Life Lessons Series: Six of One Dozen of the Other- "2024 - A Time for Some Magic!"
Welcome to 2024! A time for new beginnings. A time for some magic! I rang in the New Year focused on the many available blessings the upcoming year could bring…and my desire that 2024 be NOTHING like 2023. I have every intention of doing all in my power to make this happen. I am taking my inspiration from Walt Disney this year who once said, “the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
To start, I am taking some of my past lessons of learning where good came through the bad…where it was like finding a way to get diamonds out of coal. After all coal is a dirty, somewhat unpleasant substance. And intense pressure is not particularly desirable. Yet Superman uses intense pressure to squeeze a lump of coal and turn it into diamonds. How hard can it be?
I am a firm believer that some of the most powerful life lessons that build character, strengthen our patience, bring us newfound wisdom, deepen our understanding, teach us empathy and broaden our way of looking at the world rarely come easily. At least my most valuable life lessons certainly have not come easily. How do we transform experiences that we have thought of as unpleasant or undesirable into gems of wisdom for others and learning for ourselves?
Learning Through Others
Start by thinking of an experience you have had in life in which you learned something from someone else’s mistake.
A few years ago I had a colleague who was beyond impressive in her career experiences, her ability to learn new things, to translate them into improved processes and build better teams. She had an unmatched willingness to take on new challenges and consistently shine. She was impressive in all she did and was a very tough act to follow in all respects but one. She was unwilling to leave her ego at the door. Anytime she was provided with constructive feedback, questioned or challenged on even the most inconsequential detail she became defensive. Her defensiveness was so significant it could only be rivaled by one of the top 10 NFL defensive linebackers! (My personal favorite, Dick Butkus!) As much as I admired her, I used to observe her behavior in meetings and think it would benefit her to talk less and listen more. To really hear others, take a few notes and respond with something along the lines of “that is an interesting thought. Let me think about it and come back to you.” She could have then spent some time absorbing the conversation content before immediately and emotionally responding. This would have allowed her more control. She never did. She very loudly and very publicly quit at the first company upon a suggestion- by her boss- that she consider a different direction on a project. I worked with her again at another company not too long thereafter, and similarly upon receiving constructive feedback from a colleague, she literally threw a set of keys in her peer’s face and once again very loudly and very publicly quit. I have not talked to her in years. The last I heard she had been unable to find a job in the industry; her reputation had preceded her and precluded her from being hired anywhere despite an impressive resume of experience.
The leaving your ego at the door lesson I gained from her was a deep learning experience for me. Earlier in my career, I did not always control my responses well either…keep reading! The lesson I gained through someone else’s mistake was the value in taking the higher road when I need to leave my ego at the door. I have taken the higher road over and over since then and could not be happier with the outcomes. I feel good about what I did (or did not do). I make better decisions. I portray myself better to others. I experience far less stress. I am my best me.
Learning Through Experience
Now think of an experience you have had in life in which you were less than happy with the results. Was it a decision you made that was less effective than you had hoped or an error you hope no one else will have to make.
My learning experience was while at the same company as my aforementioned colleague. (Suffice it to say it was a tough company to work for!) I had 6 different bosses in 2 years; most of which seemed to have been promoted for something other than strong business acumen or leadership experience. In my first meeting with my new boss he asked me to spend 10 minutes explaining everything I did for the company. Then summarized our brief discussion by telling me “Any monkey could do what you do.” It was a cross between humbling and insulting. This statement of course was made very publicly in front of all my direct reports.
I had been working on a collaborative IT project for months, updating my boss weekly with both reports and in person meetings- at his behest and very literally ad nauseum. In retrospect, I don’t believe my boss really ever heard a word I said. And I don’t believe he read any emails or reports that were sent to him. In most of our meetings he did the majority of talking about himself on entirely unrelated topics. After a particularly grueling project meeting, I was summoned to his office to update him. It turned out he did not agree with my position on a topic in our IT meeting and accused me of not keeping him updated. I was shocked. I had kept him updated in literally every required format he had demanded. I was at a loss for thoughts- and initially words- for how I could have better kept him informed. I then stood up, told him to f**k off and walked out. I went to my office, picked up my purse and left. Not my finest moment. After about an hour, I realized I really liked the company, my team, my colleagues, the work I did and had made a huge mistake. Given how often management was being moved, it was not likely I would be reporting to him for long. I returned and immediately went to my boss’s office to apologize. He accepted my apology and said he was glad I felt comfortable communicating with him so directly. After that I went to HR and told them what I had done. I even offered to write myself up. They told me this would not be necessary. Next I went to my boss’s boss and shared what I had done. He asked me how my apology was received. I told him that it was accepted; I acknowledged what I had done was wrong. He said he thought I had taken the appropriate actions. Then…he closed his door and began laughing uncontrollably. He told me I had just lived out every employee’s dream and wanted to know how it felt. Not exactly the outcome I had expected!
I regret my words and actions to this day. Far from accepting my apology, my boss did all he could to retaliate against me thereafter. My next annual review reflected it, negative feedback was given to other hiring managers on positions I applied for and I soon came to understand he bad mouthed everything about me to anyone within ear shot. I resigned shortly thereafter. Clearly this was a hard learned lesson, and I would gladly use a “do-over” if given the chance. I should have sat silently and patiently answered the questions I was being asked whether or not they had been asked before, provided in weekly reports and discussed during in-person meetings. This was far from the concept of living out every employee’s dream.
Start 2024 by reflecting on life lessons around you- both your own and those of others around you. Take the time to think of experiences you have had in life in which you learned something from someone else’s mistake. Then be true to yourself and think of mistakes you made that you hope no one else will have to make. Be willing to share these experiences with others. If nothing else, you will be able to see the past with a new perspective. You may build stronger relationships. You may enhance your own learning. You may allow the transformation of these experiences that were unpleasant or undesirable into gems of wisdom for yourself and for others. You may find magic!
In summary, I believe that 2024 brings us so many opportunities to make our own magic. Always remember, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” – Walt Disney
What is Your Life Lesson…
Are you able to leave your ego at the door?
What significant event do you want a “do-over” for in your life?
How can you facilitate transforming an unpleasant experience (the coal) into a learning experience (the diamond) for yourself and for others?