Fully Immersed !!

This past weekend my wife, daughter and I went to the Newfields Art Museum to take in the incredible digital experience featuring the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. It took place in the LUME Indianapolis and it’s hard to adequately describe. You follow the crowd of people who are about to experience this with you. Slowly, you inch up three floors of escalators which only makes the anticipation of what is ahead grow. Your tickets are scanned on your phone and then you enter a vast expanse that covers almost an entire floor of the museum.Classical music starts to play and wrap around you as the first images come to life. The story of Van Gogh is displayed in words on various screens that tower over you. What is different with this art installation from any other I have experienced is that every surface is covered in color, imagery, and movement. Your eyes can’t keep up with all that is around you. The paintings of Van Gogh wrap around you and you are “inside” them. You see people take pictures of themselves fully covered in a mixture of blues, yellows, greens, whites, and reds. When his famous sunflowers come up people look like a field of wallpaper that blots out their outfits.

My family Van Gogh’d !!

The response of people as they took in all that was happening ranged from elation to disbelief to boredom. I hate to say that, but it’s like any experience. You can’t get everyone to enjoy what they’re going through. Some seemed like they were there for their partner/spouse and that support was appreciated even if they didn’t get lost in the art. My wife, daughter and I were lost completely. We didn’t even know the other person was in the room. I turned around to point something out and saw that they were taking in something that caught their attention. I didn’t want to shape or influence their experience. I knew we would share later what captured our attention.

One of the biographical pieces that came up on the screen was that Van Gogh was incredibly prolific and he created 2,000 drawings and pictures the last 10 years of his life. Keep in mind that he unfortunately only lived to be 37 years old. He also had mental health struggles in the midst of his immense creative output. It’s quite remarkable. It’s as if he couldn’t keep up with all that was flowing from him. He was as fully immersed in his art as much as we were surrounded by it at the exhibit.

His art is still so moving 130 years after his death. That is fascinating to comprehend. We wonder if the work we’re doing in HR sometimes has an impact at all, don’t we?

I think we can take a lesson from this exhibit and from the artist. If we would quit viewing ourselves as “practitioners,” we could take on the mantle of fully immersing ourselves in our profession, our roles and our organizations. Trust me when I tell you that when you see HR all around you, then you no longer see what you do as a job. I have tried to do this for years. It may seem a bit odd, but I think that every aspect of my life can be applied to the “art” I get to create as an HR professional.

This week, take a look at how you view what you do and how you see yourself. Are you only practicing HR? If so, pick up your brushes, find a canvas and immerse yourself. Don’t settle as an observer. Become the artist you were destined to be. You’ll be pleased at what starts to come to life !!

Don’t Be an Entertainer !!

If I was able to ask you how you’re doing as a human right now, how would you answer? I’m sure there would be a myriad of responses. Some would be genuine and some would be polite. Some would be in-depth and raw while others would be short and concise. There’s no telling what the answer could be, but it’s a question I think we should be asking on a more regular basis.

You see, I’m concerned. I’m concerned about my peers in HR who are plastering on a smiley face every day just to make it through. There are those who are not faking it and are intensely positive because it’s how they’re wired. I love when you encounter those folks, and I wish there were more people who adopted this approach to life and work. The reality is that people are struggling. There are varying degrees of what people are experiencing, but struggling is becoming far more the norm for everyone in the workplace – especially if you’re in HR.

The reason I feel it’s more prevalent in Human Resources professionals is that many don’t think they are allowed to be “human” themselves. We adopt an arm’s length facade to keep people from knowing who we are. We can show all of the necessary empathy and understanding for others, but rarely is that reciprocated back to HR pros. We’re expected to be the “entertainers” of the organization and it’s exasperating.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a giant music freak and one of my favorite artists is the legendary Billy Joel. One of my favorite songs came from one of his earliest albums, Streetlife Serenade. It’s called “The Entertainer” and it captures exactly what I see happening in HR. The first verse goes like this . . .

