’
Solid plan little man. Let’s maybe find a bridge instead.

Neither the 6 year old or the team member actually did anything wrong. They came up with a solution, one that met the needs as they saw them. Sure there were pros and cons but, any problem to be solved will have numerous potential solutions and all of those solutions will have both pros and cons associated with them. There is very rarely one clear right and perfect choice. Knowing that, the best way to move forward is to get more input. Ask the stakeholders, when you’re able, how they would want to handle the situation. For the kid that might be mom and for the team member that might be the group that would end up doing the extra work. If you’re not able to do that, this is the perfect time to reflect. Was there a time in the past where anything similar came up? How did we make that decision and how can I implement that same logical strategy to this one.

I try to teach this strategy of decision making every single day. (I fail a lot and come out with a What were you thinking?! and then proceed to tell people the right answer based on doing it myself but we’re all a work in progress thank you very much.) I teach it by asking; Who was involved in the decision? How did we come to ____ choice? Help me understand this plan. I also tie the similar situations together for people to help prompt them to do the reflection on their own and point to the over arching mission in both. ‘Remember when we wanted to get that air plane that landed on the ledge over the stairs and mom said it was too dangerous to have the chair on the steps? This is kind of like that. We need to be safe and ask for help if we can’t reach.’ Or ‘We had something like this before when we added a cover page to the letters. Do you remember how much extra work that added? We didn’t have a choice then, and maybe we don’t now, but we certainly want to account for both internal and external customer needs so lets ask them what they think.’ It takes longer to do get to the result this way but allows for better, more comprehensive decision making and problem solving in the future.

Setting up matchbox tracks at the great grand parents house certainly celebrated the cumulative 14 years of wisdom as the goal of the game became to land your car in a prized mug of Grandma’s.

There are three things I want to leave you with as a part of this comparison and decision making framework.

1. Use the frame work to make decisions. Come up with your own idea on how to do something. Then before doing much, if any, work on it check the idea with the other stakeholders. Continue to check frequently throughout the process to ensure you’re still aligned. If you can’t talk to them consider their vantage point and reflect on past situations that may help you in this one.

2. Teach this to other people. It may seem simple logic to you but you’d be shocked how often even those of us who agree that that is the best way to do things get it wrong. Further, it never even occurs to some people to work that way. Developing a humble and collaborative mindset (I may not know or understand everything so I’d better ask some questions) is tough but so critical. It will take more time to do this and even more time to teach it well, but I’m telling you it’s worth it.

3. Change your perspective to applaud the effort. That is sound (insert appropriate age) year old logic. Is a statement that is said frequently at our house. Often (certainly not always) the ideas they come up with are really good ones when you consider their end goal. At work I tend to say, I totally get how you got here. What you were doing makes complete sense. There is just other factors to consider. Problem solving in and of itself is tough and important work. Celebrate coming up with a good solution, even if there is a better option. We want our kids, team members, friends, spouses, etc to come up with a solution (rather than always asking for the next step). Take the time to praise their idea and then gently point them toward continuous improvement to take it to the next level.

Working Mom Guilt

The other night while tucking into bed, one of my kids asked, ‘Mommy, can we just stay home with you from now on?’ In the snap of a finger all of the guilt of being a working mom and trying to balance the two worlds in harmony came back. It had been at bay since working from home because I had a little more flexibility in my schedule and they were starting to get older but his little quivering voice brought it all back.

For many of us we don’t start out our careers considering the impact kids will have on it or what impact the career will have on kids. I think because often you start your career prior to your family you dream about them separately sure you know the paths will cross but you don’t really think of them in tandem. On the career side, you start out with plans and aspirations. What you’re going to accomplish, who you’re going to help, how you’re going to contribute. You might know you’re going to have kids too but they run in two parallel universes. You’re an amazing, strong, independent (enter your field of choice here) who is a leader in her field in one version. You’re a snuggly, teach the tough lessons with compassion, raise the kids every parent wants to have mom in the other. For some reason so many of us start that way. Expecting the absolute best of both worlds. It isn’t until you actually get pregnant that things start to dawn on you how hard the balance is going to be and how much others will play into it.

Thankful and guilt ridden with the ability to work with a sick kid home.

