Until a few weeks ago, I had never given much thought to the concept of “what I stood for” in life. In a training session for 140 people, I was forced into thinking about it when we were each asked the question and told we would share our answers publicly. While, I have no problems talking in front of a group of people, sharing a thought as personal as “what I stood for” in life, was not something I was eager to do.
The facilitator allowed us ten minutes to decide the one thing that we stood for, above all other things, to share with the group. I quickly made a list of things that were core to my life and beliefs then; I agonized for the remaining eight minutes over the priority of the words. What was the one thing that stood above all others? Was it creativity, or trust, or directness? Was it something spiritual? I just wasn’t sure. Then, out of nowhere came a memory of a conversation with a friend.
A few months prior, I was sharing that I learned early in my career that I enjoy creating and building new businesses, processes, or programs, and I dislike the mundane details of the day-day-management of the things I’ve built. Although I can make myself manage those things for a while, I usually get bored and frustrated, and I look to hire someone quickly who loves those daily details. Frankly, it allows me to keep my sanity. I need variety in my work and life to maintain my motivation.
After hearing my story, my friend asked what he thought was an innocent question, “What is it you like most; the act of creating or building something new, or seeing the finished result of your hard work?” The question took me off guard; I think of myself as an introspective guy, yet I had never asked myself this question.
A few minutes passed before I answered, “The act of creating and building things is what motivates me most. When I build a table, for example, the fun for me is in selecting and cutting the wood then, assembling the seemingly disparate pieces into a functioning table. Once it’s built, I may walk by a couple of times and admire my handiwork, but then I move on to the next thing. What drives me is, ‘what could be,’ not necessarily ‘what is.’”
This memory helped me realize that above all things, I stand for the “possibilities” in life and work. The possibility of something yet to come stirs a passion and drive deep inside that propels me forward. To have the ability, however, flawed at times, to see life or work in a way that allows me to envision the picture on the top of the puzzle box when others can only see the individual pieces of the puzzle; to create something new where nothing exists is exhilarating. Unlike most, the possibilities of life or work do not scare me; instead, I thrive on what might be and push hard to get there, if only pause shortly before moving on to the next thing.
As wrote the word “possibilities” at the top of my list, our 10 minutes were up. We stood and moved into a circle to share our “stands” with each other. As each person told their stand, I almost immediately looked at them differently; as if I had a better understanding of the way they thought about new ideas or responded to the challenges of change. It was literally as if a light bulb went on above my head. I have long known the backgrounds and perceptions of others influence their actions and decisions, but I had never before heard someone sum up their life’s motivation in one word—their public stand.
I realized then my stand is both a gift and a curse. I’m fortunate that I can often see the big picture or goal, even when imperfect at the start. I am also blessed with ability think in detail, so I can design and take action on the steps necessary to reach that goal. There are times, though, when I see the top of the puzzle box so clearly that I push others too hard without considering how their own “stand” might be guiding them on their journey. Instead of helping them on the journey, I push them forward before their ready to go, causing some aggravation and frustration at times.
For those who are wondering, I have been working on holding my tongue until others are ready to hear what I have to say. My success varies, hourly.
Since that training day, I’ve thought that life would be much easier if only we knew the “stand” of everyone we love and work with each day. Would it make a difference if we simply stood up from our computer at home right now or walked into our office tomorrow and said, “I stand for [insert your stand here]” to our family and co-workers? After they get over the shock of the public proclamation and you explain what you're doing, I believe it would make a difference.
It seems to me that understanding just one more thing about someone we work with or someone we love makes all the difference in how we can relate to them. This new understanding becomes a gift because it not only changes our lives; it changes theirs.
Go on. Do it. Now. It’s easy. I’ll even go first.
I stand for possibilities.
Want to take it step further? If you’re on Twitter, I encourage you to send a tweet after you read this with your stand (“ I stand for…”) and the hashtag, #takeapublicstand.
David Harkins is a business strategist, speaker, and teacher.
He is the founder and executive consultant at David Harkins Company. In his spare time, he writes hikes, explores, and creates art. Although, not necessarily in that order.
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