Introduction (Permission to skip if you’re in a hurry…)
At the end of 2019, I shared the story of my driver’s license test failure (link) as an example of my sincere engagement in the process of embracing stories of failures, releasing their undermining power and extracting their vital lessons.
As I continued writing about failed stories – the more sensitive ones – I rapidly found myself being on a vulnerable and complicated path, writing pages and pages about my childhood, my parents, and some of my core identities. What started as a possible series of “funny” blog posts about learning from failure, has led me to exploring a comical memoir about being born in a mixed Moroccan, French, Jewish family in 1965.
Between where I am today and where I want to be, there is a gap to close, an empty path I can undertake – “being in the flow” or “being in the muck.”
In this new series, we will explore both alternatives. I’m offering the adapted content of a presentation I’ve been using with some teams to introduce the importance of developing “soft skills” and becoming a “learning organization.”
Let’s go first with the Flow… (Please, read!)
1- They are things we deeply care about and we want in our life. They can be aspirational and visionary, or pragmatic and nitty gritty. For example: I want to continue learning transformational developmental tools for myself and my clients. I want to pursue mastery in my work. I want to work on my public speaking and networking skills. I want to be a supportive partner/friend/mother. I want to pay for my mortgage. I want to improve my cooking.
I want all that!
2- Between what I want and where I am at, there is necessarily a gap. If there wasn’t one, that would mean that I have already accomplished a particular goal. In the gap, there are a bunch of “to do’s,” “knowns and unknowns,” “skills to learn or improve,” and “mastery to acquire.” Therefore, we call it our “learning gap”. Simple.
Between what I want and where I am at, there are also a bunch of unpredictable events I have no control over. This is called, life.
3- Usually, when we want something, we start moving toward it. We have an impetus. If we don’t move toward what we want, it can be a symptom of learned helplessness and a deficiency of agency (link). It can also be that we don’t have the right goals. In both cases, it results in painful inertia, a topic for another day.
4- In this series, we assume that we will take action toward our goals. There are two options of approach. Option 1: “Growth Mindset”. In this frame of mind, we see our gaps as a playful ground to exercise “beginner’s mind”: a mind that embraces reality directly, without preconceived judgments, spontaneously takes actions, observes, experiments, looks around, and freely interacts with others. In a “growth mindset”, we use unexpected events, difficulties, setbacks or obstacles as learning platforms to move even faster toward our goals. In other words, we go with the flow of information, respond with agility and embrace the present moment.
In the last 10 years, we all have heard at least once about flow, agility and the present moment, and it sounded attractive. Right?
5- Let’s make these concepts tangible via an illustration. Last June I was invited to the MIT Sloan School of Management by a friend to attend her leadership workshop. I was super-excited to deepen my leadership knowledge, learn about her approach, and be a participant (rather than my more frequent role as facilitator). I felt my usual nervousness that I have when networking in a corporate environment, but frankly, my dominant feeling was excitement, the opportunity to learn new tools for my clients and myself. When I arrived the first morning at the registration table, an unexpected event occurred!
I didn’t have a nametag and wasn’t on the official list of participants. With a “growth mindset”, a trivial and tiny omission could actually become an extraordinary springboard to propel me toward my goals. Since other participants -whose first and last name and company’s name were written on their nametag- couldn’t read mine, I could have taken advantage of this glitch by proactively introducing myself. I could have joked about my blank identity. I could have presented myself as somebody special since I was a guest. I could be creative and craft my own nametag with a piece of paper taped on my black-business-casual-jacket. Chic! Or, I could just be uncomfortable, sitting with my discomfort waiting for my nametag that a staff member would print soon.
In other words, I can always embrace the unexpected information as it is (no filter), let it penetrate my playground -my sphere of influence- via the permeable and soft boundaries of my learning framework. I can swiftly bounce back new information based on who I am (white middle age +, middle class woman with a French accent, seasoned leadership developmental practitioner prone to self-doubt) and guided by what I want: my goals. That’s truly being in the flow!
That is if I choose option 1. Regretfully, I didn’t. Stay tuned to learn about option 2 and how my neurosis took over at the MIT conference for a few hours!