“I am the entertainer
And I know just where I stand
Another serenader
And another long-haired band
Today I am your champion
I may have won your hearts
But I know the game
You’ll forget my name
And I won’t be here in another year
If I don’t stay on the charts, oh”

HR people always feel the pressure to be “on.” Trust me. We feel we need to “stay on the charts” if we’re to have any meaningful impact on the company. It’s true with everyone I know whether they’re a new practitioner just starting or a CHRO. It’s great that we are the “people” people in companies as long as we don’t express our humanity ourselves. This needs to stop. There’s never been a great reason for us to take this posture, and it honestly has distanced us within organizations.

It’s safe and okay to be vulnerable, flawed, quirky, uncertain, and curious. We can drop the guarded wall we put up and allow ourselves to be as emotional as every other person we work with. We can share our life experiences and our ups and downs. We can be frustrated and elated. However, we can’t experience that freedom if we keep holding on to the “entertainer” mantle.

We need to realize that employees today expect to have an HR connection that they can relate to. The days of being the compliance enforcer have evaporated. There continues to be a group of “experts” who pound the drum of processes/policies/procedures that should lead everything we do, but they’re wrong, old-fashioned and irrelevant.

With more and more organizations moving to a people-first approach, HR has to set the standard by being people first themselves. This is the expectation of how the workplace has evolved over the past twenty months. There isn’t going to be a retreat. It’s time to blaze the trail that awaits us. Stop being an entertainer and embrace being a human . . . in HR.

One last nugget. You can’t reference this incredible song without letting you enjoy it as well !! So, here you go.

You Gotta Minute ??

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind because I was able to speak to my HR peers at both the SHRM Annual Conference and the Georgia SHRM State Conference in person and the Pennsylvania SHRM State Conference virtually. It’s been a long time since I’ve had these opportunities and I relish them. Any chance I get to be with others who practice HR, I’m geeked !! Seriously. Very few things fill my bucket as much as this.

I was able to spend more time in person at the SHRM Annual Conference and I was humbled to be able to speak at two Mega sessions. When I walked into the room, my jaw dropped. As I stood on the stage, I couldn’t see the back of the room. I couldn’t believe that I’d have the chance to ever speak in such a vast space. It’s hard to not be anxious wondering if the room will fill or not. I don’t take that for granted because I know that I’m usually one of many great options. So, when people choose to attend I appreciate them more than they probably know.

The room was filled each time with the second session having even more folks than the first. We laughed, learned, and even made it through loud thunderclaps as a torrential thunderstorm came up right when I started to speak. It was a wonderful time !!

After I finish a presentation, the most humbling thing occurs. People are kind enough to come up to chat and share their thoughts about what they heard. They also share their experiences which I always like to hear. Some ask questions and some even want to take a selfie. The biggest thing they are looking for is my time and attention. I never take this for granted and give them as much time as they’d like.

Throughout the week, I made sure to walk through the conference, hang out at the SHRM store, and just hang with the attendees. More than a few times, people came up to me and asked, “You gotta minute?” I always said, “Yes.” I have to admit that these conversations were so meaningful and touching because the folks who stopped me wanted to share what they were facing personally in their current HR role. Most of them were very emotional and there were several tears shed. I’m not ashamed of that. If you know me at all, I’ll cry at any time. I love it when people exhibit their emotions.

You see, I think that the work of HR is hard. It’s hard because we intentionally work with people, and people can be exhausting. That includes us as HR pros too by the way . . . because we’re people too. Too often we don’t have a strong network of peers that we can reach out to, rely on, or dump our bucket with. We try to slog through our circumstances on our own and don’t realize the power of having HR peers you can reach out to.

The peers I spoke with wanted to be heard, listened to and valued. They wanted to be reassured that the work they did mattered – just like everyone in our workplaces. I don’t want you to think this is a “woe is me” type of situation. We’re far too busy doing work that we completely ignore the people. As HR pros, we propagate this and it slowly sucks out our souls.

