Listen to Surprises

So often in life we’re confronted with unexpected events, or we find places where our expectations were wrong.

It take real reflection and skill to notice these moments, and true courage to act on them.  But places where our assumptions are wrong present an incredible opportunity:  these are times where–if we can listen and adjust–we have the chance to see something that others don’t.  When our assumptions change, we often find ourselves with a different answer: more insightful, more true.  

Surprises are a gift which can take us to better insight.

I’ve been surprised lately by the enjoyment I’ve had from getting to know the coworkers at my new company, and by the vibrancy of the customers we’re serving. 
Where have you been surprised lately?

What did you learn about yourself because of it?

The Struggles Define You

I was catching up with an old friend this week.  Both of us switched careers in the last 5 years, moving from the military to business roles in our early 30s.

For both of us, it has been a tougher transition than we thought.  We were successful in our previous careers, and could easily have stayed in the path we’d started.  While it was the right choice for both of us, it’s been a challenge to establish ourselves in a new career.

Sometimes we compare the life we have now to what we would have had if we had stayed with our previous role.  Here’s the reality: life without change would certainly have been easier.  

We were thinking about this together, and my friend said this: “The struggles are what defines you.”  The process of continuing to move to a career that fits you better allows you to grow into a person who is using your talents, who welcomes challenges, who continues to grow and adapt.

Here’s the thing:  the military wasn’t the right place for our talents in the long term: it wouldn’t have kept us growing and kept us learning.  We would have become stagnant, thinking about the same tough problems, rather than struggling to take on new ones.

Don’t forget to value the dry seasons.

In the long term, the difficulty of trying to define and reach our new careers is going to make us more into the people that we want to be.  Because the process is difficult, it forces us to really consider what we should be doing with our professional lives–it lets us create real change.

Some people find what they are meant to be doing early in life, and that’s a wonderful thing.

But if you’re still working your way into your groove, be open to the process, because the difficulty will help you get where you’re trying to go.

And that’s something worth working for.

Trust the Process

I recently started a new job with a health care company.  As I went through orientation over the last two weeks with a bunch of new friends, two pieces of advice kept coming up:

  1. Be humble.
  2. Trust the process.

First, I’m incredibly excited that humility was continually discussed–it’s an essential characteristic of growth, and vital to being a leader.  It makes me feel like I made a good choice in joining this organization.

But I was also really interested in the idea of trusting the process.  I think this advice is important because it logical, vital, and incredibly difficult.

Growth can be an opaque and unexpected process: learn to trust in it.

There are many processes we trust implicitly, and without question.  These tend to be processes that we do not participate in emotionally–things that happen without our involvement or knowledge.

But, if we’re dealing with something that we are aware of and touches us directly–even if we know very little about it–we want to participate.  We feel like our judgement is needed and relevant, and–because we know little about the process, our first instinct is often doubt.  Our internal anxiety and impatience cloud our interactions and experience.  In these moments, I often find myself asking why is it tough to put aside my worry and trust the relationship I have and the decision I’ve made?

For me, answers come immediately to mind.  My new organization doesn’t have my interest at heart.  They won’t be able to do what they’ve promised.  I don’t really belong here, and everyone already sees it.

Obviously, these thoughts aren’t helping.

So–instead–consider the benefits of trust.

  • Trust builds relationships.  If we fail to trust, we immediately undermine our relationships with the organization–which, unsurprisingly, trusts the process it has in place.  If, instead, we trust the process, we can start to build the relationships within our new organization that will help us realize our goals.
  • Trust removes the burden of performance.  When we trust our team and our organization, we are able to risk failure, take feedback, and grow.  Rather than being constrained by our context, we can begin to learn, adapt, and excel
  • Trust lengthens our time horizon.  In our careers, we always want to be investing for the long term.  This is particularly difficult at the beginning of a new season.  Trusting the process lengthens our mental time horizon, so we can think in a more positive way about our work and impact–which improves performance.

There will be a season to evaluate the process and make relevant changes.  And we always want to take the initiative we can to create the situation we want.  But, especially during a time of new beginnings, start with trust.

It might make all the difference.

Insight on Failure and Vulnerability

I follow the Off-Coast Podcast, hosted by Mark Frank.  I took two really great insights from the recent episode with Krista Morgan of P2B Investor.

First, Krista was speaking on her practice of writing to share news and and perspective with her team, and how she makes a point of sharing her own failures and disappointments with her company.  When asked about the response she got from this difficult practice of communicating candidly with her team, Krista said:

“You don’t get a response a lot of the time. You just everyday incrementally gain their trust.”

