We’re all building up to the Christmas and Holiday season this time of year. There seems to be an even greater emphasis on the need for generosity after all that has occurred during 2020. I think that is great and have those same feelings to reach out to lift others up. Yes, the holidays will look different this year than they have in the past. That seems to be the overall theme for the entire year. The world has changed. I don’t think it’s a matter of yearning for a rebound or a return to life as we knew it either.
We all have a choice as we enter a new year. We can move forward or remain stagnant. I choose to move forward. I’m not sure what lies ahead and I’m not a person who makes resolutions. I am not naive either. Challenges are sure to continue to occur in 2021 personally, professionally and as a society. I hope you don’t get discouraged, and I have a suggestion that just might work.
Find your inner llama !!
You may wonder what that means. Let me explain. Several years ago a dear friend of mine, Trish McFarlane, and I were catching up on a phone call and we started making up stories about HR and llamas. There was no rhyme or reason for it, but we laughed every time we mentioned them. It stuck with me and I’ve been a proponent of HR Llamas ever since.
The main reminder of the llamas for me is that they bring a smile to my face and overall joy !! In fact, others have embraced this symbol and have sent me llamas to add to my collection. They share that they appreciate me giving them something to rally around. I’ve received several of them as gifts over the years with incredibly touching stories from people. My wife and I were out at Lowe’s recently and walking through the Christmas decorations section when she saw this massive inflatable llama. She quipped, “I suppose we’re going to get that for our yard.” I was stunned, and then it was purchased !!
Every night as dusk arrives, you can hear the soft whirr of a motor as our new llama majestically fills with air and rises from the ground. A light comes on to shine out and break away the darkness. Our neighbors have already stopped by to say how they love the new addition to our decorations. They say it makes them smile every night !!
It’s easier to show grace, generosity, and joy during the holidays. It seems like our hearts soften for about thirty days. Then, we slip back into a pattern that is not so joyful. People all around us are yearning for ways for everyday life to be positive. We should do all we can to not regress. That is why I want you to find your inner llama – whatever that is. It doesn’t have to be a llama. Find what works for you and reminds you to share encouragement, laughter, and joy year-round !! It works. It’s needed. It’s time.
Now that we’re in December, expect to see a flurry of posts that will be overly hopeful for 2021 landing all over the internet. There will be countless “predictions” and a series of aspirations. I love seeing this optimism but feel most posts will just be calling for the end of 2020. It’s hard not to echo that sentiment because there are so many things we’d like to get past.
However, I think we’d be remiss if we didn’t reflect and see what we learned this past year. The entire landscape of work changed. I think that much of this change will take hold and there will be few who will revert back to how things were. I’m still amazed by the ability to easily connect with people virtually now. It has eliminated the barriers of geography and time in a way that we haven’t seen before. In fact, last week I was on two separate “calls” talking to people from the HR community that included people from Prestwick, Scotland; Dallas, Texas; Barbados; Manchester, England; and Bradford, England !! We were in the same room and having great conversations. It still amazes me because I’m old enough to remember the cartoon series, The Jetsons, when talking to people virtually seemed to be something that would only be in someone’s imagination. I know there are downsides to constantly being connected, which brings me to the focus of this post . . .
The pandemic “forced” HR to change. It was something that was overdue for so many reasons. The long-held yearning of getting a seat at the table was instantly eliminated because organizations had an epiphany – ALL situations in companies are people issues !! Therefore, who better to have a people perspective than those in Human Resources? Well, who?
If you asked HR professionals, they would exuberantly proclaim that they are the perfect resource for leading the “people” focus of companies. If you asked people from other departments, there might be a different answer. I’m being realistic and not critical. I know many HR pros who excel in approaching the work they do as true leaders. The pandemic has allowed them to step up and shine without having to ask if they have earned a seat or not.
My peers who have struggled in becoming more adaptable and agile struggle with one main thing – a box.
