by Jim Bruce
Today’s Tuesday Reading is an essay by Frances Haies, Assistant Director, Office of Information Technology, Project Management Office, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her essay first appeared as a leaders program reflection last fall. [Frances may be reached at <email@example.com>.]
Since I haven’t had much opportunity to step out of my comfort zone at work, I found an opportunity in my personal life. I have 3 children, in three different schools, with my youngest in kindergarten. My two older kids have gone through the same school system and with the same kindergarten teacher. Each year the teacher invites parents to come in and read to the class their child’s favorite book. So, for the past two kids, I skillfully avoided the teacher’s request by describing how I’m this critical resource at work and can’t possibly risk taking a day off to read in front of the bright-eyed kids. The teacher would instead have to read to them on my behalf.
This year, because of the MOR Leaders Program, I took the challenge. I would step out of my comfort zone and agreed to read in front of the class! For someone with social issues, this is a major fear to get over.
As the day approached and because I’m always well prepared for a meeting – I decided I needed to practice. I read and re-read my daughter’s favorite book, “Pete The Cat and The Lost Tooth”. I read in front of my daughter, I read in front of the mirror, I even read in front of the dog!
On the day of the big event, I put on a nice suit, makeup and my best perfume. I drove to Raritan Valley Elementary school, rang the bell (because of new security), announced myself “I’m Mrs. Haies, I’m here to read to Mrs. Archibald’s class.” The school secretary buzzed me in and told me: “Mrs. Haies you’re in the wrong school, Mrs. Archibald is in Sycamore Drive school.” OMG! How could I make such a mistake?! I thanked her and left quickly as I didn’t want to be late for Pete the Cat! My daughter’s school was across town.
Going slightly above the speed limit, I managed to make it on time. Still stressed by the early mistake, I stepped into the classroom, fearful of these 5-year-old kid’s judgement of me. There were 24 of them! Their eyes fixated on me, I could feel the sting of their piercing gaze. They were polite though, saying: “Good afternoon, Laylah’s Mom”. With my hands sweaty and shaking, I began to read. As some of you may know, Pete the Cat books aren’t exactly lengthy, so in no time I was finished. With my daughter by my side, I finished! I got past seven years of built-up anxiety. This was not easy for me to do, but I got through it. Seeing the smile on my daughter’s face made me realize what I was missing out on. I should have done this for my other children!
What this exercise taught me was twofold. First, I could and should step out of my comfort zone. You cannot grow or change without facing your biggest challenges. Being aware of what you need to change is simply not enough. After all, I’ve known I have social issues my whole life, but I’ve just come to accept it. What I hadn’t realized is that it is holding me back from being the success that I know I can be, that I want to be. It’s affecting me AND my family.
Second, my anxieties and fears cause me to make unnecessary, silly mistakes. I need to get past this and work smarter. I know my daughter doesn’t go to Raritan Valley! I was so clouded by the anxiety that for a solid 20 minutes I made my way to the wrong school! Am I doing this at work too?
In order to change, you have to not only agree to step out of your comfort zone, you actually have to DO it!
Thank you to Mike Sullivan for being a great coach and to the whole MOR team!
I hope you all have a wonderful week!
Frances’ essay is another admonition to each of us to step out of our comfort zone, to go beyond our anxiety, to try again after we’ve failed. As you go through your week, find an opportunity to do just that. It will make you better, it will make it a better week for you.
. . . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates. He previously was Professor of Electrical Engineering, and Vice President for Information Systems and CIO at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Note: Pete the Cat books can be found here.