The world wants you to settle

You may have received this feedback from supervisors;

“You’re doing great, keep it up!”

Or, “Focus on this one thing (e.g. communication, education, experience) and you’ll continue to be fantastic.”

Never believe your supervisor’s feedback.

Why? They want you to succeed.

But who succeeds in any organization? The majority (see the Normal or Gaussian Curve).

So this well-intended feedback they gave you is for success and the majority…because your supervisor wants to be right.

The world hopes you’ll settle too. Natural forces grind down mountains and flood low-lying areas. It seeks the average. Because the average live on and survive to reproduce. Maybe that’s why exercise hurts, eating vegetables is less appealing than sugar, and sleeping in feels better than waking before the sun. The world is hoping you’ll settle for average.

If you want more than average, to make more of a difference than the mean, to change through innovation rather than incrementalism, to go farther and fly higher, listen to the feedback…but remember it’s only a step in the right direction. It’s the minimum bar to the club of normal.

NOTE: My feedback is also average and often intended for the majority to succeed. Remember no one else can tell you how to be your best. It’s something you find out for yourself.

Tying Shoelaces (Life Lessons)

This week, I spoke with a colleague who was going through some work issues. They’d received a new work assignment across the state and weeks later it was changed, delayed, forgotten about, and eventually cancelled. This was followed by a strong rumor of an overseas transfer.

She was a mess…and justifiably so. No organization that espouses their people as the most valuable resource would do this, right?

This morning I was unlacing my running shoes in preparation for the workout (yes, I’m the lazy guy who slides off his shoes post-workout). I pulled the wrong lace and it knotted up. So I pulled another lace and the knot grew tighter. Now these laces aren’t your normal round laces…they are fancy oval laces made for running. And when they knot, they almost glue together. I frowned and pulled the knot apart with my teeth. Success!

The next shoe knotted as well, but I didn’t pull. I held the shoelace loosely, looked at it, and the tangle of shoelace easily fell apart.

Life is like this. It will get complex. It will go wrong. It will knot up. It can be taken personally and we can rationalize our justification. We can pull, get mad, make it tighter, and feel righteously indignant. (Teeth optional)

Or we can hold it loosely, look at the situation, and allow the knot the fall away.

 

Four Questions to Increase Clarity in Life (and EHS)

Morgan Housel, writing for the Collaborative Fund, suggests writing is a way to increase clarity in life. Specifically, Morgan recommends writing out the answers to four questions. Below are the questions and my responses. What are your answers? Feel free to post them here…looking forward to learning from you!

What is your edge over competitors?

In safety and professionally, our work depends on our ability to connect the art and science of safety to management and the worker. My “edge” is that I wake up focusing on that connection.

Also, I learned a decade ago that I can’t change the entire world. But I do have the opportunity to inspire, develop, and encourage safety professionals, and together we can do amazing things (and change the world).

How do you react to unforeseen risk?

I’ve learned that unforeseen risk is part of iteration and learning. I now take more in stride and accept it as a part of the learning cycle, changing what I can and (learning to) accept what I can’t. It’s a journey.

What have you changed your mind about recently?

Two things.

First, a quote from Todd Conklin. “You’re not ever going to be able to stop an accident. You can directly change the way the accident affects your organization, your workers, and yourself.” I spent many years feeling failure every time I came into the office in the morning to see another incident report. Todd’s words refocused my energy on the incident outcomes, not the error itself.

Secondly, I’ve changed my mind about high personal standards. For years, I was counseled by supervisors that my standards were too high. They said I was setting myself and my teams up for failure by setting the bar so high. I almost fell for it. To my core, I now believe high personal standards are foundational to every small amount of success I’ve managed to achieve.

What part of your job are you not good at?

This question is the easiest…there are so many areas. I get lost in strategic policy decision conversations. My personality wants to move on, implement, and move on again. I’m not good at data entry work. I’m worse at reviewing multiple editions of company regulations….my mind seems to get lost in the many versions. Program sustainment…yep…not so good. I’m fantastic at conceptualizing, designing, and implementing. I’m not the one to maintain the program. And, I’ll stop there in case any future employers see a conflict with my resume. 🙂

Link to Morgan Housel’s original article on writing.

What are your answers?

Do you want more pot?

Greenhouses and nurseries are filled with them.

Plastic pots, filled with soil, a bit of gravel, and a tiny seedling. The seedling grows quickly with the moisture and stability provided by the black pot. As the seedling adds leaves and height, the roots curl around the bottom of the pot and, for a moment, the plant stops growing.

Expert gardeners maintain development by giving the plant a larger pot. They know plants will grow tall in a small pot, but their stalks remain weak from coiled root balls and limited exposure to the elements. So the gardener’s hands gently break apart the coiled roots and place the plant into a larger container. The transition is tough at first, a little wilting is normal during repotting. After a few days, the roots find their place and growth begins once again.

Are you deliberately repotting? Or is a coiled root ball lulling you into a stability-fueled plateau?

Do you want more pot?