I love this insight: because doing what’s right, even if it’s tough, usually doesn’t get recognition or thanks, especially in the short term.

Mark followed that comment with this insight about the importance of a leader being honest with their team about failure, and the role it plays.

“Speaking about failure is the first way to let people understand that is okay to fail, and that’s what’s going to happen. There’s going to be mistakes, and that’s how we get better.”

Great perspectives.

Check out the podcast here.



Grateful for the Obstacles

Today my family faced some discouragement.  We thought that a big issue in our lives was coming together perfectly, and we ended up falling just short of success–meaning that we’ll have some stress and difficulty as we put the pieces back together over the next few months.

The reason we fell short was something we’ve had trouble with before: our confidence, our positivity, and our ability to persuade.

So often when we fall short of a goal we get discouraged.

Obstacles are paths to greater things.

Instead, I am focusing on being grateful.

For my family, these shortcomings are things we need to work to overcome in this particular instance.  But, more broadly, we need to overcome these things for the rest of our lives.  These obstacle will not go away for us.  Instead, it will become more important over time.

So, in a fundamental way, this shortcoming is teaching us what we need to know to succeed.  Without this setback, we would not continue to improve; we would not spend more time learning on this topic.  But this challenge is giving us the opportunity to get better, to grow.

I am working to be thankful for the setbacks; be grateful for the obstacles.  If I can lay aside my pride and discouragement, the challenges will help me grow in ways that successes never will.


Underestimating Your Creative Potential

I love this insight, from one of my business school professors, Loren Nordgren, and his co-author, University of Chicago Professor Brian J. Lucas.

They compared how many creative ideas people came up with in a brain-storming session with how many they thought they could come up with.  The study found that people consistently come  up with more ideas than they expect.  Not only that, but the ideas got better as they kept working.

As they say in the paper: “Our studies suggest that people may underestimate their creative potential in everyday creative tasks and that people may leave creative ideas on the table by failing to invest in persistence.”

Persistence isn’t easy, of course.  And it doesn’t feel like it’s bearing any fruit while you’re in the midst of the difficult work.  But that’s where your best work happens, where you can grow.

The boardwalk is easier, if you can enjoy the sand, you’re on to something.

My lesson: stay encouraged, and keep working–you probably have more creative ideas in you than you think.

Read about the article here.






Appreciate the Seasons

My wife and I have a beautiful 4-month old daughter.  She is chubby, full of smiles, and loves to be held.  If you put her down to explore by herself, she always ask to be picked back up.

Until she didn’t–just last week–and started to enjoy time on her own.

We used to joke about how we’d have a tough time dropping her off for middle school still in the baby carrier, because it’s a funny image.  And carrying a baby for 20 hours a day is hard work.  But as we watch her becoming more independent, a part of us was sad that she is, in this small way, growing up.

Life arrives in seasons.

I think this happens with many of aspects of life and work.  All sorts of things come in seasons, not just weather.

…if current trends continue, I’ll say to myself, I’ll still be in the same place in five years.  I’ll be fighting the same struggles and frustrations I am now.   …and I won’t be able to handle it.

Instead, I need to remember that most of life arrives in waves, like the light and the weather.  There will be struggles and victories, uncertainty and simplicity, more and less.  There will be stable times when it seems like things will always be the same, and times when everything changes all at once.

More importantly, I need to appreciate the seasons.  They are a time to focus, to devote greater attention to a few particulars, to learn gratitude and exercise patience.  They should be enjoyed, because they will certainly pass.  I’ll take the lessons and memories forward, and be better for it–if I have the perspective and openness to learn from the gift of time I’ve been given.

Because life isn’t always an even-tempered journey, and great careers don’t always follow a steady path of predictable growth.

Four things I’m doing to appreciate the seasons in my life:

  • Acknowledge them.  Noticing a string of rainy days is much more discouraging than seeing the first signs of Spring.  Knowing I’ve entered a season allows me to appreciate the present and look forward to the seasons that will surely follow.
  • Have gratitude and perspective.  Every season has it’s joys, even if they’re not obvious–something that I’ve learned since moving to Chicago.  When I find a season stressful, I remember that it will end eventually, and that I can be grateful for the gifts that this time will bring.
  • Make changes, knowing they are temporary.  The equivalent of changing my wardrobe as I start to notice an autumn chill.  If I resist the season, I end up spending more time miserable.  Instead, I try to make a change to allow me to appreciate the season as I find it.

I hope this helps you enjoy the seasons in your life a bit more.  Take care!