There is a long tradition within organizations that clear, succinct, and restrictive boxes work best. If rules are set forth and adhered to, then we know when people step outside those boundaries. Then, we established measurements and performance reviews which are largely based on how often you stepped outside of your boundaries and whether or not you were productive. Mind you, “productivity” is also typically measured by how busy one appears and if you’re good at knocking out tasks. We want, in fact, to demand that people land in boxes. We are uncomfortable when people seem to roam around. Those folks freak us out.
At the same time, we desire creativity, innovation, flexible work environments, fully autonomous staff, and the ability to not confine people. The two approaches don’t sync up because the wish list just stated is what leadership aspirationally talks about while it practices box building in the background. Please note that this won’t show up when you conduct employee engagement surveys either because employees are hesitant to be as candid as they are when they’re talking as peers. They’ll complete surveys which affirm the box factory because that matches the culture they live in.
Even though we have two systems that co-exist, it’s time for one to be broken down. It’s time to take the sides off the boxes in our organization. Now, I’m not talking about being “outside the box” (catchphrase) or to promote unfettered chaos (which won’t happen anyway). I want to see HR, as a profession, stop trying to restrict and confine. We need to be the profession that expects performance and gives people the scope and latitude to do that in the fashion that best suits a person’s strengths and abilities. We should be agitators and deconstructors. Taking this next step would keep us relevant as a profession. We should lead all the time and not only during a crisis.
The conversations I mentioned I had before virtually were talking about movements which opened boxes. This group of HR folks, along with many others, are the ones who are roaming around and are doing their best not to be constrained or constrain others. I’m encouraged by this and hope to be an agitator and deconstructor myself. This is a key takeaway from 2020 for me. Since things have shifted . . . keep shifting and taking down the sides of boxes.
I don’t know if you knew this, but I am a gigantic fan of the band U2 !! I am pretty sure I have their entire catalog of music including some pretty rare bootlegs. I am even fortunate to have a signed copy of their classic album The Joshua Tree hanging in my office at work. They launched as a group during my mid-teens and I couldn’t get enough of them (still can’t). I’d honestly love to meet them in person just to chat and share a pint. It’s on my bucket list. So, if anyone reading this can hook me up . . .
This weekend I was listening to U2-X Radio on Sirius XM when I was reminded of a significant anniversary the band was celebrating. Their first album, Boy, was released 40 years ago !! It’s hard to grasp that so much time has passed. It still stands as an incredible first release. The band members were just entering their 20’s and I was 16. I couldn’t believe that these guys were my peers (in age). The first single from the album was the first track – “I Will Follow.”
When it comes to following, we’re hesitant. We’re taught to lead and/or be independent at all costs. Following is perceived as weak when it comes to organizations or social media. In a time when society values self-promotion almost more than any other facet, it’s easy to see why people stand alone. Put on top of this that following is difficult because we tend to distrust others. That may sound harsh, but there seems to be some invisible gauntlet people need to pass through before they are accepted by others. Some caution may be warranted and no one should put themselves in harm’s way. However, when we assume the worst in someone before interacting with them, we’ll get what we expect.
Another factor that causes us to pause is that we tend to give our attention to those who are more visible and vocal. We tell ourselves we can’t be “like them”, so we hesitate in connecting. Countless lists that promote a select few folks doesn’t help with this comparative lens either. It’s humbling to be recognized for your contribution, but not at the expense of keeping others from participating.
When Twitter first started years ago, an activity called “Follow Friday,” which is denoted by the hashtag #FF, was very popular. It got people to connect, and since the platform was new, people regularly sent out tweets with recommendations of others to connect with. It was fun and gave the forum energy. It also opened your eyes to others in your profession that you most likely would not meet in person. It expanded your network, your reach, and your perspective.
As with most things, time erodes our interest. Those that were active when Twitter launched are less active now. Not all, but many. I was bummed about that because I’ve been active on Twitter for 12+ years now. I continue to find new folks in HR around the globe. I learn new things, hear new voices and see a desire for a profession that wants to collaborate and come together to improve the workplace for employees.
