A New Door: Change Your Perspective of New Opportunities
The summer of 2017 has been a period of healthy transition for my family and me. Work has been relatively quiet with little travel, Jackson starts Kindergarten in two weeks, Colin grew a size (finally), and Emily is moving to shorter days at work. Over the years we have gone from being very social to being somewhat of hermits. Seeing as how “woo” is one of my bottom 5 Strength Finders, I decided I was going to turn it into a strength, and get my woo on to build us a network of friends 🙂
Last weekend was one of the first big opportunities for me in rebuilding a social network, and it came at the high cost of leaning into many discomforts, chief among them, camping with strangers. Our new church, Grace @ Polaris, hosted their 24th annual father child camping treat in Mohican Valley. For those of you unfamiliar with Ohio, picture a forest on the outskirts of Amish country with no cell services (my Millennial friends just had a panic attack). Colin, 3 years old, was not old enough, so it was just Jackson and me. Mind you, I haven’t camped in more than 20 years and I’m not sure that I ever tent-camped for a weekend. I showed up with a small cooler, enough firewood to fuel 20 camp sites, a tent, and some sleeping bags. Needless to say, I was out of my element and really out of my comfort zone.
As Jackson and I drove into the camp site, there was a large circle with tents all around and it was our objective to just pick a site and get busy. As I stated earlier, I knew absolutely no one. So what does one do in that moment, pick the least visible place possible. Jackson and I picked the back left arc of the circle, furthest away from the common area, but strategically close to the bathrooms.
There were about 30 kids playing on a slip and slide and Jackson wanted to play. We put on his bathing suit and then he stopped about 20 yards away, unable to push himself to play with strangers. I buried myself (literally) in then tent and began to set up camp. I was trying to avoid the discomfort of one of two things in a Christian environment: 1) “hi how are you doing, tell me all about where you are with your faith”, or 2) being totally ignored. Pretend like I’m busy to avoid discomfort was my best option.
I was struggling with the rain guard and the guy next to me came over and just started helping. He introduced himself and then just struck up chit chat, nothing awkward. His daughters (13 and 7) started talking with Jackson and eased his nervousness. The broke the ice without a formal ice breaker. Nathan and his children made Jackson and I feel like we belonged. The next afternoon the pastor was walking by and Nate called him over to introduce him. I’m familiar with pastors and my expectation was surface-level conversation or social awkwardness. After introductions he said, “tell me about yourself” and within 5-minutes we were quizzing each other with baseball trivia. Expectations broken.
Blogger man get to the point… ok got it!
The bold words above were the lessons learned from this great adventure in leaning into discomfort. The past 8 days have led me to deep thought about last weekend and then transformation I could experience if I would open myself to it. It made me think quite a bit about my workplace and how I treat my team and colleagues. What was I doing well and what could I do better? I was proud of the culture we have built, not dissimilar to that of the camping experience, but there are certainly opportunities to further improve.
Out of Our Element– You have experienced this, probably many times a week. The most confident of us experience discomfort by being out of our element. I handle this discomfort differently at work than I did camping. When I find myself out of my element, I try to “learn enough to be dangerous”. I do not need to be an expert in all things related to the FIU, but I need to have a general understanding of everything. If I’m able to prepare beforehand, I do. If I’m not able to prepare beforehand, I study the situation and people, identify the expert(s), ask questions, and won’t leave until I understand the impact to my team.
Avoid Visibility– I try to stay consciously aware when someone is “hiding” in plain sight. I’m not a front-row or back-row person. I position where I can see the most faces (corner of a rectangular table). If I am the leader, I engage first with eye contact and then I lob “softballs” to the uncomfortable people to give them an “in” to the conversation. This helps them relax and participate.
Pretend Like I’m Busy– Have you ever been caught in that situation where you don’t know an answer or feel way over your head in the conversation? So you earnestly study a blank screen or those words on the paper? Friend, your intense stare won’t change a thing. Borrow a trick from our Millennial friends, ask questions, force understanding, and have a voice. You learn more and a shorter period of time, which increases the opportunity for you to add value.
Break Your Expectations– Do you ever look at your calendar and see a meeting where you expect the absolute worst things to happen? Or you feel like it will be a complete waste of time? Human nature to be sure. It is a habit you formed, now you have to form a new positive habit to break your expectations. Whenever I dial into a call, respond to an e-mail, or having a meeting scheduled, I try to visualize a cool splash of water to the face. The better I can clear my expectations, the more value I can add, and the more benefit I can receive.
Continuous Improvement- Never settle for status quo or BAU (Business as Usual). I’ve caught myself a few times saying, “we are finally BAU” because we now have some volume predictability and static quality. I then catch myself treading into this dangerous territory. The moment I accept that we are BAU is the moment I digress as a leader. My team would tell you of a familiar term I use… “picture the FIU as a school spectrum. You start in Kindergarten and end in the 12th grade. Each year you mature in different ways. If the FIU were on that spectrum, we would just be finishing Kindergarten”. When do we hit our last day of 12th grade? Somewhere around 2040 when I retire.
Have a great week!