You spend months getting asked questions about if you’ll keep working after you have the little one (even once you’ve established a track record returning after maternity leave). Then as you get closer to actually having the baby you need to train other people to basically take your place. Amidst the constant explanation that you plan to work and have much to offer you essentially need to also demonstrate that you’re dispensable for 6-12 weeks. You have the guilt of ‘leaving’ them for your ‘long vacation’ as so many call it. When you return to work and drop kids off at day care there is the pain and guilt of leaving someone who’s been completely dependent on you for their entire life to date in the care of someone else. This doesn’t get easier with time as they get older and are able to reach out and call to you to take them with. There is the guilt of not being able to be the afterschool pick-up especially when a project or favorite prize is lost or broken on the bus. Then there is the guilt of missing the daytime programs and rushing around after work to practices and games, not nearly as prepared as some of the other parents.

Not all of the pain is with your kids or on the personal side either. There is guilt for not being the first in the office or running a few minutes late because the little just couldn’t let go that day. Then guilt of leaving ‘early’ during a meeting because daycare will close before you get there if you don’t leave now. There is fear associated with every call from daycare you get during the day. Some for the call itself interrupting the day and again because it might mean you need to leave. You feel as though there is a detriment to the company, not to mention your career growth, for not being able to travel or work overtime. If you are killing it at work, hitting all the goals and surpassing expectations, odds are they’ll ask you to take on further responsibility. Cue even more guilt as you either have to turn it down or try to find another way fit more time, focus, and energy in for work.

Both of us working in the quiet of the morning.

The pain and stress can become unbearable for us at times. It can cause us to question decisions and choices that stunt our growth as a result. All in an effort to be there more. I’m wondering though if that is even really the goal. We do everything we can to just make sure we’re there for our family. What if simply being there isn’t actually what our kids need? What if there is a way to get value from the time you’re apart that will serve them now, and later in life? What if you intentionally flipped the script for them so they viewed work not as something that takes Mommy and Daddy away but as a way to share our gifts with others and let them know that they can do the same? Let me remind you of a few things I needed and learned from my working parents.

Responsibility. Guess what, I wasn’t the kid who forgot her jersey or needed to call her parents panicked because she left my homework home. I made a plan whether it was to carefully carry things on the bus or work with a friend who had a stay at home parent, and had my stuff ready to go.

Resilience. When things got hard or scary I didn’t always have the option to call mom and dad to bail me out. What I did have was time with them in the evening where I could work it through and process it with them. Having the time to reflect and cool down from a heated situation probably benefited both sides from time to time.

Make my own fun. On days off school my sister and I would get board. There was no one there to suggest games or crafts to keep us engaged. We instead learned ways to keep ourselves occupied which is an increasingly important skill that I don’t think we would have learned with an ever present activity director.

Everyone pitches in. I sometimes wonder how my kids would accomplish anything if I wasn’t following them around repeating it. However, having two working parents who truly had no interest in working all day and then doing all the household chores means that we learned to get some of them done independently. All of us working together to check off the to-do list now meant more time later for all of us to have fun together.

Share the gifts. Maybe you have a gift to instruct, to create, to build, to join people together, to research, or anything else, those gifts aren’t meant to be kept hidden they are meant to be shared and grown. Your kids have their own gifts too, finding ways (like daycare, school, camp, activities, sports, and yes eventually work) to share them and continue to grow them is a value I hope is instilled in all kids.

Why Grease a Squeaky Wheel

Have you ever noticed that the one who whines loud enough and often enough typically gets what they want? Well, if you’re a parent you might be looking at this with a judgmental cocked eyebrow, I would never, you can’t give in to whining. Yeah, I get it (I’m certain I’ve pulled out a *groan* go ask your dad after the whining which is just another way to give in) but think about adults. Think about the woman at the in the urgent care waiting room constantly telling the front desk employee how long she’s been waiting and while it is a shorter time than others in the room she gets to see a doctor first. Think about the man in the restaurant who never seems satisfied with his drink, the sun coming through the window, his food, or the timeliness of his check. The waiter seems to just circle around his table leaving long spans between getting to the other customers. Then there is the ‘squeaky wheel’ in your own mind, the dusting that isn’t done, the garage organization that needs to happen, the dishes in the sink. Which ever one of those squeaks the loudest will get your attention and actually get completed while the others remain the same for weeks. The most frustrating for a lot of us is when it happens at work. One Squeaky Sam has all of their ideas taken and run with. It seems that every top priority of theirs is fixed and all other work comes to a halt when Squeaky Sam has a need.