I haven’t given up on #FF and still send out a barrage of tweets every few weeks to keep the HR community connected, vibrant, and interested. The point of this effort is not so people focus on me or a select few. In fact, I type out each tweet every time and don’t program or automate them. Each of these accounts is a person, a peer, and someone I am grateful to be connected to. The recommendations include those who have different outlooks and opinions because I feel it’s important to surround yourself with diverse thoughts, cultures, and backgrounds. A dear friend of mine, Perry Timms, recently wrote about “fellowship not followership” which encourages folks to join together as a fellowship that isn’t focused on a single person or a few people. I dig this very much and am fully into seeing this happen in HR and business across the planet.
I’d encourage all of us to look at connecting. I know it’s a common theme you hear from me, but I believe in continuing to push forward. There are so many amazing people in our field !! Each time I do a #FF I get tweets back from people who are talented, passionate and eager to follow each other as well. I still get geeked to see a new professional join social media, a new podcast which elevates thought and causes us to stretch, or a new blog that gives a platform for someone to share their thoughts and ideas. I hope you connect. I hope you follow. I hope you build fellowship.
And, of course, I need to celebrate that anniversary I mentioned earlier !!
I’m geeked about this week because one of my favorite holidays is happening – Thanksgiving !! I love intentionally taking time to pause, reflect and give thanks for life in general. Yes, it has its ups and downs and difficulties. However, I am grateful for every aspect of life. It’s not some false pretense or posturing. It’s how I choose to face each day – grateful.
I’m not blind to all that is going on in the world. Far from it. I would contend that everyone is being touched and/or affected by many things ranging from the political environments which are not positive globally, the reality that the pandemic can (and does) reach anyone in any corner of the world, as well as the personal situations faced in every family which run the gambit of a myriad of circumstances.
On top of being barraged with the on-going waves of trial after trial, people are more divided now than any time I can remember. I’m not trying to make a right/wrong statement with this. It’s just our reality. Unfortunately, the majority of taking sides seems to only pull us apart and exacerbate the general malaise we find ourselves facing.
However, I am still grateful !! Truly. I have an amazing wife who is my partner in everything and two phenomenal adult children who are also trying to navigate the same world of uncertainty. I have an incredible extended family scattered all over the globe who have been more connected and in touch with each other to try to remind us of the family bond we all share. If that wasn’t enough, I have a global professional HR community that is filled with talented, diverse, thoughtful and passionate people who want to see things healed in all facets of society and the workplace. This doesn’t even capture my grateful list completely, but I hope it gives you a glimpse of how I view life.
All of these thoughts, feelings and “nudges” have been pulling at me. I feel that similar forces are at work around the globe because I am having more and more similar conversations with folks. When I get in this mindset, I feel the urge to write. Long before I had a blog or wrote two books, I wrote poetry. I still write a “poem” regularly when I do the song parodies for the HR Net forum I facilitate. It has been quite some time though since I wrote some verse. So, I want to close this blog post with a new set of stanzas.
(Friendly disclaimer: Please note that the poem below isn’t specifically about and one certain division occurring in the world. Please don’t misconstrue, label, or read more into it. I am trying to capture the general sense I feel and see and also how I hope things improve and move forward. )
I am grateful for you, the reader, who is kind enough to read my regular thoughts. I appreciate you, the work you do and the lives you touch. I wish you only the best this Thanksgiving and hope that you see life in an encouraging light. Peace to all !! – Steve
THE GREAT DIVIDE
We cannot run
We cannot hide
We’re living in
The great divide
We seem to live
In hate or fear
If you speak up
Or if you post
Few will agree
And some will boast
We’re choosing sides
No matter what
With words that pierce
And words that cut
We do not talk
We only state
And if opposed
Choose to berate
I am concerned
For those I know
The gap between folks
Seems to grow
I’d like to see this
While voices sound
I’d take the steps
And not demand
Start with grace
Don’t jump to solve
Hear new perspectives
The gap will close
This won’t be quick
It will take time
But it is worth
The rugged climb
And strive for peace
Let light increase
I ask you to join
Together, we bridge
The great divide
Doesn’t it seem like we cram a multitude of life events together all in a short period of time? It’s not advisable to group so many things together at the same time. You add unnecessary stress even though you have the best intentions.
