“You are an ever-moving mark,” said Jessica Donohue at the Girl Scouts of Eastern MA’s Leading Women Awards last week. Ms. Donohue, who was recognized for her achievements as EVP of State Street, stood out from among the other awardees for her honesty and humility. She talked about a label ascribed to her as a young person, ADHD. While it has traveled with her, her vitality is outside of it. She was clear in her thinking about labels or the expectations that go along with them. “Don’t box me in. Encourage me to be more. Learn more. Resist naming – everywhere.”
How long has it been since you encouraged someone to be more?
My quick answer to that question is simple. Just this morning I lofted encouragement at a friend who was readying for an interview.
Like many of us, I can quickly point to these moments, moments when I supported someone in their pursuit of more.
But, Ms. Donohue’s remarks helped me see that my more is always in alignment with some box, some named mark or clear expectation.
More for a grade.
More for the application.
More for the family.
More for the next promotion.
More for this time in your life.
How long has it been since I encouraged someone to be more as only defined in their own heart?
I realize that Ms. Donohue was speaking to the choir with her perspective that morning. Her remarks intersected with my work.
Transitions are all about re-framing our expectations by using self-defined guard rails. It is the things that you value, that hold purpose or meaning to you, that provide the most compelling story line. By using what holds value or meaning to you as ballast, my belief is that we are unstoppable.
People with whom I work can typically understand this on an intellectual level. Their ‘more’ needs to be in service to their own expectations, their of definition of success.
The way it plays out is frequently difficult and/or misdirected.
For example, a group of retirees whom I facilitated recently were quick to say, “Now I can be selfish.”
Selfishness is misplaced here. Transition isn’t about selfishness or nor is it a luxury or even a form of self-indulgence. I’ve found that working to understand our own purpose & meaning is a necessary foundation for growth. It yields benefits to us and those around us. I like the analogy of a foundation, a necessary element that provides stability. Without it, you ultimately will fall down in a good wind.
Unearthing what is important to us can be incredibly difficult work. I fall in this category. It took me a long time to get beyond the rigid expectations that were set by the communities I inhabited – like my social circle that is full of tech start-up stars and their expectations.
I can tell you that this road is lonely and hard – it is real work.
If you find yourself in the camp of needing to think this through, here is an exercise that can get you started. The exercise, a decision tree of our critical choices, combines mindfulness with a set of personal data. The data side may be familiar to you as it uses a decision tree which is an age-old management tool.
Start by creating a decision tree – or map – of the major choices we’ve made in your life. Try to write down the choice along with the other options you considered at the time. An excerpt from my decision tree circa 1985 is below.
The next step asks you to bring your awareness to the decisions you’ve made. What do you notice about your choices?
The exercise isn’t designed to give you an answer. It is structured to assist you in deciphering how you prioritized your earlier choices. This can lead people to recognizing values or purpose or meaning. For me, was I all about career advancement? Does that hold true today? If not, what is in its place?
Kate, one of the retirees whom I mentioned earlier, said of her diagram, “it’s all relationships.”
What does yours say about you and your guard rails?
Choice stands at the heart of transition.
Our choices frame who we are.
Can you look at choice through a new filter, one that is informed by your heart? Leave on the sidelines what you should do or what is necessary for you to gain access to or the support of others.
What if you chose for you?
What impact might that have on you? On others?
I believe that the greatest choice you can make is to explore who you are and bring forward to the world what you uncover.
Today the world desperately needs the gift that you alone have to offer. The only uncertainty? Whether or not you will explore it….
The choice is yours.
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Jessica Donohue has sank the careers of numerous young women at State Street. This award mocks our code.