You know, you don’t need to grow old to die. I was dying at the age of 20 as a result of no direction and no purpose.” – Grant Cardone

Circumstances

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession

Look around at your life. Where are you? Are you where you want to be?

Think ten years ahead. Are you still there? Do you want something else? To be somewhere else?

What are you doing today to move towards that 10-year vision?

Every decision you make reflects your values and beliefs. Every decision changes your life, in big and small ways. Decisions change circumstances and outcomes, in far greater ways than genetics, inborn talent, physical ability, mental acuity, or parental support or neglect. In fact, people with more talent than you have wasted it and people with less ability than you have done far more with their lives.

What circumstances are you making today? When is today THE day?

The Grass is Dying (so check your sprinklers)

Well before sunrise, I throw on running shoes and take off. Then I see the water. Not a river or lake, but water in the street. The sprinklers are broken. Some are pointing into the street, some have been decapitated by errant landscapers, and others simply don’t come up anymore.

The grass dies. But no one checks the sprinklers. Some people even blame the grass.

Do we do this in EHS management as well?

Do we see safety plans (sprinklers) fail and blame the workers (the grass we care so much about)?

Do we build perfect management systems, implement them, and walk away feeling proud…only to fail to come back at night to check on how it really works?

How do your sprinklers work? Do you have water running in the streets too?

 

When Truth No Longer Matters

“These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments.” – Col Billy Mitchell

In most organizations, we do things for the right reasons.

Then there is safety.

In safety, too often we convince ourselves our intentions matter more than the result. For example, after a mishap resulting in injury or even death, leaders (and safety advisers right behind them) implement programs, training, engineering actions, and PPE policies. And we feel good. After all, we’ve taken on the problem, right?

Wrong.

When an organization’s sole impetus for action is blood (or an OSHA citation), we have failed. Not we the organization, but we the safety profession.

We have failed to tell the truth.

Col Billy Mitchell, in the quote above, was responding to the frequent deaths of pilots in the early days of military aviation, deaths regarded at the time as “just part of the job.” Soon after, Mitchell was convicted at court-martial for his words. According to the prosecutor, whether or not he was telling the truth was irrelevant. If free speech were allowed, the military would turn to chaos. The prosecutor went on to say,

“Is such a man a safe guide? Is he a constructive person or is he a loose talking imaginative megalomaniac?… Is this man a Moses, fitted to lead the people out of a wilderness?… Is he not rather the all too familiar charlatan and demagogue type…and except for a decided difference in poise and mental powers in Burr’s favor, like Aaron Burr?”

Billy Mitchell’s words and actions would go on to inspire many others, to include Gen Hap Arnold, who would later create a safety branch in the Army Air Corps and then to lead the Air Force as a separate military service.

Does truth matter? Does it matter enough in our profession?

Look for the stairs, not the elevator

In 1857, the first commercial passenger elevator was installed in a 5-story department store in New York City. It was immediately popular. Even today, most people, upon entering a tall building, search for the machine transformed by Elisha Otis.

We look for the elevator in life too. We search for tips, hacks, shortcuts, and the quickest way. The problem with this approach is that everyone else is too. Everyone is looking for the easy button. And so we all line up at the elevator, trusting the easy way is the best way.

There is no tip to get around the hard work. There is no secret to firm abdominals. There is no hack to promotions and no Amazon Prime two-day delivery for real education or certifications you will be proud to earn. No easy button for relationships or shortcut to experience.

Don’t wait in line at the elevator for something that doesn’t exist.

Take the stairs.

 

Whitewash-A Perspective on Life

Tom Sawyer skipped school to swim and the next day his aunt assigned him the job of whitewashing the front fence as punishment. In Mark Twain’s classic tale, Tom persuades his friends to trade treasured objects, like kites and tin soldiers, for the chance to help with the fence.

How? He assigns value to the task by describing just how lucky a boy is to be able to whitewash a fence.

What are you able to do today? What jobs do you view as tedious, menial, or even boring that others would give their prized possessions to be able to do?

Whether it’s a stable job that pays well, the opportunity to parent children, or your own version of whitewashing the fence, how you choose to embrace it (the job or this life) means everything.

Want to go deeper on the subject? Take a moment to watch Lisa Kristine’s TED talk on modern-day slavery. It is 19:21 minutes and I promise you’ll think differently afterwards.

What will you whitewash today?

Bargaining on the Price

Think back to the last time you told yourself you were going to do something and it didn’t work out. For whatever reason, the thing you wanted didn’t happen (a job, a friend, an achievement, a health goal, etc.).

Rudyard Kipling gives us unique insight into the problem of the unattained. He wrote, “If you don’t get what you want, it’s a sign either that you did not seriously want it, or that you tried to bargain over the price.”

I done this…bargained with myself over the price. For me, this bargaining comes in the form of the little voice in the back of my head. It says things like, “Do you really want to wake up that early?”, “This is comfortable, why change it?”, or even “You deserve this, so you won’t have to work that hard.”

That voice sounds like me. But it isn’t me.

It’s the way we bargain with life, the choice we must make every day.

Will we hit the day or let the day hit us?

Do we want it or do we want something else?

Will we bargain or will we work?