My wife, Debbie, and I decided to remodel our kitchen, flooring and family room late in 2019. We had saved for it and thought it would be exciting to give some life to our house. Doing a remodel at this scale is a big deal because it meant that we would be “living” in our basement for several months. Of course, right when construction was scheduled to start, a global pandemic hits. We went forward with the project because we had it planned. We never anticipated that we’d be working from home and not at our workplaces on top of everything.
The project went well through every phase . . . until we started to reach the end. Materials were slow to arrive and the tile crew who put the new backsplash up didn’t follow the design. We had lived in the basement for 3 1/2 months and the tension was starting to mount. Let’s be honest, the whole “made for TV” shows on HGTV aren’t how projects truly proceed. They’re great television, but they’re not realistic. Things don’t get resolved in an hour.
Since we were nearing the end of our project, the final touches started to drag out and communication started to dissipate. Please understand that we have had a very good experience with the company, the designers, and the work crews who had done the work so far. We just wanted to be done !! Several calls and texts were shared to try to get the tile mistake repaired. We seemed to have hit an impasse.
Just when it seemed like things were going to escalate, I got a text from Aaron. It said, “Hey man, I heard you needed me to come out and fix the tile work. I’ll be out in a few days. This is my cell. We’ll get this taken care of.” The temperature instantly receded. He texted a few more times and we hit a few more delays, but we finally landed on a day for Aaron to work on the tile. He was the regular tile guy the company used instead of the first crew who didn’t do the work the way we had wanted.
I was working from home when Aaron and Ted, his assistant arrived. I had papers scattered across our new island and was typing away on a spreadsheet I needed to finish that day. Aaron was very gregarious and talkative. Ted was steady and silent. As they came into the house, Aaron exclaimed, “Hey man. Aaron. Nice to meet you. This is Ted.” Ted nods his greeting. “So, I see we need to finish up this tile and get it back to how you’d like it. Let me grab my tools, some drops (drop cloths), and we’ll knock this out and get out of your way.”
I instantly connected to these two guys and was grateful they had arrived. Aaron pulled out this large black square which I knew was a speaker. “You mind if I play some tunes man?” I replied, “No, that’s fine. I always have music playing when I work.” (In fact, I had Spotify playing in the background as he asked.) “You cool with country music?” he asked. I stated, “If that’s what helps you tile, I’m good with it.” “Cool. I may switch to some classic rock though. Just depends on what I’m feeling.” I let him know I was good with whatever style he chose.
Before, I continue you need to know that Aaron and Ted are artists. That is a fact !!. They worked smoothly and collaboratively. Aaron took measurements and Ted cut tiles so that the entire space came together seamlessly like a puzzle. They didn’t have to remeasure or recut any piece. Each one fit the first time. My conversation with Aaron continued as well. Having two extroverts in the same room ensures that talking will occur. We talked about our occupations, our families, the pandemic, politics and more. We did it with ease and it was so reassuring to experience.
As he was finishing up, he noted that he’d need to come back one more day. We were short with some detailed pencil tiles. I asked him about the framing of those tiles around our window. He noted, “Yeah, I see you’re window’s crooked. The other guys tried to make some cuts to cover that. I would have made some different cuts, but we can frame it and get it finished.” I replied, “Won’t it look a bit odd because you’ll have to match how the others started the job?”
He paused and smiled. “No problems, man. I follow the philosophy – When in doubt . . . grout.”
I didn’t know what he meant. He gleefully explained that he would use grout between the seams of the tile and pull it all together. If a space needed a little more grout, he’d add it. If it needed less, he’d thin it out so that the tiles all looked like they naturally were in their designated place.
I never expected to gain perspective from my tile guy, but I was wrong. His philosophy is exactly how we should approach HR. We are the grout that brings people together !! Since everyone is naturally different in how they work, look at life, and have a mix of unique skills and approaches themselves, someone needs to bring cohesion while still allowing them to be who they are.
