For Halloween, I planned to scare myself out of my comfort zone. Development, I claimed, is all about getting out on the skinny branches reaching for the fruit just beyond our reach. This works because we have to try out new skills; we’ve already gathered everything within our grasp. It works because the warm glow of doing something we didn’t think we could do encourages us to reach for more. I’ve repeated this argument countless times through my career. On Halloween, I found out that I was partly wrong.
On October 31, I did what I challenged readers of my post to do. Stretch. Try something new. Get better at something. I looked for an opportunity better than my agenda could provide. You see, it was an “easy” day. Phone calls, appointments, project work. Interesting but routine work. No skinny branches to tempt me.
At about mid day, I was like a boxer in the corner of the ring dukes up with no takers. While growing increasingly irritated at the pace of a service appointment, I wondered what I could do to find a development challenge. What can I do right now that would stretch me? What I could do was not snap at the person doing her best to help me, which would have resulted in her fluster slowing down the pace even more. I could choose to be patient. ( If you don’t think this is enough of a challenge, ask my husband.) I could be pleasant toward someone working hard and doing her best. So, I did. The service was completed. I was happy. She was happy. Hmmm..I can react differently and get a better result. Check.
This challenge wasn’t enough. It was too easy. I wanted the rush of the old marathon running days when I broke through the wall. Driving home, I asked again: What can I do right now that would stretch me? Considering my radio station choices, I selected the opinion oriented news channel that I assiduously avoided. Maybe I could listen to opinions that differed from mine. For the next hour, I did. Much to my surprise, it wasn’t so bad. Clearly, the views differed than mine but the interviewers seemed prepared and the guests knowledgeable. They weren’t idiots after all -they just had different views. It wasn’t so bad.
The rest of the day was filled with similarly small choices. I completed the tasks, but felt so unsatisfied. Where was the suspense? Where was the sweat? Where was the rush of accomplishment? The next day, it hit me through Drew Dudley’s words. To paraphrase Dudley, he observes we don’t act like leaders because we think leadership must be heroic. It must be hard. So, we overlook the little things leaders do while we are looking for the big things. We miss all the “little” opportunities for “big” impact.
The same can be said about development. My view of development coming through new experiences is still right. My view that it must be hard is wrong. Getting better by making the right little choices prepares us to make the big, hard ones. That’s what I learned on my not so scary day. What about you?