This needs to change. And, it needs to change now. You see the ONLY thing that every person has to give is time. AND people are worth our time !! The best thing about the conferences I participated in was the interactions I had with the attendees – not that they got to listen to me. I wouldn’t exchange those chats for anything else. Let’s make our profession stronger by intentionally giving each other our time and attention.

If someone asks, “You gotta minute?” – I hope you say, “Yes” as well. You’ll be glad you did !!

Go Into The Storm !!

We seek comfort in all facets of our lives. It’s something that gives us peace and certainty. We don’t like to be uncomfortable at all. Even though that’s what we strive for, it’s difficult to maintain because storms inevitably come. Storms come in all shapes and sizes ranging from personal challenges to natural disasters. What may seem to be trivial to some could be overwhelming for others.

The reality of ongoing storms has been on my mind because I’m fortunate to work in Human Resources. Yes, fortunate. I don’t take my career choice lightly because I have the opportunity to be involved in the lives of others. I don’t know that many of my peers view HR in the same manner. I think that’s because we have decades of practice that have sought to reach that state of comfort and a sense of calm as our primary goal.

Think about it. During your day, are you spending more time keeping things in line than anything else? Don’t get me wrong, there is value in reaching comfort at times. However, those in HR tend to make this their primary reason for being in the role, and I think this completely overlooks the humanity of the people we work with. We skate along the surface of polite and courteous interactions while skirting around any potential for conflict, controversy, or any action that would be unsettling.

By doing this, I think we are missing out on making a deep and lasting connection with our employees. It’s time we ran into the storms !! There’s a unique characteristic of buffaloes. You may wonder where this is going, but you need to know that when a storm comes upon a herd of buffalo, they band together and run toward it to get through it quicker rather than avoid the storm for protection.

What would your workplace look like if you were the one who stepped in to know your people more? When you heard about what they were facing, what if you slowed down and listened to them? Just listened.

I’m not suggesting that you be cavalier, reckless or arrogant feeling you could solve the storms swirling in the lives around you. This isn’t about bringing about solutions. It’s merely encouraging you to be the person who runs into the storms to help others get through them. You can do this by standing up for those who aren’t regularly seen or heard. You can do this by not always saying “Yes” and challenging supervisors, people managers, and senior leaders in order to do the right thing.

Running into storms takes courage and a willingness to be intentional even when others will advise you not to. The urge to conform and flee from the storms in our path is difficult to overcome. Keep this in mind though.

If YOU don’t run towards the storm, who will?

The people in our lives and at our workplaces are yearning for someone who will come alongside them to weather all they are facing. Let’s band together as a profession, an industry and as a community as HR professionals. Storms are brewing on the horizon. Let’s start running right at them !!

Imprints

This past week, my wife and I were fortunate enough to get away for a vacation traversing across the great State of Tennessee. It was fantastic and I had some experiences that I was prepared to share in my blog, and then I received a text from a friend on Friday. The entire bottom of the world dropped as soon as I read it.

You see, my friend Mat Davies, passed away on Friday after a valiant fight against cancer. I sat in my hotel room and wept. I know this isn’t unique or new, but when it hits you personally you are reminded of how brief this adventure we call life really is.

Mat and I “met” via Twitter six years ago. I really enjoyed his blog and his activity on social media, so I decided to reach out to connect more. Thankfully he said yes. Again, this isn’t “unique”, but it was a chance to cross geographical boundaries because Mat was from the UK and I live in the States. I soon found out that we both had a fierce love for music of all genres and we connected even more. We communicated off and on throughout the years, but never in person.

That changed in 2019 when my wife and I went to the UK for an extended vacation. There was a Tweetup at Doggett’s Coat & Badge pub on the River Thames in London where tons of HR peers gathered to meet us in person. I spotted Mat immediately and made sure that we spent time together having a chat. Even though we had just “met” it felt like we had been friends for our entire life. He also was amazing by spending time talking to Debbie while I meandered around to make sure to meet everyone. Before the night ended, we made sure to capture the moment in a picture.