Some people will need a bit more “grout” to add them to their place in the tile, and some will need less. The key for us is that we’re not trying to keep people set in their ways or conform. Employees are looking for ways to contribute while being connected. They want to be part of the bigger picture and understand how what they do adds value to the overall results of the company.
This week, take Aaron’s advice and see how you can reshape how you practice HR. Are you being the grout that fills in the seams? If you aren’t, I suggest you change and start bringing folks together. It is far more enriching and you’ll love how the workplace and culture looks when you’re done !!
I am an avowed nerd and proud of it !! I have been nerdy since I can remember. It never really bothered me because I was also able to fit in with the jocks, the band and choir groups, and many academic factions. I’ve felt comfortable being involved and connected with whatever group of people I’ve been around. This is challenging for others because we would rather have people stay in their “assigned” group. I hope that I’m never that narrow because there are far too many amazing humans on this planet to get to know and affiliate with.
When I hit 7th grade, I was tall, gangly and looked like a giraffe that didn’t quite fit in its body. Clumsy was more of the norm than having graceful moves physically or socially. I was trying to figure out the mystery of being a teenager in a new town and a new school. I had to make new friends out of thin air. The overwhelming majority of my classmates had been going to school together since they were in Kindergarten. I was completely out of my element.
One day I found myself in the stacks of the school library and I found the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. I had found my place !! The book took me to an entirely new world where I could lose myself. It gave me something to latch onto with all of the changes going on in my “new world.” I learned that this great book was the prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and as soon as I could open the first book, I did. It was time for The Fellowship of the Ring.
If you don’t know this book or haven’t seen the incredible Lord of the Rings movie, stop reading this post and go see them. I own them all and have read the trilogy several times as well as watched each movie over and over and . . .
The Fellowship was amazing because it brought characters together who were very diverse and not cohesive at first. They had several agendas and dislike for those who weren’t from their kingdom. Over time, as their adventure continued, they realized that each member of the group had talent and skills which were needed at various times of their quest. They were trying to get the ring to a very dark and evil place to destroy it so that evil would not be able to take over their world.
When I think of how this unlikely combination came together, I thought of HR. (Again, remember I’m a nerd and see HR in most aspects of life). I see so many amazing movements happening around the globe right now. I also am encouraged by more and more HR voices who are sharing on social media platforms. Top that off with podcasts that feature HR practitioners who express new thoughts and perspectives.
Unfortunately, there are also still those who feel they have to justify their work in HR personally and in their organizations. And, there are still those who write blogs, have podcasts and make presentations which diminish the profession in order for others to focus on them for personal gain. It’s frustrating to see that we continue to seem as if we exist outside the recognized business world.
So, I think it’s time for us to form a Fellowship of HR !! Seriously, it would be phenomenal to see the entire profession come together to move forward. The infighting and divisiveness would cease and we would lift other professionals up so they could succeed personally and professionally. Wouldn’t it be amazing to elevate the many voices and perspectives from around the world so that organizations became intentionally people-first all the time?
I think we can if we follow the example from the book on how the group came together. The most unlikely character, Frodo who was a Hobbit, stepped forward to say he would take the ring to have it destroyed in the midst of all of the other characters from various kingdoms argued as to who should lead or be in charge. The fellowship rallied around someone who had no visible strengths, stature, or personality. However, he showed a willingness to take a risk and humility that others overlooked or lacked.
The time to come together as a profession is now. The time to move the industry forward as a cohesive, diverse, and inclusive community is now. There are elements springing up everywhere that together form a fabric that is creative, authentic, and relevant. Let’s embrace all and give everyone access to join this fellowship. No one leader. No one effort. Instead, a fellowship that shares a common bond to improve the humanity of the workplace, and in turn, a more well-rounded society as a whole.
This isn’t aspirational. It’s needed. The quest is at hand. Will you join in the fellowship? It would be great to move ahead with each one of you !!
