Recently, I reached a milestone in my career — my 10 year anniversary as an Organization and Talent Development professional. This was a significant personal achievement for me, in large part because I did not begin my career in Organization and Talent Development. Previously I had a successful 15 year career as an Environment, Health and Safety specialist for a large oil company. And, it was during this time that I met Donna and began my journey toward changing professions.
This February we celebrated a major family milestone — my Mom’s 85th birthday. We rented a room in a restaurant, invited family and friends, ate some delicious food and cake and asked everyone to share a story about my Mom. The stories people told made us laugh and cry and reminded us of how many good times we shared.
The memory of my Mom, which I shared at her birthday party, involved a family hike to a Smokey Mountain “Bald”. Balds – like the name suggests – are high-elevation, grassy spots in the mountains with amazing, panoramic views. That summer, our family vacation was camping in the Smokey Mountains. It was our last day in the park and we were returning from shopping in the nearby town when my mom insisted we stop and climb up to the bald – there would be no second chance.
There was quite a bit of moaning and groaning that warm, gray, rainy day as we, a family of 8 (children ages infant to 15 and 2 adults) started the 3–1/2 mile walk up the mountain to Andrews’ bald. People coming down the trail would pass us and express skepticism that we’d make it to the bald and back before dark but we kept walking. Eventually we reached the bald. Emerging from the forests of spruce and Fraser fir trees was an open meadow of tall grasses. The view was spectacular and mystical. I remember feeling my breath being taken-away by the beauty of the fields and inspiring sights. In retrospect, I am so thankful that my Mom insisted we make that hike!
One thing is apparent from reflecting on these recent milestones: Change is continuous and inevitable. It may sound trite, or obvious, but it is true. Consider the digital transformation we are all going through now as one example of huge societal change. My mom remembers 5‑digit phone numbers and party lines when she was younger and today she is a pro at texting. Today I wanted to share two tips that I have found helpful in successfully navigating and embracing change, both personally and professionally: 1) Build self-awareness; 2) Learn the art of perspective-taking.
When I first started working with Donna, she introduced me to a number of personal assessments, such as the Myers Briggs or the Self-Directed Search. Working with Donna helped me build my self-awareness and my understanding about how what I do impacts others. Even though years have passed, I still have my folder of self-assessments and periodically refer to them. New self-awareness can also come from simply asking others for feedback and listening, without defensiveness or justification, to what’s said. Building self-awareness is a lifelong journey and the knowledge I’ve gained has been invaluable to me in my career and personally. It’s like the keel of my boat…keeping me centered and moving forward while the waters around me may churn.
Recently I’ve been exploring the life and leadership coaching profession. One thing I’ve learned from this experience is the value of “perspective-taking”. It’s human nature to go into situations (like the complaining at the start of our hike to the bald in the Smokey Mountains) with our blinders on and this limits our ability to grow and fully experience the richness of life.
Perspective-taking, in this context, is a simple tool anyone can use. Here’s how it works: When you find yourself in a sticky or uncomfortable situation simply ask yourself, several times, “What’s another perspective I can take here?” The goal of perspective-taking is to pause, identify multiple views on a circumstance and then choose the perspective you want to adopt going forward. Perspective taking is about opening our minds, being flexible and making a conscious choice about how we want to be in a situation.
There is no check-list that will guarantee success and happiness in our ever changing world. In fact, reaching our end-goal is actually a passing moment. What is truly important – and what leads to a fulfilling life – is consciously designing an enriching and fulfilling journey to achieve that goal. That journey is made up of many small steps and decisions and “re-starts” (i.e., when we stumble we begin again). Understanding oneself and perspective-taking are two abilities that I think, can help us all successfully embrace change and chart a fulfilling personal and professional life-course.