Something about growth.

(Note: Some details have been changed, in the interest of privacy.)

Fifteen years ago I took an unexpected career turn and accepted a job at our local community blood center, managing marketing and recruitment. The team of recruiters was, in essence, a sales team. Their metrics were similar to sales metrics, with all the attendant terms – pipeline, quota, close rate, etc. But they did not think of themselves as sales people because the work was mission-driven, life-saving, non-profit blood banking.

They weren’t hitting their targets, which had been set before I got there, so my first task was to get them on track as a sales team. To do that, I engaged an executive coach who had experience specific to sales and marketing and who used an assessment tool (a modified, proprietary version of the DISC assessment) to help match tasks to talents. The whole team participated, including me.

When the results came back, the coach set up a series of one-on-one meetings with me to make a plan for reorganizing the team. Most of the decisions were clear and straightforward, but I was struggling with one of them. I had a soft spot for someone on the team, and I was convinced that with enough coaching that person could be successful.

“Here’s what I want you to do…” the coach said.

(To be very clear, I had every expectation that what she was about to say would spell out instructions for me to set up a coaching plan for my staff member, because I was too thick-headed to realize that the coach was, in fact, coaching me.)

She continued, “I want you to take out a sticky note,” (“OK,” I said, “I’ve got it.”) “and get a marker, a fat black marker,” (“OK; yes.”) “and write these words on the note: ‘Is it about me?’

“And then take that sticky note, post it somewhere that you can see it easily, at any time. And whenever you are struggling to make a decision like the one you’re fighting, right now, I want you to look at that note and consider carefully what’s happening.

“Because what I’m observing is that you don’t want to take the action you know you need to take because you don’t want to feel bad about hurting someone’s feelings. You don’t want to be unpopular with the rest of your team. You don’t want to have to deal with messy consequences. But you know what needs to happen, and not tackling it head-on it isn’t fair to the employee, to you, to your team, or to your mission.

“The purpose of that note is to help you understand yourself. Every time you’re facing a tough decision like this one, particularly if it involves other people, look at that note and ask yourself: Is it the decision wrong, or do I just not want to feel bad?”

The original sticky note faded and got slowly worse for the wear, as I moved into different offices. When I left the blood center for another job, I tossed the note thinking I’d completed the lesson.

For the past 18 months I’ve again been working with a coach – a different one – who is trained in somatic work. I told her this story because I found myself working through a very different situation that felt somehow similar to that past experience. I had worked myself into an agonizing state, to the point that it was interrupting my sleep.

“Some lessons,” she suggested, “are life-long pursuits. And a fresh sticky note might help.”

This post is 13/56 in a self-directed challenge to write (or at least post) something (SOMETHING) every day – a birthday gift to me from me, because writing gives me a place to put the clutter that lives in my head.