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Making It: Room

Unless you try to do something beyond what you’ve already mastered, you will never grow. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let’s go back a few years to back-to-school shopping. Not for your child, but the years when your parent or caretaker would make the list of the items you’d need to take you through the academic year. To quote Betty Wright, “some of you have to go back a little bit further than others.” But I’m sure that you have memories of those first weeks of school clothes.

Most often, my grandmother was thinking forward. She didn’t buy items that fit perfectly, but rather she made certain that I had “room to grow.” Pants, skirts, socks, shoes – anything that I needed to wear had a few extra inches in them in August. It’s understood that children grow quickly and in spurts so this was a smart saving strategy. The items I remember most are the shoes.

The Pinch Test

The test.

When I tried on shoes, there was always a test Mama would do to determine if I had the right size. She would push down the toe of the shoe to make certain that my feet didn’t go all the way to the edge. Shoes had to pass the pinch test. I clearly recall how those rounded toes felt with the space between my big toe and the tip. They couldn’t be too big, causing me to trip. But there had to be room to grow. Sometimes my grandmother would put a little cotton in the toes so that my feet wouldn’t slide because she stood that this period of wearing shoes a tad too large might be uncomfortable. Eventually all of us settled into a size so we didn’t need to buy the next size up. We could buy what fit because we knew we wouldn’t grow any more.

Many of us have settled in our professional lives these days, refusing to take on projects or positions that may have that awkward room-to-grow space. We get titles – VP, C-Level, Manager – and they feel so very comfy. They fit perfectly.  I see it time and time again with colleagues/clients who are unwilling to test a new idea or try new tech for fear that they’ll be exposed for not knowing it all. We also don’t allow those around us the time and space to expand. We mistake perfectionism for productivity, when quite often the opposite is true.  It’s not only critical to challenge yourself, but it’s equally imperative to push those around you to the next level.

Make Room to Grow

The older I get, the more I realize how critical it is to put oneself in situations that may be uncomfortable, testing or awkward. In the end, they prove invaluable because you had the space to make key mistakes that were ultimately the most instructive.  Remember that even if you’re the CEO, there is always room to grow. According to Fortune …. “anything that anyone does at work, from the most basic task to the most exalted, is an improvable skill.” (Geoff Colvin, Fortune Magazine, author of Talent is Overrated.)

We’ve also found the tight fit in our personal lives. Many of us only commit to those tasks or projects that don’t require extra training or work. Then as we grow older, we often believe that certain opportunities have passed us by. Even if we age out of a particular project, I guarantee there’s still another way to get the exact same positive benefits from a similar experience. It could be as simple as taking a cooking class or as complicated as learning a programming language. Bottom line it’s doable.

Try these three things.

  1. Perform the pinch test and see if you have room to grow in your life. Ask yourself which task took you to your limits over the past year.
  2. Pick a simple goal or project that will test you and put the completion date on your calendar.
  3. Provide space for those around you – family, employees, friends – to grow, too.

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This entry was posted on 11/12/2012 by in Cup of Coffee, DOOR #3.
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