This is fifth in a series of six posts about lessons I learned from my grandfather that apply to career growth and development, in addition to just being generally good advice for life. This is in his memory and in honor of Father’s Day.
Who else was a shy kid growing up? It doesn’t make things easier to try and shift into the background when you want to be part of everything. Sometimes, to avoid other kids being mean, you do make that background shift and decide not to fight back. Though I didn’t always admire his methods, I did admire that my grandfather would stand up for himself. It was an example that helped me build some courage when I was younger, and that in turn helped me be a better self advocate and leader as I grew into a professional.
For many years in our neighborhood, we would play games but have teams with odd numbers of players. We would come up with creative solutions to make basketball and wiffle ball and any other game work for us. Sometimes we dragged in unwilling sisters and brothers, or younger siblings tagging along who weren’t quite ready, but we needed to include them. We wanted to play, the weather was good, and we did what we felt we had to do.
One year, a new family moved in. The thought of more kids to even out our teams and play with was exciting, but we found out quickly the brother was not who we were hoping for and the sister had zero interest in playing with us. Despite being in the same age range, this brother had a strange “maturity” in his lack of kindness and the power he wanted to have over others. My grandfather was not a fan of the way he treated us, and was sure to let “Nick” know about it.
Nick, of course, took exception to an old guy telling him how things were, so he began harassing my grandfather as well. Things unfortunately were a little violent from a distance at times, like when Nick and a friend threw soda cans at my grandfather’s house, exploding the brown, sugary insides all over the white vinyl siding. It created a mess and I could tell Pops was frustrated and a little in disbelief that someone would treat another person, never mind a person of his age, that way. He found some pipe cleaners to string together a couple exploded Coke cans and hung them on the oversize letter loop of the mailbox.
“Why did you do that?”, I asked Pops. His answer, while I forget the exact words, were to the tune of “I’m showing him who’s boss.” While I didn’t quite see how that was the case, I appreciated that he took care to make sure he stood up for himself. It made me feel badly that I didn’t do a better job of doing that for him as Nick was only a little younger than me.
From there on out, and from my own absence of action in defense of Pops, I realized that if you didn’t stick up for yourself, there was no guarantee that someone else would do it for you. I learned that I needed to be present and a part of things if I wanted to be a person of impact, that I had to speak up for what I wanted and ask for it. Sitting off to the side and letting others speak for me, even if it didn’t represent how I felt, wasn’t going to be a good way to go through life. This “Nick Soda Incident” and Pops’ reaction was powerful, because it made me rethink my entire approach to life – though I do acknowledge a lack of maturity on behalf of everyone involved. Pops in a way, decided not to really retaliate, but was able to show his dislike of the event by taking ownership of what was meant to scare him.
If that had not happened, and had I not asked Pops all about it, I might not be where I am in my career today. I forced myself to develop “daily courage”. It wasn’t meant to be anything spectacular like running into a burning building to save a life, but the courage to ask for what I wanted and the follow through to ensure higher odds of achieving it. I started running for class offices and student council. I was more vocal on the field and court in my athletic endeavors. I worked to stop worrying how uncool I would look by caring about learning and started asking questions in class. These little behaviors for a shy high school student weren’t changing the world, but they were changing me and setting the stage for me to have a chance later in life to do so.
This daily courage blossomed into having more leadership opportunities, building better relationships, and less stress – I could just be me. I ended high school on a high note, and it gave me a bit of momentum to go into college and be the best version of me. The improvements and continued attempts of measured risk of putting myself out there helped me to get where I am today in my career, and I know have set the stage for my future, whatever that is. Today, I draw on the courage in professional settings all the time:
- Deal directly with conflict, whether it is with me or two people on my team. I no longer let it linger, but found ways to address it head on where, when and with whom it matters.
- I’ve been able to go after career changes that I wanted to pursue. On occasions where I wasn’t having the experience I hoped for, I could speak up for myself. I developed a tenacity in fighting for my opportunities, but keeping it professional.
- Expressing disagreement on a topic with peers and superiors. I may not “win” most occasions, but by having the conversation I gain a greater understanding of purpose. This extends beyond ourselves to peers and superiors’ understanding of us, also.
- Giving my opinion and making decisions has been made incredibly easier by having courage and conviction for standing up for what I believe in. There has also been a humility that I’ve developed in case I do end up being wrong, and also for when my strong opinion proved to be right. This helps with all kinds of relationships.
- When I feel wronged or see it happen to someone else I know, I can say something now. That gives me peace to help myself and others. I hope for the best in people, but when this hope fails I know I can help change people and situations for the better.
Pops, at least in person, never saw me graduate college and develop my career and into I am today. I hope he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished and the independence I’ve cultivated.
When he passed away, we did not have a wake or funeral, at his request. This was always one of the Pops-isms that made me smile a little because it was something that made him uniquely him. It wasn’t out of reducing burden or fear that no one would come, but rather making sure that someone else didn’t have the last laugh at his expense. I thought this was, albeit a little paranoid, a form of courage to make sure his life, including the celebration of his life after his death, would end on a high note. It was what he wanted, and we made sure he had it. But he only had it because he asked for it and stood up for his fears and wants. However that manifests itself for all of us, in life, at work, with family and friends, if we don’t stand up for what we want or for ourselves, who else can we guarantee will do that?
The last remaining post will be published in coming days. Please check back soon!