This past Saturday is one of the most eagerly anticipated days of the year. No, not Halloween. It’s daylight savings time when we turn our clocks back for one hour. One hour. We get giddy about “adding” a single hour to our days. Most often it’s positioned so you can rest and get an “extra” hour of sleep. That’s cool, but I usually miss this because I think that having another hour lets me stay up later !! (I’m a night owl though.)
I’ve been spending some of this new found extra time contemplating why everyone gets so excited about daylight savings time. What I’ve landed on is that our days are so full that we want to feel some relief. Any relief. I’ve written about this in the past that most everyone you meet is exasperated all the time. They never feel that there are enough hours in the day in order to live life effectively.
This state of exhaustion has led to the work/life balance quest and other initiatives to see how we can squeeze one more minute out of our days. Our constant yearning for complete closure of every task and facet of our days seems unattainable . . . because it is !! There is value in completing tasks and getting things done. What we forget is that time never stops and neither does life. We live in a continuum and not a series of starts and stops. Layer on top of this that when we finish something, we’re devastated that another item looms in front of us. It’s easy to see how people can feel burdened and trapped by these feelings of incompleteness.
If you know me, or if you’ve read this blog for any time, you know that I look at life through a different lens. I feel I have too much time on my hands. (This is also a phenomenal Styx song by the way !!) It’s true and not because of the additional hour we celebrated.
I don’t feel pressed by the constraints of time. This isn’t some ethereal philosophy or aspiration. I choose not to be anxious about deadlines or schedules, but I make sure to follow them. They just don’t rule my day. Also, I have always believed people have the same amount of time in their days. It’s purely a matter of how you choose to use your time.
If you sat down and wrote ALL that you accomplished in your day from the time you get up until you sleep once again, you’d see how much is happening naturally each day. You may get anxious because of other pressures, but time continues whether you feel pressured or not. Also, if you wrote down the amount of time you spend on work, eating, social media, TV (or streaming services), conversations, etc., you’d be stunned at how your time is actually allocated.
Here’s an example . . .
Yesterday, before the hands of the clock jumped backward – I slept in and then got up to make a full breakfast for my amazing wife (including raspberry scones.) I did some chores around the house, signed some books to be sent out to some special folks, sent some messages and tweets to folks because I choose to be connected and active on social media, then made my way out to my “task” for the day. We have very mature trees surrounding our house and this is the time of year when I have to conquer the leaf blanket that covers our yard from corner to corner. The mulching of leaves, mowing of the yard and other lawn cleaning took five hours. I ached all over my body. However, the day was not even close to coming to an end.
I had a quick snack and some water before joining the weekly HR Pub Quiz that has been going each Saturday through the pandemic for an hour of trivia and laughs. Then came a quick reheating of leftovers, decorating a pumpkin and getting ready for trick or treaters to visit for the annual candy harvest of Halloween. After we had our last visitor, my wife and I watched a movie on Netflix for two hours and then decided to head to bed. The time change was still technically hours in the future.
See what I mean? A full day and that honestly doesn’t capture everything I did. The reason I feel I have too much time (and I do) is that I don’t spend my time on things that are negative, derogatory, or divisive. I don’t. You see, I think those things are a time suck that only leads to feelings of being overwhelmed.
You have a choice. Each person who reads this. Your time is your own even when it involves caring for a spouse/partner, kids, family, or your job. You can enjoy what you do while you’re doing it. When you do this and reframe your mental approach to what lies ahead, you’ll find that you have more time available than you thought you did. Try it and see what happens !!
I’m exhausted. I’m fairly sure if I asked you, that the answer would be the same. The past few months have been trying for everyone. The pandemic would have been enough for anyone, and now it seems to be gaining momentum which is going to prove to be another challenge. On top of the constant fight against the virus, there is legitimate social unrest, political disarray among other things. People seem to have blamed the year 2020 as the framework for wave after wave of discord. I don’t think the year is to blame, I think it’s us.
Everywhere you look people are making disharmony and divisiveness the norm. Remember several months ago when we wondered what our “new normal” would be? I don’t think this is what we expected. There are so many things that need to be addressed now that have been overlooked for far too long. I’m not going to be presumptuous and offer solutions for all that is surrounding us.
