Last week my social media feed lit up with nurses sharing pictures of bloody operating rooms, the middle finger being raised, Sam Elliott smirking about someone being a special kind of stupid and talk about nurses playing cards. Nurses across the country were getting more outraged by the day.
I started piecing together the reason for all the kerfuffle. Some woman in Washington State had said something about nurses playing cards all day. Wait, this woman was actually a legislator. “Well, clearly she’s ignorant” I thought. I spent two days in the hospital in 2017 and the nurses were the main reason my experience was so positive. It wasn’t because we were playing gin rummy.
Eventually I figured out this woman was named Maureen Walsh. There were posts suggesting that people send her decks of cards. Thanks to getting swept up in the frenzy, I started thinking of some more…shall we say, interesting things to send her. I’m not a nurse and I started taking her words personally. How dare she?!!?
Here is what I was definitely NOT doing. I was not assuming positive intent.
Then my curiosity kicked in. What exactly did she say? I wondered. So I googled her and found this article, where she expressed her regret. “Damn straight,” I thought. “You are going to regret getting all those playing cards.”
In the middle of the article is a short video where you can hear her words come out of her own mouth.
Context Changes Everything
In the segment, Maureen Walsh is making an impassioned plea to save a rural hospital. The hospital she was referring to is likely not economically viable in today’s strict regulatory environment; in her example, the whole hospital might have 6 patients at one time. She was trying to make the point that the law they were making could be the straw that broke the camel’s back on the ability of that hospital to continue to serve her district. Oh, and by the way, her mom was a nurse. Through new eyes, I saw her comments completely differently.
Context changes everything. A few years ago, I wrote about a bad water ski fall I took because I allowed the context of a situation keep me from seeing some critical details.
There is always more to the story than meets the eye.
In the Maureen Walsh case, I see at least three threads.
First, when I heard her speak in that video, I heard something very different than a woman accusing nurses of being lazy, card playing drags on the system. She is trying to save nurses jobs and sustain patient care in her district. Nowhere did I get that she doesn’t value nurses.
Second, rural hospitals are closing in record numbers. The complex regulatory environment is contributing to that. Anyway you look at it, hospitals closing in areas that desperately need them is a bad thing.
The third thread is also worth exploring. Nurses took the tiny spark of her words so personally because there is so much dry tinder to ignite the explosion. I’m in these conversations regularly with clients and friends. Nurses ARE often undervalued. They shoulder unbelievable burdens in the hospital environment. Once again, I’m reminded that we only take things personally that hit a point of vulnerability within us.
In my own case, the nurses were responsible for at least 90% of my experience. That is consistent with what I’ve seen and heard from other friends and family who have experienced hospital stays. The work that nurses do is beyond valuable.
What I can’t help but wonder is this: what if the nurses that took offense started with assuming positive intent? What if the few that started this meme simply chose to take her comments as support instead of criticism? What could have happened to heal our currently broken healing system?
In reflecting on my reactions to Maureen Walsh’s comments, I’m reminded again how important context really is. I’m also reminded to pay attention to my own beliefs and the way I take things personally. In this case, my mind was so willing to jump to conclusions – and with context and curiosity, I saw things completely differently.
In this busy world, it’s tempting to love the shortcut and draw quick conclusions. Who has time to dig deeper? But how much damage am I doing to myself when I fail to see the bigger picture? Where is my desire for the quick fix setting me up for the long recovery?
Where are you taking things personally that are not personal? How do your own vulnerabilities shape the way you see things? Where are you operating on beliefs formed with only a tiny piece of the full story? Where would context change everything for you?
Working together as a Mother/Daughter team can be super difficult. If you have followed our podcast, you've heard some of our dramas. So when you saw that we are "splitting up", you might make up the story it's due to mother-daughter conflict. However, we have a better reason.
Jen has started her own business.
She is working with the loved ones of people caught in addiction. What Jen realized after talking to and working with hundreds of addicts and their families is the parents need ongoing support too. And they aren’t getting it.
Jen has a hard-earned way of working with the parents who discover their child is an addict. I was once that very parent and the night Jen announced that she was hooked on drugs and had no idea what to do, neither did I.
What I needed was guidance and someone to help me navigate where I could help - and where I could not.
All I wanted to do was make it better and every single motherly instinct I had only pushed her further into the depths of the addiction.
To make matters worse, my friends and family had an opinion on what I should do. In some ways, the worst pressure I felt came from people two or three steps removed. Our plight was not something I shared widely, but when I did, the advice ranged from completely cut her off to go get her and bring her home. Like I really want to have a drug addict in my house!
What I did NOT have (at least at first) was someone with the wisdom to give me options and help me get through the fear, guilt and anger that paralyzed me or made me want to something - anything - to make this go away.
What everyone seemed to forget was this: Jen was an adult. My control freak tendencies were not going to get us very far.
What I needed was a set of leadership and influence skills that far surpassed my abilities under the pressure of this kind of life or death situation.
