The More Things Change

This weekend I found myself on my hands and knees struggling around in my crawlspace. I’m short but it turns out not short enough to avoid the crossbeams of a space designed more for utility access and rarely used bric-a-brac than for human movement. The smart plan would have been to get in and get out focusing on the Christmas decorations that had sent me there in the first place.

But no, not me.

Instead, I navigated in the darkness looking for the box of books I was sure was there. Somehow in our last move I lost track of a stash of books I had from college and while I don’t have an inventory, I know that I wouldn’t have jettisoned my copy of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels or the Marketing textbook I researched a case for in graduate school. I didn’t find them, but instead I found a milk crate of my own history.

Nestled in a back corner I found it, filled with small remnants from my 20’s. I found the theatre portfolio I submitted to get placed into the right lighting design class, the binder that contained the artifacts of my journey to grad school (application, acceptance letter and letters from the Dean for grades) and a hodgepodge of stuff from my final desk cleaning when I left my first real job, starting the zig zag of my career.

At the top of that last pile, tossed carelessly in amongst the other miscellaneous desk contents, was a simple printed document. Titled “360 Development Feedback Report” and dated 2006, it contained anonymous comments on my strengths and opportunities for improvement from my direct reports and peers. I scanned the pages, eager to see how much I had changed since then.

My team then, both subordinates and peers, commented on my confidence, clarity of vision, willingness to share technical knowledge, ability to create team and support of my team’s work-life balance. And they noted that I needed to work on my delegation, communication, defensiveness when challenged and ability to manage my own work-life balance. When I finished reviewing the pages I flipped back to the beginning to make sure I was looking at the right thing. I was confused because, to be honest, those comments could have been written about me this week as easily as 10 years ago.

Maybe you’re not surprised. After all, it was in the 19th century that author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined the phased “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” or “the more things change the more they stay the same.” Maybe it’s not that surprising that someone who was described in 2006 as “one of the most relentless and energetic persons I have ever worked with” is still high-energy. Or that someone who “should sometimes put more faith in her employees, not only by delegating more, but also by trusting the work of the employee and not changing/altering everything that has to go up to senior management” still has a tendency to own the final version of a presentation before it hits prime time. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that at my core I’m the same person now that I was then. And, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised except for one basic thing:

I believe, in my heart, I have been living a growth mindset.

Our beliefs are tricky things and no beliefs are trickier to manage then those about ourselves. I just finished a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and while Mark Manson’s shocking title (and prolific use of a word frowned upon in polite circles) might put people off, one of the key points of the book is that being open to being wrong, especially about deeply held beliefs, is a key to happiness. He notes that questioning your own values and whether you are living them is critical to determining what you care about (what you should give a f*ck about) and living a life of purpose.

For as long as I can remember, a huge part of my personal identity has been wrapped up in the value that every day is an opportunity to gain insight and develop new and better capabilities. And yet, faced with the fact of the 360 feedback I was given long ago, I can’t help but wonder if I truly value growth as much as I espouse. Ten years, two organizations and a handful of job titles later I appear to still be strong where I have been strong and weak where I have been weak. The more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

Normally, I like to end these posts with some witty closing, some quip or quote or answer that will pull the whole thing together. I like to note what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown or what big question I’ve answered. I don’t have that tonight. Instead, I’ve got some more thinking to do, some more staring the facts in the eye and wondering what it means for my beliefs and my way of going after life. So, this one will have to be a cliffhanger, a two-parter that ends with more questions than answers.

When I know what I think, I’ll write it here.

2 thoughts on “The More Things Change”

  1. When you hear the term “360 degrees” do you visualize “up, down and sideways”, a circle in two dimensions, one or more cylinders or a sphere?

    Growth happens in all directions at different rates of speed and different levels of quality. For people that are open to and passionate about growth (personal, leadership, social, etc) it is a dynamic process. In addition, challenges, decisions, opportunities growth in many different ways.

    Since I can say that I am the person who has spent more time with you over the last five years than anyone else (other than Tom… well, maybe even over Tom), you have grown and developed in immeasurable ways. You would not be able to tackle the challenges or see the opportunities you do today with the Mel from ten years ago. No way. Your have a much larger toolset and you have made many more mistakes (with each being very valuable).

    The challenge for anyone who self-aware, introspective and interested in improving is not around overall growth but changing how we operate as we grow. That is where step-function effectiveness and progress can take place. The hard part about making those changes is well fall back on the same behaviors that have made us successful to date versus having real courage and focus to make a change.

    Most of us don’t make those changes without hitting some form of “rock bottom”. The person who is diagnosed with diabetes changes his/her diet. In your professional life it could result from something as simple as being reprimanded for being late to a critical meeting (or worse not being prepared and being embarrassed in that meeting) that causes you to get up earlier in the morning to make sure you are on time or prepared.

    Like other successful people, you won’t hit rock bottom because of your strengths in other areas. You use those things that make you a top performer to get things done. So why change? Is the slow decline of health an urgent enough issue? Is that slight degradation in your relationship with your spouse? Is missing one or two family events an issue? Or one or two “out of range” markers in your recent blood work?

    Just two cents from someone that knows you pretty well. Both because of the time we spend together and due to similar challenges we have.

    Liked by 1 person

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