However, I can’t agree with the norm. I can’t partake in dialogue that seeks to only bring opposition. I can’t tolerate the incessant conversations that only seem to have the purpose of keeping people apart. Instead, I choose to go against the grain.
To me, it is far more important to believe in others than it is to focus on differences. I want to learn who people are and where they come from. I want to hear their perspectives and views on any subject they choose. I want to meet, connect, and understand anyone who is willing to do the same. Even those who think differently or come from angles I don’t personally agree with, I want to know them as well.
This isn’t just some personal crusade, mantra or lifestyle. I want to encourage others to do the same, but if they don’t I still plan to go against the grain. Instead of discord, I choose kindness. Instead of divisiveness, I choose to believe in others. Instead of opposition, I choose inclusion. This is true for me personally and especially at work.
As HR pros, we are surrounded by people all the time. I understand this may now be virtual for some, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are around others. Since that is the case, we should be the ones who choose non-conformity with all that is going on and do what we can to bring people together. I am astounded by the number of people who are struggling with various aspects of life and we would rather focus on completing tasks and measuring performance instead of ensuring the wellbeing of others.
Going against the grain takes discipline, an intentional spirit and courage to not bow down and join the forces trying to make life negative and frustrating. Being positive, kind and encouraging will not get the likes, retweets and self-focus that tries to dominate our attention. We cannot wait and continue to muddle through in the hope for relief. We must act and bring consistent positivity, kindness and encouragement through our behavior and our interactions.
This past weekend a significant life event occurred for me and my family. My dad passed away. I’ve written about him often here on this blog and in my books. I have incredible peace about this and let me tell you why.
Technically, Don Fleming is my stepfather. My biological father, John Browne was a Vietnam veteran who passed away from cancer in 1968 and I was four years old. My mother had been a widow for about eight years when Don came into our life. He and my mom connected right away, dated for a while, and then got married in 1976. It was a full-blown 1970’s gala where my dad, my brother and I all wore the obligatory polyester suits. (They were powder blue by the way. Rockin’ the fashion even then !!)
As soon as Don married my mom, we never called him “Dad” because we were pre-teen knuckleheads. However, he didn’t push back and handled it with grace as he did everything in life. As my brother and I got older, we realized how amazing he was and “Dad” replaced “Don” naturally. My father was an incredible role model of so many attributes that define my life now. I mentioned how he showed grace because he was a man of faith. He would never press this upon others, but he also was very self-assured of who he was. He also was the model husband. He was openly affectionate with my mom and would make sure to give her a kiss when he left for work and when he returned. He never missed a day – ever.
He always emphasized that my brother and I should be “couth” (a word that isn’t used anymore) when it came to respecting our mother and other adults. He expected us to do our share around the house, and he is responsible for our work ethic because of how he modeled it professionally and personally. My dad was never strict, but he was direct and intentional. He expected accountability from us which he always defined as following through on what we had committed to. He came to every. single. event my brother and I were involved in at school. He was supportive, proud, and kept us grounded to be thankful for any honor we received.
As we all grew older together and my brother and I went off to college, we saw my dad less and less because his goal was for us to get on our feet and provide for ourselves. In fact, the day I graduated from high school, Dad hugged me outside the school, told me he loved me and asked when I was leaving. True story. This transition happens to most families, so as life continued, we’d see each other less and less. As my brother and I started families of our own, those gaps naturally grew longer and longer.
Every time I’d visit Dad in Ada, at my house in Cincinnati or at family events all over the Midwest, he’d make sure to share his thoughts and opinions on life. He would grab your attention by saying, “Write this down . . .” Then he’d share a quote he had memorized, a quip or quick story and most assuredly a joke or two. He wanted me to remember these points because he knew they had an impact, reach and meaning. It became so common that I’d hear him pause, raise his hand and I’d jump in and say, “I know. ‘Write this down . . .”
I didn’t realize how ingrained this short phrase had become in my life, but even now, when I give a presentation at a conference I will find myself pausing, looking out to the audience, and say “Write this down . . .”