Being a people leader, I get two different perspectives on this. The first is that I have a team where people are consistently coming up with ideas or bringing forth solutions to gaps that they or I have found. When you are encouraging people to bring up solutions or project ideas and then prioritizing how and when the work will get done, there is more opportunity for people to see it as one or two people always have their ideas taken and worked. The other vantage point I have is from my peers. My teams complete many projects for those throughout the department. Some of the requests from my peers come directly to me others go to my boss or above and come back down to me as directives. Meaning, there are instances where I am both giving into the squeaky wheel and where I am pulling the corporate version of go ask your dad to direct them to higher leadership who can decide if this is a priority.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What I can tell you from this experience is that, like so many other things, corporate squeaky wheel syndrome is very much so the same as with your kids or with whiny people in the waiting room or restaurant. There are times where you are the ‘unjust judge’ and are giving in just because you can’t listen to it anymore, I admit it. Much more often though it is because persistence pays off. Let’s take an example. Say we have Passive Patti and Squeaky Sam (spoiler alert, Same will get what he wants) and each of them want separate new software purchased for the team. They both have compelling reasons they should have it and present their request to the boss. Passive Patti lays out 5 points on why it would be a good investment to use the software she found. Squeaky Sam lays out the same 5 points regarding his software. When Patti follows up she asks her boss if she’s made a decision, boss says no, I’m not sure there is budget for the new software, and the conversation ends. When Sam asks, the boss says the same. Sam states that this software will save money in the long run and then reiterates his 5 points. The next day Sam comes to the boss and has more info on future cost savings and offers 2 new points he happened to come across in his look at cost savings. The next week, the boss asks for any further updates on the proposals. Patti states that she’s already given her 5 points and didn’t realize it was moving forward. Sam repeats the original 5 points, the cost savings information, and notes that he’d also like to look into the 2 things he came across

From Patti’s perspective Sam was just the squeaky wheel. From the boss’ perspective Sam did more research and was more focused on the success of the project. Truly, Sam did a tiny bit more work but mostly he was a consistent voice that was able to address roadblocks. Sam also learned a ton from those few interactions for the next project or suggestion. Patti on the other hand will start even further at a disadvantage because she’s never had the conversations to know her boss’ style, what roadblocks she’s most concerned with, what outside factors are impacting her ability to do the work or make a decision.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The person who looks like the squeaky wheel outwardly often times looks like the one with the most knowledge and most invested to the decision maker (the boss in our example). Because of their close contact they are able to speak in a way that makes the most sense to the decision maker and respond to any push back. This can undoubtedly be frustrating to others however it something that can be overcome with patience and persistence. The next time there is a problem to be solved, try respectfully and tactfully squeaking a little louder yourself. Know that you may not have success the first time, as we saw Squeaky Sam gained credibility and valuable knowledge about how the boss worked from each ‘win’. However, with some intentionality and attention to detail in her action, Passive Patti can make quick gains.

Gratitude vs Hustle

I’ve read and watched and heard a lot lately about pushing, hustling, chasing all of the things that get you closer to living your ideal life. I know that to some extent I asked for that. I mean, that’s what the social algorithms do. They fill your feed with what you, in some sense, asked for with click monitoring, search history, and even seeing where your scrolling slowed down. However, I also think the ‘hustle’ mentality is to some extent a sign of the times. Spending more time reflecting over the past year and identifying what you want or don’t want in your life, and what is truly important to you, has helped many people to lean further in one or a couple prioritized areas of life (leaning in might be a better word for hustling).

Still, not everyone is on board. Not everyone agrees with going hard in any one area of life. I’ve heard it described as selfish when someone truly goes all in on improving their health. I’ve heard it described as greedy when someone pours into their work. I’ve even heard it described as lazy or ‘quitting’ when someone decides to stay home with their children. None of those phase me too much, other than to say that the speaker clearly has some unresolved jealousy, resentment, or fear to be saying things like this. There was one recently though that stopped me and made me think. As I was describing my own areas I was leaning into and talking about what my close friends were doing, the person I was talking to said, ‘I don’t want to hustle I am too grateful for what I have.‘ This comment was different from the others because that person wasn’t trying to put anyone down. She was encouraging to all in their endeavors but felt that there wasn’t a place for this in her story because she was content and grateful for what she has.

