Recently Ursula wrote: “It’s important to have an idea of where we are going in life. It’s more important to not hold the ideal state so tight that we miss the new possibilities. We learn something new about ourselves every day that informs the path… if we listen.”
Ahhhh….listening. That thing.
We all have defining moments in our lives. Marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, a death, the recession.
My story actually goes back to a myth that I bought into - completely, although I did not know it – perpetrated by beloved professors in grad school. Like other organization development types, I had aspirations of really truly helping my clients be better people and lead better organizations. I had trained, developed insights, knew myself and experienced the very interventions I anticipated planning for my clients. It worked for me, so why not?
After leaving a good job, I was offered a gig at General Motors, by a friend and former coworker, who had earlier left the large consulting firm where we were both employed, to live a normal lifestyle. For non-road warriors, that means Sleeps in One’s Own Bed at Night. I loved it at GM – challenging, strong personalities, stronger work norms and amazingly smart people.
About a year in, an executive associated with the project I worked on offered me a job. She needed a PMO lead – someone to manage the office that controlled the finances, metrics, reporting etc. for a gigantic program that would (and did) change the way GM’s information technology function did business. The problem was, it wasn’t stuff I knew, like team building and coaching, it was managing a Program Office in a fractious IT environment where the various suppliers were competing, by design, for future work with GM. Not only that, she informed me that it was a high risk assignment and we could all get fired if things did not go well. We were Switzerland and the others were at war. She wanted someone who could protect the PMO team from other suppliers – and GM, if needed, and thought I could do that job well.
So I took it.
My consultations were on the fly, consoling exhausted team members in secluded offices, late nights finishing status reports, figuring out new ways to explain What Went Wrong to the clients and mediating endless conflicts. What I was doing had little resemblance to the situations we confidently diagnosed in grad school or the work I had aspired to and I thought my friends were doing. Colleagues asked me why I left organization development. PMO lead? What did I know about technology anyway? I had lost my way professionally.
Like Ursula, I did not know it at the time, but that was the best organization development experience I could have had. I can function well in technology - I get how people are organized, how they think and what they fear. I have replaced my own fear of angry outbursts with firm, directive compassion when necessary.
Listening is hard. What makes us decide to take on a new opportunity, especially if it has few familiar signals? How do you keep listening when silent countervailing voices are yelling, "Mistake! Mistake!"
Looking back, I see many detours and stopping off points that were not always my choice, but that became opportunities. Not sure I could have seen it then…but they were there.
And I am better off for it.
Have a story of your own to share about where YOU are going? I'd love to hear it - and so would others! Shoot us an email or drop a comment below.