Me and Mat at the Tweetup on the Thames.

It is one of my favorite memories. Seriously. If you look at the picture, you can see rays of sunlight coming over Mat’s shoulder. That’s not a coincidence. He was always someone who brought joy, passion, wit and life to every conversation and interaction you had with him. Every. Time.

I have always believed that people leave an imprint on your life every time you encounter them. Those imprints can be positive or negative. Encouraging or frustrating. Uplifting and full of life or difficult and disheartening. You get the image. You leave an imprint on people whether you intentionally try to or not.

I don’t think we realize that we are in each other’s lives for a relatively short period of time. That’s true for the vast majority of people we know outside of our spouse/partner, parents, children and immediate family. We have moments. Since that is the case, we can choose to make an imprint that matters.

Mat knew this. He was someone who was positive, encouraging and thoughtful. Whenever we chatted during his chemo treatments, he was the one encouraging me and sharing some musical tidbit that he just enjoyed. I know he had to be struggling during his battle, but you’d never know it.

I know we can’t reach every person in the world. I also know that struggles, tragedies and challenges are in every person’s life to some degree. We can’t reach everybody BUT we can reach those we are fortunate to cross paths with.

I encourage you to model Mat and be a person whose imprint is not only positive, but it’s one that is lasting and meaningful. I hope to be someone who consistently follows this model. I already miss my friend, but I am thankful that we met. I carry his imprint with me . . . always.

I must do one thing to honor my friend by closing with a bit of music. I heard this just after hearing the news and it’s perfect because it’s a mix of the legend and artistry of Bob Dylan and the more current talented group Maroon 5 singing the classic “I Shall Be Released.” It fits because now my dear friend Mat is released from this life and to the next. Peace my brother.

Be an Olympian !!

The past two weeks have been captured by the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. I have made sure to watch coverage when I could and check on the outcomes of events throughout each day. My family has watched the Olympics as far back as I can remember. As I had a family of my own, I made sure the kids were glued to watching both the winter and summer games.

There are so many reasons why I enjoy taking in the competition. I try to take in the lesser-known events too because I just love seeing people doing their best as they strive to reach the medal stand. It takes a bit more effort to do that, but it keeps me grounded. It’s easy to get a bit cynical by the coverage from the States because our lens is so focused on gold medals only and we tend to feature our athletes.

The best feature of the Olympics in my opinion is that it’s an example of how the world can come together for a common cause. Yes, the goal for each athlete is to win, but the reality is that only three individuals/teams in each event actually attain the podium. That leaves several hundred folks who have trained for years, if not a lifetime, to get a chance just to compete at the highest level of their chosen sport.

It’s reassuring to see that the Olympics came through this year and that they’ve weathered challenge after challenge throughout the decades in order to occur. It’s a great example of resilience in the midst of countless efforts to bring them down. Whether it has been controversy, doping, political upheaval, or questionable judging, camaraderie and sportsmanship prevail.

I wish that humanity as a whole, and especially my peers in HR, would realize that we ARE a global community that will exist and pull through the more we come together for a purpose and cause far more than only responding to a crisis. It seems that we are surrounded by dissension, hatred and constant negativity. These factors consume every channel of communication and we get swallowed by it too easily (and unfortunately willingly at times).

What would our daily lives look like if we embraced each other globally? If we took the same approach as Olympians who have the discipline, desire and focus to perform at our highest levels all of the time? What if we understood that even though we are diverse in our backgrounds and our perspectives that those differences would allow us to consider things from all angles instead of from a narrow set of biases?

We keep seeking perfection in ourselves and others instead of understanding that at our best we’re still flawed . . . if we stand alone. The more we come together the gaps one person has will be filled by someone else who has that gap as a strength. It’s time we stop tearing each other down thinking that in some way it will end up building others up.