My husband and our big man years ago planting trees to improve on a piece of land we were so blessed to be able to buy.

So is hustle the absence of gratitude? Does it mean you’re not content or that you don’t see the beauty of where you are at this moment? Are they mutually exclusive? Is gratitude better than hustle? Is it OK to hustle while remaining grateful for what you have? If you are content do you need to keep pushing?

I would tell you unequivocally that you can hold both, gratitude and hustle are not mutually exclusive ideas. Note that I said you can, not everyone does but you certainly can. There are people who push, hustle, or maintain their drive based on a mentality that there is not enough (money, love, resources, etc) to go round (also known as scarcity mindset) so they have to push to ‘get their fair share’. Those people are typically pushing without gratitude because they are so focused on getting what they ‘deserve’ that they forget what they have. That doesn’t mean though that you can’t be grateful for what you have or where you’re at while you’re pushing for more. Further than that, I would whole heartedly advocate for getting to the top of the mountain you’re climbing, taking a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come, and how incredible the view is from up there. The next step though, after you’ve drank it all in, is to find the next mountain. I touched on this a little in a prior post, When is Enough, Enough?. You may have surpassed all of your prior goals or even made all your original dreams come true, that is just a prompt to keep dreaming.

The ultimate in holding both gratitude and the longing to go deeper. My big guys, who could have made my heart burst out of my chest, before we decided to try for the little cutie at the top. I was so content with the life we had but knew we needed just one thing more.

If you’re rolling your eyes at me thinking yeah but I don’t want to have a ‘side hustle’ because I’m content and that is OK! I would say, you bet it is! You go ahead (not that you ever needed my permission) and own exactly where you’re at without adding a thing, but do continue to grow. Know that leaning in, pushing, and hustling doesn’t have to mean starting your own company and building your hobby into an empire. I mean, maybe it does and that’s cool. Build your slice of heaven off creating adorable wooden gnomes and selling them at craft fairs and on the internet, power to you. Keep in mind though it could also mean hustling in creating an amazing season of life for your family. It could mean pushing your level of volunteerism or becoming laser focused at work bringing the best of your gifts and talents whether you’re getting paid or not. It could mean leaning in to your faith or spirituality and finding ways to be held by something bigger than yourself to limit your anxiety or pain. There is something amazing that happens when you lean all the way into something and drive that part of your life up. Be grateful and content with exactly where you’re at but don’t let that stop you from everywhere you could go.

Focus Where You Want To Be

When you think about Drivers Ed what is the first thing that comes to mind? The fear and sheer shock that goes along with your kid being able to drive? The excitement that comes from being behind the wheel and showing your friends your skills? The stress of all of the little things they teach you in the classroom and behind the wheel and the added stress of realizing that is only a very small fraction of what you actually need to know. One thing they do teach you, in small towns in Wisconsin anyway, is how to recovery when you start sliding on ice. In the Drivers Ed car on a back road, while driving at a fairly slow rate of speed, the instructor would pull the emergency break without warning causing the car to slide sideways. He would then calmly instruct you to look where you want the car to go and steer to that location. Starting to slide, panicking in your head while listening to the calming voice, and recovering the car to carry on your merry way brought on all the fear, shock, stress, and excitement you could handle.

Now I’ll be honest, I was not a good driver in the beginning. I didn’t care for it, was not great at it, had a decent sized group of friends and an older sister that could get me where I needed to be so I put off getting my license. I didn’t put it off for a crazy long time, only a year or so max, but I definitely wasn’t a kid who was chomping at the bit of ‘freedom’ with my license. That meant that I spent a lot of time riding with friends reflecting on what we all learned and how they applied it. (I say reflecting now but lets face it I was 16, it was judgement.) One thing that frequently stood out to me was that no one seemed to heed the advice of the instructor to look where you want to go. If there was ice, they looked at the ice and where we could end up, if there was a deer they stared into the trees looking for more, if there was traffic they got focused and stressed by the cars immediately around them. People always seemed to be looking at the problem at hand or worse yet, what could go wrong in the situation. It was more than just looking too. I mean, I know you’re supposed to be aware of the hazards obviously. You slow down for icy and snowy roads, you scan the ditches for deer, you drive defensively in traffic, yup all of that but you don’t have to focus on it to be aware of it.

