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Posts Tagged ‘growth’

A friend of mine recently received feedback anonymously. The feedback raised some questions my friend wanted to ask. The problem with anonymous feedback is that when you receive it, you don’t know the perspective of the person who gave it. You don’t know what factors influence that feedback. And you can’t ask questions to understand specifically what caused that person to give that sort of feedback. This is true whether the feedback is positive or negative.

When you choose to give feedback, it’s best if you can give it in person. If nothing else, attach your name and contact information. If you care enough to give feedback, care enough to be willing to be engaged in a conversation about it. For those of us who seek to improve, having that conversation is crucial, and details often matter. Looking at it from the other side, I have found that those conversations can be more informative for me than for the person I offered a comment to. It’s an opportunity for both people to grow.

However, if you leave the comment anonymously, that conversation never has a chance to happen. Neither side can grow from it. Therefore, if you choose to leave feedback, do so prepared for that conversation and attach your name.

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It was my first chess tournament. I was extremely nervous, especially because my parents had come to watch – both of them. Typically my dad didn’t watch my competitions as they made him nervous, which in turn made me more nervous. That was the case that day.

I remember the first pairing. The opening was the Four Knight’s Defense, which at the highest levels tends to lead to draws. Only we were scholastic players, meaning it was a perfectly reasonable opening. We were even through the opening and the middlegame. Then in the endgame I snaked a couple of pawns through and queened them. Game 1 was a win. My nerves quelled some then. Why had I succeeded in the endgame? The reason is because I played constantly against a couple of gentlemen who were significantly better than me in that phase of the game. I had taken a lot of lumps playing, and losing, to them.

Game 2 I had the White pieces. There is an opening that is considered “unsound” at the highest levels and luminaries like Bobby Fischer proclaimed they had developed counters that refuted it (they haven’t). That opening is the King’s Gambit and there are still grandmasters who play it and play it well, so it’s anything but refuted, though there are stronger openings for White. Because of its reputation, it wasn’t played by anyone at that tournament, the SC state scholastic tournament, except one player who liked to attack, attack, attack. That was me. I opened with it in my second game and my opponent crumbled quickly. Within the first twenty moves, my opponent’s queenside pieces were sitting off the board, having been captured in a massive onslaught my opponent didn’t know how to stop. The King was hunkered down behind his defenses but would fall a few moves later. I had earned another win.

Up until that point, I had lost every single game of the King’s Gambit I had ever played. I had played it well over a couple of hundred times and my chess backside was black and blue with the beatings I had endured playing my pet opening.

Some of those games I had lost badly. Others reached the endgame where decisions I had made in the middlegame came back to haunt me. But each of those previous games was against an opponent who was significantly better than me. This opponent had also played the King’s Gambit for years before switching over to other openings. Every time I forayed out the first few moves, I was going against someone who I knew was going to have a significant advantage over me in this particular opening. However, I wanted to learn it. So I challenged myself by playing the King’s Opening against this particular gentleman. I learned just about every way you could lose playing the King’s Gambit. When I got to the state chess tournament and uncorked it, I was ready to win with it.

The secret to my success that tournament was I had challenged myself greatly leading up to it. I had intentionally played the toughest opponents that I knew, especially in openings I wanted to learn that I knew that they understood and had played. In the end I made it to the final round with a perfect record, eventually losing that final game to the state champion.

Challenging myself was the key to my success. I have found this to be true whether we’re talking about games, about sports, about work, or about life. I rarely improve when facing situations that don’t require my best. This is true of most people. If you find yourself in a rut or you don’t think you’re improving fast enough, ask yourself, “Am I being challenged?” If you aren’t, that might be the reason you aren’t growing.

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DissatisfiedPeople who have known me for some time eventually here me say this quote,

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

I’m approaching 40 so how can it be that I don’t know what I want to do? Well, the reality is that early on in life I did know. When I was a 3 year-old watching Star Trek, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer, the first to design a faster than light spacecraft. I didn’t know that’s what the title was for the job, but that’s what I wanted to do. And that held until I was 16, about to turn 17, and I watched the aerospace industry nearly implode in the midst of severe government cuts towards defense spending. I had to decide on college and what I was going to major in. Suddenly, aerospace engineering looked terrible, especially as I knew quite a few aerospace people with glowing qualifications who had just joined the unemployment line. ┬áThat wasn’t the first time I thought I knew what I wanted to do. There were several other instances, like when I figured I’d be like my dad and make the military a career. Faced with a hard decision for my second assignment, I decided against it and that meant leaving active duty.

What those experiences taught me is that I should be open to new opportunities and new paths. In my case I’ve stayed mostly in two fields: information technology and ministry. However, in both of those fields I’ve gone all over the place with respect to what I have done. Why? I listen to my dissatisfaction. For instance, when folks ask me what I’ve done in my IT career, here are some of the items I list:

  • Web developer
  • Database administrator
  • Project manager
  • Infrastructure architect
  • Security architect

I’ve done all of these at an enterprise level. I’ve bounced around because when I start feeling like I’m not growing with one area of IT, I look for opportunities in a related field. You don’t necessarily have to change employers to do this, either. I’ve done all of these roles with my current employer, though less so the PM one (by choice). The key has always been the following:

  • An open eye and ear for a new opportunity.
  • A proven track record of working hard to grasp a new position and new skills.
  • A commitment to reach out beyond my current position to build bridges.
  • A commitment to reach back to previous jobs and teams to maintain bridges.

I don’t like burning bridges with people. Relationships are important. Even if I’m in a strained relationship with someone, I still try my best to keep it civil, to not do anything to cause the relationship to get worse. I realize that there are times you have to let unhealthy relationships go. However, I don’t go looking to end relationships. It’s often relationships that I’ve built with folks that lead to the new opportunities and the ability to change positions.

Each new opportunity has meant new challenges. I like new challenges. When I face new challenges I grow. I develop new skills. I enhance related skills that I already have. When it comes to IT, I also get a bigger picture of how things work and how things should be. That broader perspective helps me with troubleshooting, aids me in designing new systems, and in detecting issues with existing ones. Looking back, I would be very myopic in my view of systems if I didn’t have a broader background. I can think back to my USAF days when I had such a constrained vision on a particular project. Knowing what I do know, I’d have approached things differently. I can’t change the past, but what I can do is apply that broader vision when I come across similar circumstances in the future.

Would it help to specialize? For some it does. I’m not one of those. I realize that I’m built to seek new challenges and to explore. Yes, some fields are incredibly deep. I could spend the rest of my IT career in database technology and every day have the opportunity to learn something new. However, I realize that I’m the type that wants to know what’s going on at the operating system level, who has a desire to understand how the hardware works behind the scenes, how the systems talk and interact, etc. I know I wouldn’t be satisfied just being in database technology. I use that dissatisfaction to grow. It has served me well.

If you’re feeling dissatisfied, consider why. Consider the possibility that moving to a related field will provide new challenges and new growth. Maybe that’s what you need. A lot of times folks think it’s just the current employer. However, it often can be stagnation in the current position. Moving positions but staying with the same employer can be an option that gets you out of your dissatisfaction and into growth. Perhaps your current employer isn’t going to provide the new direction you want. Then consider other places, too. Whatever you do, use your dissatisfaction to lead to growth. It can help you overcome the fear of change and push you on to new heights.

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