We all belong together as HR professionals and as humans. Together we can compete and move forward. When we fail each other, and we will, we can pull each other up to get back to the race together. I’m looking forward to connecting more and doing what I can to pull together fellow Olympians to make a team that will do what it can to improve relationships, workplaces and the cultures of organizations worldwide. I hope you’ll join in as well !!

The Best Day !!

This weekend my wife and I took a day to have an adventure. We’re trying to make sure to get out and try new things and see new places. We went to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. We had perfect weather and arrived just as the gates opened. I personally was geeked because I grew up next to a horse farm and always enjoy anything I can do to get to farm-related events.

We made our way to one of the barns to see the horses being groomed. The stalls were filled with magnificent draft horses. After a show featuring some horses that were racing champions, we made our way to the Parade of Breeds. As we took our seats on some metal stands a young boy crawled up behind us and sat on his mother’s lap so he could see. He was fascinated by every, single horse that entered the arena. One horse was covered in a full costume as if he was in a medieval joust and his rider was costumed as well. The young boy squealed with delight and exclaimed that for Halloween he wanted to have a horse that wore a costume and he would wear one too !! His mom was so encouraging and told him that would be great.

After the show, we grabbed a wonderful lunch of loaded nachos. As we were starting to eat, the same young boy came strolling by with his family. He saw what we were eating and he shouted, “They have walking tacos ?? THIS IS THE BEST DAY !!!

His exuberance was heartfelt and palpable. He couldn’t contain himself. One quick note. He was the only child in a large group of adults and it didn’t phase him in the least. Every activity he participated in brought him unadulterated joy. I was taken by his response and it made me wonder.

Do I have “best days?”

I am a consistently positive person for the most part. I get frustrated at times and even angry. It happens more than I’d like to admit. As I reflect while writing this, most of the things that detract from being positive are minor and self-focused. For instance, I could get ticked that someone cuts me off on the road during my commute. Instead of thinking that the others around me are on a commute as well, my blood pressure rises. When someone is critical of my work, I want to step back and breathe, but that usually occurs after my emotions take hold first.

I’m sure you could come up with examples just like these and more. It doesn’t help that the majority of people you encounter throughout the day look at what’s wrong with the day first. On top of that, we are surrounded by news, social media and conversations that spend more time tearing down than building up.

I refuse to follow that trend. I want to be like the young boy taking in life as an endless picture of wonderment. I don’t think this is unrealistic or naive. I don’t want this to be something that is aspirational. I want it to be seen in my behavior and my interactions with others. In fact, I would love to see more people join me in this endeavor.

This is something that I will strive for personally and would also challenge those in HR to adopt it as well. Think what our profession and our workplaces would look like if every day was a “best day.” First of all, people would be stunned. How cool would that be? We could set our companies on edge by having a genuinely positive outlook. Seems radical doesn’t it? Secondly, how amazing would someone else’s day be if they saw you having a best day?

This calls for us to take in life and all that it offers and see the joy and opportunity in front of us instead of falling into the trap of negativity and sullenness. This also requires us to be others-focused and have faith that things will go well for them and for us as we work together.

The young boy probably didn’t realize how refreshing and countercultural he was this weekend. I’m grateful that we crossed paths and that I was reminded of how to have a best day every day !!

Do Some Pruning !!

Last weekend I had a chance to head back to my hometown to visit with my mom. My wife and I always love traveling to Ada, Ohio because it’s honestly like stepping into a Hallmark movie. A small, midwestern town with a dedicated Main Street. It’s incorporated as a village because it’s not big enough to warrant other titles.

We went up not only to visit but to take in the 4th of July festivities !! My hometown hadn’t had fireworks for over 50 years and we got to experience this coming back. Even better, we watched them with our extended family in my cousin’s backyard. So very cool. We also heard the Lima Symphony Orchestra play an outdoor concert and it was spectacular to hear live music once again.

Those two things would have made the visit complete. However, I always make sure to see if there’s anything I can do for my mom around the house. It’s cathartic to be able to help her out and take care of some chores that she shouldn’t do as much anymore. She’s still very vibrant, active and engaged at 82 years young, but I don’t want her getting up and down ladders or doing more physical things when I can help. After cleaning the gutters, I went to the bigger task of the day – pruning.