While I was able to get coaching during this time, it took a conversation with an addict to break me through the confusion and pretense that everything would be ok. Little did I know how much more I would have to get real and deal with my own patterns and “stuff” in order to truly help my daughter.
Many of my clients have found themselves in the same boat as me. For years, I've sent them to Jen because I felt she was much better equipped than me to help them navigate the realities of addiction. They all report back that the conversations with Jen were a deal-changer. After all, who knows better how to understand an addict than a fellow addict? She has been clean 12 years and has become a stellar coach in that time. I marvel at her ability to bring her deep experience and insight to those facing addiction with their adult children.
However, it takes more than a phone call or two to navigate a problem that took years to develop.
Jen herself did extremely deep work (still does) and she recognizes that addiction is not the end. It’s a signal that something very important needs to be addressed. It’s an opportunity for everyone in the family to grow.
That's why Jen has created a website and a program just for parents who have no idea how to help their adult children or themselves when drugs consume their family. She also works one on one with mothers and fathers to help them build the strength and skills to deal with their own patterns so that they can set the conditions for their child to face their addiction and get on the path to recovery.
So here's my question for you: How many people came to mind when you read this? Who do you know that could use someone to tell them what is really happening with their drug-addicted child?
Instead of just closing this page, I ask you to forward this to them first. They can schedule their first call with her with the click of a button.
Click here and get your life saving call.
You may be asking what am I going to do without having Jen in my company. I will miss our day to day interactions immensely. However, when she shared her decision to start this business with me, I deeply knew it was the way she is meant to serve in the world. Whether from the angle of mom or boss, my best service to the world is to joyfully let her go do her thing.
Plus we have a new podcast! Click the link where we talk about her business and our journey.
Originally Posted: September 11, 2016
“I’m going to do it all – and I’m going to do it perfectly.” While few say that out loud, their actions say it for them.
Know anyone who thinks (and acts) that way? I see it all the time, whether in a small business - where doing it all seems a necessity - to teams in giant corporations. The very same people who treat money as a scarce resource are willing to spend their energy doing tasks that provide a low business payoff.
Trying to do too much and trying to do it perfectly will lead you to mediocrity and drain your energy faster than it drains your bank account.
Many years ago, when I was working with Norm Smallwood of Results Based Leadership, he introduced me to the “anti-perfectionism/strategic clarity” model he called “Types of Work.” It changed my life, the way I approach work and how I make trade offs. And in that timeframe, this new awareness guided me to say no to some very exciting global work with – you guessed it – Norm Smallwood.
Norm’s point of view on strategy could be boiled down to this: What you say “no” to defines you more than what you say “yes” to. In other words, being opportunistic causes you to saying yes to more things than you can do well. Being strategic means saying no to anything that doesn’t fit your distinctive core business.
Having the backbone to have a strong portfolio of “no’s” develops a stronger business than saying yes just because you can do it.
This is a simple concept that is extraordinarily difficult to actually do. Walking away from work that might be lucrative because it isn’t your core value proposition seems crazy – but let me make the case for why you should do just that. After all, everyone has more to do than they can possibly do well. How great would it be to have a logical way to say “no” when you have more than you can handle?
The logic starts with this premise:
Not all work is created equal.
The work that distinguishes you (and that you get paid for) deserves a different kind of priority and attention than your basic business work.
Trying to do everything well means you do nothing well.
Watch this very short animation to understand the basic idea, and I will see you on the other side:
Here’s the thing: striving for best-in-class-performance is worthwhile only in about 10-20% of the work you do – your distinctive and enabling work. The other 80% or so needs to be good enough. This doesn’t mean you buy a house in “slackerville.” It’s just that extreme excellence in Business Essential work just brings you more work than you should handle – and it’s work you don’t get paid for. Just remember: do worse than par and it can cost you your reputation and maybe your business.
Here’s how Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week said it: “I’m not against hard work. I’m against hard work on stupid things.”
Distinctive work is what makes you special. You want to be unique and distinctive work forms the core of your business or reputation. Why didn’t I do global work with Norm Smallwood all those years ago? It would have impacted my ability to be effective with my clients AFTER the trips. I need my sleep. Jet lag impacts my ability to be a clear and present coach and facilitator. I was very aware that while doing the global work might look good on my bio, it would negatively impact my ability to perform and would ultimately hurt my goals. So I said no.
Distinctive work is why people choose you or your company. It is worth your time and effort to be crystal clear on what makes you special in the eyes of your clients, customers or employers.
How do you decide where your time, attention and energy go? What are your guardrails for making sharp trade-offs? Are you clear on the work that makes you distinctive? Where are you tempted to take on customers or work because of the money instead of it being a fit for your business? What kind of non-strategic projects are you doing?
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, thinking you can’t do it all, or find yourself agonizing over a simple detail, re-prioritize your work into the three buckets: Distinctive, Enabling, or Business Essential.
Struggling to say no even though you know you should? Wondering what’s the difference between Distinctive and Enabling work? Connect via Social or here.
As always, please share this with anyone you think would find it useful. And let me know how you are using what you learn!
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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