Keeping focused on the light at the end of that tunnel. Only a little further to home.

It will come as no surprise that I think of that advice often, many years later, and how it applies to life in general. There have been far too many times in life that I have been focused on what isn’t working in my career, in my relationships, health, or faith. I have looked so hard at the problem that I missed all of the solutions that are sitting just outside of that one point. Couple with that, many times I didn’t even know where it was I wanted to go (I just knew I wasn’t happy) and you’re really in for a tailspin. I mean, if you don’t know where you’re intending to be, how can you do anything but stare at the problem, hazard, pain, (insert whatever word makes the most sense to you)? In a car that part is easy, the road is literally laid out for you, but in life, you have to pick your own path.

Let’s consider another example a little more recent. Not terribly long ago I was stuck in a job that wasn’t so bad but I was pretty over it. I was working a lot of hours on a job that wasn’t challenging but just had a lot to do and I knew there was more I could offer. Over the years since I had gotten in the groove there I had started looking to advance, not knowing what I wanted to do just that I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to be on the phone all the time. I didn’t want to be the recipient of all the changes without a voice. I didn’t want to be yelled at for things outside of my control. I started applying out to anything and everything that came available and made the same or more money than I was making. Getting into those interviews I talked a lot about what I could do in my old job but that it was terrible and why I didn’t like it. Not a one of those people was going to hire me and that made me start to panic and look outside the organization. I was essentially doubling down on my focus on the hazards and the negatives. It wasn’t until I decided where I wanted to be and started to explain how my skills could benefit that role that I found my right next step and was hired.

I was working so many hours on things I cared nothing about. I knew I needed a change but that was literally all I knew.

So yes, be aware of the problems, the negatives, the things you would change if you could but don’t focus there. Just be aware enough to support you in developing your road, where you want to go and how to get there. Then, when you start to feel things sliding, when you hear that panicked chatter in your head, listen instead for the calm voice, look where you want to go, and steer yourself to that location.

Building Courage

I got a question recently around courage. First, I want you to let that word sit with you a minute. Courage. What does that word mean to you? What feeling does it conjure inside of you? What do you picture? To be completely honestly I typically get the image of the muscle bound movie characters that seems to know everything, be everything, run into battle or a burning building without batting an eye. Is that what you think of too? Someone who looks like they could handle it all? Someone who exudes confidence and charisma? Someone who laughs in the face of danger? What feeling does that bring out for you? In an instant do you feel like, That’s me! I jump into all things new and scary. Let.me.at.em. OK many of us not, right? For me, it typically brings out a mixture of stress and admiration. It’s a combination of Look at them! They could just walk through fire! I wish I could do that. Oh my…. I hope no one expects me to do that… Does that sound familiar to you too?

As I wrestled with the concept of courage more, I tried to take it down to a more basic level. I mean, does it have to be walking into a burning building? Risking your life to save another? Quitting your job to pursue your passion? I know I’ve seen people look incredibly courageous by allowing their kid to climb a tree that is causing them anxiety. I’ve seen people display courage by walking into a meeting prepared to share their knowledge in the presentation. I’ve seen people show courage by having a difficult conversation with someone close to them. Despite what we all might come up with for what courage means the true definition of courage is actually pretty simple; the ability to act in the face of fear. That is all it is, action. Not action with a smile on your face. Not perfect action with no mistakes. Not even overcoming the fear to act. Just doing the thing (doing anything really) regardless of how you’re feeling.

This was a huge act of courage for me. Allowing my kids to be on the ice when I am terrified of people falling through. Trust me, it did not look courageous.

OK fine. I can do that. I can be courageous by just acting but I want to step that up. I don’t want to be trembling with fear as I take the first step. I want to feel courageous too. I want to fit the image in my head of what a person with courage looks like, and they don’t look like the guy nervously twiddling his fingers while he stutters through his presentation. What if I’m not built to be courageous? Well lucky for you, that is not a thing. Courage is another in a long line of buildable muscles like adaptability and mindset. All you need to do is treat it like a muscle. How do you build a muscle? By working it, you give it reps to the point of fatigue and occasionally test your limits.