My parents have always had great landscaping and curb appeal around their ranch-style house. So, we weren’t trying to work our way through a jungle of various plants. We were going to shape and prune some things to give them more definition and get them off the house and the siding. Also, cutting plants back allowed the sun and rain to reach smaller plants that surrounded the ones getting attention.

As I went to work with some electric shears on the first shrubbery, I noticed some overgrowth at the base of the plant that was honestly taking away nutrients from the main core of the bush. That needed to be pruned by hand. This is much slower, concentrated and meticulous. I had to crawl on the ground and reach up into the middle of various branches which poked and prodded every movement. After several well-placed cuts, the bush looked less frazzled and frayed. You could see the base of the beautiful shrub and it now was a focal point of the front corner of the house.

I continued working my way around the house with the hand pruners at the ready to give each plant some love and attention. It was wonderful to have some quiet time to myself and concentrate. As I was clipping and trimming, I began to see how the work I was doing was essential for the plant to thrive. Of course, it made me think of how this same action could be utilized in the workplace.

Pruning isn’t natural at work. We are far more focused on innovation, creativity and production. All movements are geared toward making more and more and more. It’s how we measure performance and how we reward and compensate people. We don’t feel we have time to ever step back and pause. It isn’t true, but we tell ourselves it is. With this incessant pace to always press ahead, work becomes misshapen, fragmented and unruly. We can’t keep up with all of the separate areas of growth. We need to be pruned!!

All of the benefits that I gave to my mom’s plants are true with work and people. If we cut back on some activities, then people can grow from their core and their strengths. If we untangle the things that pull at our base and foundation, then our people can stand firm and assured in what they do. Also, if we pull things back in line, we may see other people who have been overshadowed and need some light and nourishment themselves.

As HR pros, we would benefit our organization if we were those who recognized and made sure pruning happens. I’m not talking about reducing the size of your workforce. I’m talking about being the gardeners who see when things need more attention, care and some clipping. Doing this helps those that lead people to see the need for ALWAYS being mindful of their people.

This week get the pruners out and move around the office to see where your handiwork may reshape people in order for them to blossom, thrive and grow with purpose !!

A Window into HR !!

This past week you may have heard me laughing so loud from the great thing that happened at our offices. Seriously. I couldn’t control myself and it was fantastic.

You see, working for a restaurant company, our Team Members have been present and essential throughout the entire pandemic. We took every safety precaution we could and they pulled through in a magnificent way. We honestly wouldn’t be where we are today without them. (That’s not a new reality by the way. Our team members are the reason we succeed all the time.)

Our corporate office went through the cycle of fully remote, partially remote, hybrid and then in person. We have always had a flexible approach to work so we don’t have a policy. Instead, we have an expectation – Wherever you are, do your work. As things have changed over time and vaccinations have been available, we’ve seen more people choose to be back in person.

An adjoining department to HR is our operations, communications, and training group. Two of my co-workers had put up a plexiglass barrier to make sure they were safe in the office during all that had been going on. With things getting back to “normal”, I stopped by to visit (as I do every day) and made a quick side comment that it was okay to move the barrier if they wanted to. This week they moved it and put it up on top of a file cabinet. It took me by surprise and I commented how I loved where they put it.

Without blinking an eye or missing a beat, they stated, “It’s our window into HR.” I thought that was spectacular and told them how much I loved it. I happened to step out for a late lunch and got a text from them asking if I was coming back. If I was, could I come back and visit again. I was intrigued and hurried back.

When I turned the corner into their department, I lost it and the laughter ensued. Here’s the evidence . . .

They decorated the window into HR and I was touched. It was so personal and showed that we had a great relationship. I’m grateful for that. My team and their team work together often and it’s a joy to work with them. I asked them to keep it up and they reassured me they would.

