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Living Color

Have you ever experienced this?  You’re working through a problem with your team. You’re at a crossroad and feel like others are looking for someone to point to.  You feel like if you don’t solve this, things will get difficult. Pressure is growing fast!  This experience can create a desire to just come up with a solution to the problem that everyone will buy into.  It can create black or white, this or that, thinking. As a project manager, I spent a good amount of my time navigating this.  What’s the best choice to ensure we were on time, with quality and on budget?  It didn’t feel like it left much room for exploration.  Winning means gaining the greatest acceptance, which may not in fact be the best, right solution. 

If you think about it, we’ve been led to think about things this way.  It creates a perception of ease.  As kids we’re taught right and wrong, choose from some number of choices – usually two or three, take one path to go forward when you go off to school.  Create linear goals so you can track progress.  In last months blog I described it as having the straight-line expectations vs. squiggles that typically happen.

I love to look at things differently.  To try and flip them. What if instead we look for the color?  What might that be like?  I’ve been thinking about this question, and the following are some ways I’m looking at it.

Failure.  If you fail, especially in a public way, does it define you for the long haul?  Only if you let it.  Abraham Lincoln lost jobs, legislature seats, businesses, congressional and Vice-Presidential bids multiple times, and even suffered a nervous breakdown.  We all know that the end of the story, but the timing of his Presidency and his experience allowed him to lead us through a pivotal period in our country’s history.  

In the span of 12 months, I won the largest deal of my career with a team of esteemed colleagues and…. lost it.  There were many good, great, and not great decisions in that year, many that were mine, that led to the outcome, some of which still inform how I make decisions today. But I’m here, and that loss is not what people remember about me or my colleagues, and those people are a cherished part of my career history.

What if the failure, mistakes, poor choices were variants of color in a color palette. How would you think about them then?  What colors would you use to describe them? Black and white are not options.  I think my project loss would be shades of yellow and green because that time for me was one of great learning and even greater relationships that I will cherish for many years.  I don’t regret the loss.  I cherish learning and the long-term friendships created.

Differences.  The way we see things matters.  And if you’ve walked this earth even for a short time, it becomes clear that none of us sees things the same way.  An opinion is something we share with each other with the presumption that one is right and the other wrong, but I prefer perspective because it has greater opportunity to create possibility.  Perspective means that you can and do listen to another’s experience.  It allows you to take in what the person thinks and how they feel about things, without committing to agreeing to it.  Instead, become a listener. 

Many coaches, me included, use values as a tool to help people gain perspective.  My husband and I were trying to decide upon an investment decision and how to use money we’d spent a long time saving.  We had several options we were considering but couldn’t seem to agree on direction.  Opinions were abundant.  And as opinions were shared, choices grew. 

Finally, we spent some time defining our values around spending the money.  He said he wanted the ability to create Legacy with it.  I said I wanted to have Freedom.  When we wrote our personal definitions for each of those words, we found perspective.  And we also found that we were saying close to the same things.  Once we did that, the decision was easy. How might you color perspective?  How about possibility? 

Time.  Time, like money, is a resource.  I love the quote, often attributed to Satchel Paige and Reverend Clarence H. Wilson. They and others have asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

How would it change your thinking - about yourself, about others, about how you relate to the world around you?  What might you decide to do differently? If we all didn’t know how old we were, would the social and cultural norms that we currently use still be valid?  Maybe I’d take a morning bike ride to the park because it’s a beautiful day, and then go to my meetings.  Who knows?  How does choosing how you use your time feel to you?  Is it black and white? Or can you inject a little color?

You may think that this approach seems a bit elementary. The point of all of this is that our colors can be different.  In fact, they must be for us to grow and thrive. When we interact with each other by sharing empathy and perspective, exploring ideas, really listening, and navigating the many paths we actionably choose, we blend our colors, and we create a beautiful new hue - together.

We see the world as we are.  A collection of our experiences, our values, what we believe, our desires, hopes and dreams. What are your colors?  How have they changed over time?  What colors do you hope to add and how do you want to grow your abilities to enhance your pallet? 

I would love to hear from you.  Help me to enhance my own color palette by sharing your perspective!

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