I am grateful for this man who came into my life 44 years ago. The man who married and loved my mother so incredibly deep and made me who I am today as a husband, father, friend, man of faith, and a professional. Without my Dad, I wouldn’t have had the model of grace, respect and humor that also make me who I am.
I know that as I write this, that not everyone has a great relationship with their parents and/or family. I do not take this for granted or feel that my example is greater than anyone else’s experience. I have learned from both my mother and father to be others-focused and value every person for who they are and where they come from. If I can ever be someone to confide in, converse with, weep with or laugh with, I am here for you. That is a fact and not an idle aspiration.
So, as I close I want to share something that Dad told me to write down. It’s from the poem Desiderata which was one of his absolute go to quotes.
My wife and I had a significant event happen this past week. We emerged from our basement after four months !! This wasn’t due to the never-ending pandemic. The renovation of our home’s first floor was completed. Now, please understand that we had this transformation planned before the world changed forever.
We have been very fortunate to have lived in the same house for 29 years. When we had been married for two years, we purchased our home which was originally built in 1977 and we moved into it in 1991. Over the nearly three decades, we’ve changed paint, carpet, decor, roofs, appliances, etc. However, the basic look of our family room and kitchen still had that late 70’s vibe. We had a discussion at the end of 2019 when my wife said she wanted to remodel or move.
That’s quite a decision !! Do you spend money to redo the house you’ve enjoyed for so many years and “update” it, or do you go through the adventure of finding a new home that brings its own level of stress? I’m fairly comfortable with change, but I hesitated when I was faced with these options. We raised our two kids in this house and have had many family gatherings, scout meetings, dinners with friends, and more. I know we could do that in a new house, but I wanted to stay. That decision meant that we would go through a patience exercise that you’ve never planned for. We got everything designed and once the project began, we went down the stairs to our new living quarters . . . for four months.
We completely altered how we normally live, and then the pandemic hit. Honestly, we got through life together in a much smaller space with very little conflict. As we came back up to the first floor, it felt like we were emerging from a bunker. The work of replenishing, reorganizing, and getting rid of things we didn’t need was at hand. This too went very smoothly and ended up taking multiple trips of donations to Goodwill and finding new homes for our old furniture and appliances. Everything went well . . . until the shelves.
On the “end” wall of our family room, we had two built-in bookshelves added to frame a fireplace. One bookshelf came with five shelves and the other with four. That was the first discrepancy. The next one was the placement of the shelves. My wife and I are very different which is what makes us a great couple. She balances me in so many ways. One area where we differ though is she likes order and I like variety. The shelves we added have clips on each side and it takes considerable effort to unsnap them before they can be moved.
Debbie wanted everything to match so when you faced the built-ins they would have symmetry. We hadn’t added anything to adorn the shelves yet, so we didn’t account for different sizes of items. I didn’t care. There didn’t need to be symmetry for me. As I was trying to get the levels right and have things match, I started to lose patience. I just wanted things to be completed, and my wife wanted things done correctly. You’d think that something so “easy” would not have added so much consternation. Sound familiar ??
This simple act of adjusting shelves reflects what we face at work every day. You have at least two parties working on the same task. I guarantee that many sides will be taken because no one approaches work the same way. We claim to be so good with change and being adaptable, and that just isn’t true because we overlook one simple fact. We’re “good” with adjustments if they match how WE want the outcome to be. People want to get their own way. I feel it is the underlying obstacle we hit whenever two or more people interact – which is the majority of every. day.
The shelves were adjusted. They’re symmetrical and they look wonderful !! The other part of adjustments to be successful is compromise. There is value in evaluating other people’s perspectives because we should learn from each other and stop knocking heads with each other. The goal is to move forward, not just be right and get your way.
Our house will keep coming together, and I’m sure that more adjustments will face us along the way. This week take a look had how good you are/aren’t with adjusting, and be honest with yourself. Once you assess this, then start applying new methods to move forward and truly get comfortable with adjustments.