Their fun office addition did make me think. Do people in your company have a window into HR? When I hear stories from employees I would question whether most truly do. I don’t think that should be the case.

We should have learned over this past 15+ months that everything at work is people-related. It always has been, but now people have acknowledged this truth. I have a feeling that most people’s “window” into our world is when an issue arises. Unfortunately, that may be the only time they interact with us. We should stop complaining that this is how we’re viewed and change what they see and experience.

I would love the window into HR to become where people look forward to interacting with us and that we intentionally reach out to everyone on a regular basis. We have the ability to foster and build our company’s cultures, elevate the performance of people and be the connector to pull together departments and levels of the organization so there is more cohesiveness. I don’t think this is out of reach or Utopian. I think it’s a choice.

This week get some cleaner out and see what your window looks like. Make sure that people not only have a view into who you are and what you do, but that they get to know you and work with you on purpose. Let people in. Remove the blinds and include them in the great work you do in making your company a people-first environment !!

No Comparison !!

I remember moving to Ada, Ohio in 1976. It was the bicentennial in America and everything was adorned in red, white and blue the entire year. I was going into the 7th grade which is just an awful transition year no matter what you do. On top of this, I had a new stepfather (who turned out to be an amazing human), moved into a new house, a new town . . . and a new school.

I don’t know if you remember what it was like in 7th grade, but EVERYTHING was awkward and you felt that every action you took was watched, judged and commented on. The school in Ada, Ohio was small. Note – I said “school” – singular. The entire school system of Kindergarten through 12th grade was in one building. Every school-age child in the town and the ones from the country homes around the village made the trek to the same building each day.

Most of the kids in my class had already been classmates and friends for seven years before I even arrived. Did I mention that I was very tall and geeky? That helped as well. On my first day, I actually got lost in one of the three hallways in the school. A teacher was kind enough to help me get started, but I was soon labeled as the tall, geeky new kid who was crying in the hallway.

The transition to meet new people, make friends and learn the social ropes of my new environment was bumpy. I was extroverted even then, but that didn’t make it easy. I didn’t know the established social norms or groups. I just wanted to be accepted and fit it. I didn’t want to be left out. It took the better part of the first half of the year to make my way through this jungle of social pressure. I had to join clubs, teams and slowly meet others who turned out to be fantastic people.

The pressure of comparison was immense. You never knew how to navigate through the minefield of what to wear, what to say, who to hang out with and what to join. There were tons of days of missteps filled with those who were mean, superficial and those who reveled in misdirecting me.

That was when I was 13. Not much has changed in humanity. We are so comparative and judgemental as a society that it’s no wonder people struggle. This is true at work, in our communities and on social media. We’re more concerned about how others view us because that desire to be connected and “fit in” is so powerful. We still are so critical about where people live, what job/profession they hold, and what they post/say on forums.

We have forsaken the art of conversation and discussion in the pursuit of likes, follows, and retweets. We live out part of our lives in a quasi-public way without seeing if the images we see truly encapsulate who people are completely. Add on top of that how many times people still enter a “new” environment like a job, a neighborhood, a church, a civic group, etc. We live in a sea of comparison and it’s exhausting.

Let’s look back to that time in 7th grade . . .

I didn’t enjoy trying to figure this out on my own and took note of how hard it was to be new. I made sure that whenever any other kids were new I did my best to help them get settled and connected. I didn’t want them to go through what I did. It was foundational to how I have tried to interact with people ever since.

I would much rather get to know you for who YOU are. I would like to know all of the intricacies of what makes you unique. The more I know, and that you’re willing to share, helps me think of ways to connect you with other great folks. I intentionally try to not be comparative. I don’t want to have my joy stolen.

How would you approach work, social media and interpersonal interactions if you enjoyed what you heard and learned? How would new hires feel if you went past the motions of onboarding and took more time to make sure people were anchored? What would our neighborhoods and communities look like if we were consistently checking in on each other just because?

I know life would be better for most. This week compare less and connect more.