First, do the thing that scares you. That doesn’t have to be anything huge it can be taking on small opportunities to trying something new that is outside your comfort zone. Remember, we’re doing reps here so manageable amounts on a consistent basis. Maybe for you it looks like raising your hand to add your thoughts in a class or meeting. Maybe it looks like letting your kids do the thing that they might get hurt while doing. Maybe it is making the call to set up the coffee date that turns into a mentorship. Maybe its going swimsuit shopping in the store with the fluorescent lights and the three way mirror. Whatever it looks like for you, make sure it isn’t a one and done. The point is to continue to consistently act in the face of fear. Even if it isn’t pretty at first or you get shot down or the fear materializes and you really do see yourself from the worst angle on the fattest day, just act and keep up the reps.

My middle little guy being (and looking) incredibly courageous as he climbed to the tallest point in Wisconsin with a terrible fear of heights.

Then, reflect on what took courage. Sometimes it is difficult to see our own courage in the moment. We are either just getting the work done and not thinking about how much we’re stretching, or we’re so scared that to equate that moment to courage sounds ridiculous. Remember though, you acted. When I, and others that I’ve discussed it with, do this I find a curve. It starts with a huge volume of courageous moments. Some planned, and some not. Some wins, and some not. Some I’d like to do over to either improve on or experience again, and some definitely not. After a while though the frequency starts to decrease. Do you know why? Because some of the things that seemed so scary before that I was practicing on were no longer scary and didn’t actually require as much, or any, courage.

Keep in mind that while you might not envision yourself as the muscle bound movie star running toward the challenge and exuding the courageous character and charisma all the way, that doesn’t mean you don’t look that way to someone else. Seeing your action in the face of fear, seeing you build that muscle up, is inspiring to other people who are wanting to do the same thing. Be an encouragement to them. You’re not just acting in the face of fear for you, you’re doing it for all of the people who are watching from the side lines and from their own place in the race. Be a help to them and know that even if you don’t see them, they do see you.

Protect and Respect Your Boundaries

A little while back I talked about creating boundaries. We went through what it meant to set a boundary and I suggested that you create your ideal week (or maybe couple of weeks) so that you could take inventory and make a plan on what your boundaries would look like. If you missed that one, go back and read Set the Boundary because today we are building on it. It is one thing to set your intentions, make a plan, and commit to following through and it’s another thing entirely to actually follow through on it. So this week I want you to take your ideal week calendar (and if you haven’t done it yet for the love just take the 15 minutes and do it) and review how closely you came to following it. What did you do? What did you not do? Would the ideal change? Were you not even close because “reality” took over?

This was my real life ideal from last summer. I’ll admit I was shocked at the amount of white space. It did change a bit as I tried to put it into practice.

I know the first week after I had understood my ideal week I was annoyed that other people messed it up. My kids didn’t go to bed well so that cut into time to get some cleaning done. People at work scheduled meetings over lunch on days that I had blocked to workout. I got emails and messages at all hours of the day that needed to be responded to. My friends weren’t available on the same nights I had planned to set up time with them. The whole thing was frustrating enough to just say, yeah this doesn’t work, people don’t respect my boundaries and real life doesn’t work the way I want ‘ideally’.

That my friends is what is called a copout. That is childish and lazy. Also, that is exactly what I did at first. Things didn’t work the way I wanted them to so I quit. Which was just silliness really, so when I realized that I took another approach, inspired (as usual in my own personal development) by my kids. I would need to model it.

Kids watch everything we do and regardless of what our words are, what we do is what they learn. If I shout at them to “STOP YELLING” it’s not exactly effective. If I take a deep breath before I lose my mind they eventually learn to do the same (it doesn’t take as long as you think). So in this instance I determined that blocking the time on my calendar was just telling people I was busy. Accepting the meeting and responding to the email were modeling that I don’t respect my time so it is OK that no one else does either. Think about that. If you say that you’re off line, but you’re constantly replying and joining or changing plans to make it work it is obvious that you don’t care. Most people will not take the time to account for your needs if you don’t. I am not saying I could never be flexible but setting the standard is critical. Declining the meeting or suggesting a new time is OK in most situations. Not responding to the email until you’re actually working is also OK in most situations. On the areas that I truly could not control I needed to make some decisions around what I could. For example, if my kids don’t go to bed well perhaps they need to start winding down sooner. If my friends aren’t available maybe I need to start planning things earlier to swap out different nights in the week or month.

