Blog Homework! Below you will find my response to the following question, from my class blog:
"What’s the biggest change that has happened to you as an adult? Describe it and talk about how you’ve responded to it."
I'm very interested in how the readers of my blog would answer the above. What is the biggest change that has happened to YOU?
As I thought about what I would write for this post, I first thought through the most obvious changes that have happened in my adult life.
Surely, moving 2,000 miles away from my immediate family to the snowy tundra of Minnesota was a pretty big change. (For the record, my family still thinks I'm crazy.)
Perhaps starting a nonprofit gallery was a big change. It definitely has taken up quite a bit of time! However, when looking at the gallery objectively, it seems like starting it was more of a “process” then a single change, and that the process was triggered by something else entirely.
I think there have been so many events in varying scale that it would be hard to pinpoint one event over another to be the biggest “change.” I think the “change” that has had the most significant change on my life wasn't a job, a move or a relationship, but more of a change in how I view my placement in any given situation. Though might sound rather morbid, the most positive significant change I made was when I stopped viewing situations only through the lens of “what I want while I'm here?” to “what happens when I am gone?”
Death wasn't a stranger to my family, but as I aged the reality that one could die at any age became increasingly apparent. I think we all go through the process of losing the immortality we feel when we are young. We stop doing reckless things and start being more careful with our actions. Though I never felt entirely 'immortal,' I can say that I began contemplating my own mortality at a very young age, with increasing urgency as I grew older. “What about when I'm gone” was never a foreign question really, just one that I attended to with increasing practicality over time.
One of the jobs that I had throughout college was working for a small, family run manufacturing company. Though first hired as a temp receptionist, they realized I had a wide variety of computer skills and quickly put me to work in other areas of the company. Over the next few years, a remarkable thing happened: everybody that could got pregnant got pregnant - at least once. (A few became pregnant more than once and no, not all at once.) Over the course of my 6 years with the company, in addition to my own tasks, I covered for anybody who was out on maternity leave. This helped the company by decreasing potential rollover and maintaining some continuity within the office. It helped me tremendously because in a short while, I had learned all of the various aspects of running an office – from accounting, to human resources, to shipping, and more. I was also able to objectively view how all the little components worked together and I did what I could to streamline systems and computerize processes. (A side note: I also never drank the company water, because it did seem at times that pregnancy was contagious, and I wasn't quite ready for that!) Jokes aside, the most important thing I learned from this process was that sometimes it is not only important to a company what one does on the job while one is present, but what happens when that person is gone as well. The view that “I'll/she/they will always be around to take care of it” can be incredibly unrealistic. What will happen when they are gone?
Taking that “what happens when I'm gone” view and applying it to my own life, I made a series of key decisions. First and foremost, I wanted my work efforts to go toward something positive, something I could die and be content with how I spent my time. Since then, I've tried to incorporate this mentality into how I earn a living by considering with what company I work as well as with what tasks I do.
The gallery is an interesting experiment in this regard. Most people begin a company with the end-goal of being self employed or sometimes, getting rich and not being employed at all. Though the possibility of earning a living through the gallery has been brought to the table at times, the overarching, long-term goal is to develop a sustainable organization that remains a resource for the community even when I'm gone. That's not meant to sound entirely morbid. Perhaps I decide to pursue a PhD and need to move on. Perhaps somebody in my family gets very sick and I have to return to California for an extended amount of time. Life is about more than just what is a part of my day-to-day, and if I plan accordingly neither I nor my organization will be entirely overwhelmed if or when life happens.
I hope this post didn't come across as doom and gloom. Most of you know me at least a little bit by now, at least well enough to know that I don't walk around like a nihilist saying “we're all going to die, nothing matters anyway.” I also can't say that I'm entirely consistent with this process, and have had to make compromises along the way in order to work toward broader goals. I share this with you mainly because by and large, I think that changing how I view my role and how it affects others “when I'm gone” has had the positive counter-effect of making better decisions, ones that make me happier “while I'm here.”
Thanks for reading,
A footnote: My dog however, does not express the same sentiment towards being considerate of others when she is gone. If somebody in the class might be willing to make copies of pages 301-332 of the Leadership Challenge book I would greatly appreciate it - sometimes the “my dog ate my homework” situation really does happen.