Every time I come home from a business trip or vacation, there’s one bag that never gets unpacked: my emergency supply kit. Unlike my regular toiletry bag filled with daily essentials such as contact lens solution, my toothbrush, and Chapstick, this is my “worse-case scenario” gear – for when the you-know-what figuratively or literally threatens to hit the fan.
I’m sure you can guess what’s in there: Imodium, Pepto-Bismol, an antibiotic Z-pack, antacids, nasal spray, cough medicine, bandages, alcohol wipes, topical cortisone cream. Short of packing a tourniquet in case of hemorrhage, I am very well-prepared for a wide range of pain, pressure, and discomfort. I have anticipated a reasonable assortment of unpleasant possibilities and while I have done my best to be proactive in preventing them, I am prepared to manage these gastro-intestinal, respiratory or other physical setbacks if and when they occur.
The way I pack for a trip is a lot like how most of us pack for life: with strategies, tools and techniques to anticipate all the things that could go wrong. We network because we foresee needing a new job one day rather than because it’s a great way to buoy our knowledge, our field, and our relationships. We fall short of making meaningful philanthropic gifts to causes that support people during difficult times because we worry that we’ll need that money for our own tough times one day. We avoid loving our partners truly, madly, deeply in case they don’t love us back with the same level of vigor – or worse.
Of course, life can and does disappoint us, scare us, and cause us both physical and emotional pain. But when we spend most of our time preparing for the worst, we let fear lead the dance. When we choose scarcity over abundance, we miss the opportunity to lay the foundation for what we will need when things do go our way. Just because we’re on the right track doesn’t mean we don’t have wants and needs – quite the opposite. When we’re in a good place personally or professionally it means that our wants and needs are being met more often than not, and there’s no better time to reflect on what’s working then while it’s working.
I recently participated in a workshop on team building where we were asked to create a positive, appealing vision statement for our team. Since I work alone, I chose my family as my team and created this vision statement:
“We thrive on having fun and on recognizing our individual and shared accomplishments. We express ourselves and our interests openly, and rely on each other for love, support, adventure, learning and growing.”
Do we feel this way every single day? Well, with two pre-teens and two working parents managing four competing schedules, a mortgage, car payments, day school tuition, blended extended families living near and far, etc. I’ll let you take a guess. No, we don’t feel this way every day, and in fact, nobody in our family had even articulated what we thrive on and rely on each other for until I wrote this. But to me, this is who we are as a family team when we are at our best and we need to reiterate this during the best of times, not just during the worst of times. It will remind us about who we are, how we act, how we interact, and why we love each other. (Even when we don’t feel like loving each other. Especially then.)
Here are some questions you can ask to go from strength to strength in your own work and life, to be asked during the good times.
Your spouse/partner/significant other:
- What initially drew us to each other?
- What can I rely on you for? What can you rely on me for?
- What do we want from each other in order to keep growing individually and as a couple?
- What do you think I can learn from you? What do you think you can learn from me?
- How might our work together change both us (and the team/department/organization) for the better?
- What do each of us thrive on?
Your direct report:
- What drew you to working here?
- What do you get personally and professionally from this work?
- What do you need in order to flourish?
- What do you like about being part of this family?
- What’s your special contribution to our family?
- What do you want more of/less of from us?
Your board members:
- Why did you choose this organization to be a part of?
- What’s your vision for what this organization could become?
- What can we count on you for?
The tough times will come, I assure you. But don’t wait for a problem to seek a solution. Don’t anticipate a problem so you can plan a solution. And don’t create a problem so you can create a solution. Use the good times to reconnect with what you already have and to plan for what you want so that you can focus on packing less for life’s pains and more for life’s pleasures.