Full out modeling in the ‘play’ portion of our Sunday.

My point is this, we do a lot of blaming people for not respecting our boundaries, crossing our boundaries, and failing to respect our priorities. Most often we need to start with the person in the mirror and make sure that we’re protecting them and respecting them first. Then consider if other people are seeing you do it. Are you modeling the behavior? Finally, in the situations that feel like you have no control, figure out what you do have control over. How can you better advocate for yourself? How can you better prepare and be flexible without falling apart?

Working With the Next Generation

What does the work world think of this next generation (looking at the 17-35 year olds out there) coming into the work place? You don’t need a study or poll to tell you that the majority of them consider the group to be over educated, addicted to technology, entitled ‘kids’, who expect to be hired into high level positions and advance immediately. I hear all the time that ‘no one wants to work anymore’, or ‘they want to make six figures to play on social media’, or ‘they wasted money on a fancy degree’, or ‘they have no experience/they don’t know the real world.’ It comes from all different industries too. I hear these same types of comments from people in the trades, financial industries, health care, and manufacturing. Could it really be that the group of people entering the work force and rising up in it really are as bad as they’re made out to be?

Now by pure survey, I must be wrong because I am always out voted but let’s just pretend for argument sake that I am right. This group doesn’t look for a stable job that pays a fair wage and offers comparable benefits. They see these things as tent stakes that should be a given for any employer and they are looking for more. They are looking to make an impact both at the company and in the world. They are looking to actually balance work and life, bringing their best to both, rather than to one or the other. They are willing to hustle and work long hours in one season if they can see a need and that it won’t last forever. This group of people have actually found a way to know their self worth, highlight and support their passions, and do so in a way that provides innovative solutions to the companies they work for. What I’ve seen first hand from this demographic is that they are incredibly driven on things that are important to them and need help with the structure and guidance on how the mundane affects the bigger goal. We know how to create structure. Heck, creating structure is what the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers are all about! Reframing that perspective actually makes the ‘kids’ sound like employees we’d be searching after right? If we looked at it that way we’d want to bring them in in droves. We could help them connect the dots to why our companies fit their missions and engage them in work that feels critical to advancing their passions.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

Oh wait, that flipped the script, we tell them why our company is right for them and not ask them to justify why they are right for us? Yes, connect those dots. Think about it. If you have a teacher who understood social media and was motivated to love on students, couldn’t you engage them in building an antibullying movement for your school or district? If you had a construction worker who was creative and passionate about the environment, couldn’t you engage them in decreasing the amount of waste materials on the job site and training others to do the same? If you had a life insurance salesperson who was an advocate for whole health couldn’t you engage them in campaigns to promote health and wellness to your policy holders? If you had people working with you in any sector that had a strong understanding of social media and how marketing and organizing on those platforms works couldn’t you engage them to use that to advance the business through advertising, sharing customer feedback, and broadening your network? If their strengths are to be creative, connect people, drive toward a higher purpose and yours are to technical skills built through experience in your industry and an understanding of the structure and business side, you could certainly work well with them. That combination could be unstoppable.

These are ways to bring them in and to keep them with you and advancing to get to that ‘unstoppable’ place but you do have to flip your script. You do have to look at it from a standpoint of selling to them how your company is advancing in local and universal movements. You do have to truly respect and encourage them to have lives apart from work. You do have to find ways for them to fuel their passions through work. Gone are the days where people just come in and do their job every day for 30 years, and you know what, that is a good thing! Leading these ‘kids’ well brings about innovation, more ideas, improved results, and so much more. They will no longer just ‘do the job’ they’ll find a way to blow the job out of the water which will have a lasting impact even if they’re only in the role for a few years. Reframe your perspective and stretch your own strengths, and you’ll find an incredible asset in this new and emerging workforce.