In high school, my English teacher taught us to understand the value of words – don’t use $2.00 words when you can use 25 cent words. This was more than a money metaphor – more people understand the 25 cent words, and they are an easier currency to trade and split. It is interesting how one estimation of value is the monetary value – that is not the definition I am using here.
I’m talking about values. As a multi-lingual person who has studied multiple languages, I am fascinated by how certain languages contain one word that embodies an entire cultural zeitgeist (or simply “geist” if you want to take the time element out of zeitgeist and focus only on the cultural spirit). This one key word shares a couple of characteristics: 1. It is hard for foreigners to say; and 2. It takes a couple of sentences to adequately describe the word to a native English speaker. For example, the Danish word “hygge” or the Dutch word “gezellig” are frequently translated as “cozy” in English, and then followed by a couple of sentences of exactly what kind of cozy. I had my Danish friend Per work with me over several days to get the diaphragm-engaging pronunciation of “hygge” down. “Gezellig” can be quite a challenging word to say for someone who is not familiar with a hard Dutch “g”.
Essentially: Words matter. Context matters. Culture matters.
Because of this, Brian and I spend quite a bit of time dissecting and discussing words. We spend over half a day going over the Agile Best Self Values and Principles to ensure that we captured our true intent. The Oxford dictionary did not let me down it defines values as “Principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life .” We use values as an overarching judgement of what is important in life, with the best self principles to guide behavior at a finer grained level. The four values we’ve articulated can easily stand alone, but sometimes they may be a bit hard to track to. Let’s review:
The ability to be our authentic selves over figuring out how to fit in. Yes, being authentic is important. I try to be my authentic self as much as I can, but sometimes my underlying authentic self values (such as transparency) could negatively impact a situation. Does a friend of mine really need to know what I think of the new girlfriend? He will figure it out soon enough. Does my new boss need to hear everything that could possibly go wrong with the new org structure? Is it my role to warn someone five times that she is heading over a cliff when she did not heed the first four warnings? Sometimes it is better to stop banging the drum and learn how to fit in. As a change agent, it is also pretty important for me to understand the current lay of the land prior to upending the cultural norms and rules.
Iteratively creating our next best self over following a plan. As a working parent with a full time job, a part time adjunct faculty position, teenage son and a part time consultancy, sometimes I just have to go with the plan set for the day. Creating my next version of my best self is not always a linear path forward. Some days I need a break to rest and coast. My next “best self” is more about being intentional and considering outcomes – this takes quite a bit of time and energy. Having default plans (or morning habits or routines) are important. Following a plan is what gets me home at the end of a busy, hectic work day. A plan lets me know (generally) where I want to go and what I want to be. But even when I was a professional project manager, I always knew that the second a plan was kicked off, the magic happened in the contingency plans I had put in place. And in multiple instances, there was no contingency plan because the risk that materialized was a black swan – a totally unforeseen event that had some unimaginable consequences.
Getting/Sharing energy from like-hearted people over relying solely on self motivation. Being a self-starter has always been my modus operandi. As a high achieving high school student in the 80’s, the focus was on individual work and self motivation. Group work in high school and college was not the norm that it is today. I’ve always valued my internal “executor” self and my ability to get stuff done. As a contractor, I can’t count the number of times I just sucked it up and did the work that the full time employee or C level person threw on my plate with no regard to weekends or non work hours. At one point, I thought 70 hour work weeks were normal (because they were for me). As I moved more from individual contributor to a leader of people, I started to value the super powers that team members brought to the table and got better at delegating to the right person. I hope I helped create collaborative, empowered environments for people on my team. Now I know how critical it is to get and share back energy to a like-hearted community. I don’t need to agree with everyone in my community – and it is better if I don’t. However, if we are like-hearted, there are already shared values and trust. A group of like-hearted people can have nuanced, insightful conversations and come up with better questions, answers and solutions.
Mindfully adapting over prescriptive self improvement. This one has a built in analogy. How many diets have I been on? I can’t count. Why have I stopped each diet? Each diet became too difficult to maintain because it was prescriptive or had unintended side effects. Most studies show that the best diet is a diet that fits into an individuals lifestyle – as opposed to a prescriptive list of what you can and cannot eat on each day. Holding one’s self accountable is important, but if something is not working, figure out what is working and turn up that goodness. Brian and I have both let our meditation practices suffer when a more important issue arose. Mindful adaptation sets the stage for compassion and flexibility – two things that I could use a little more of in my life.
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