The pressure's on, but guess who ain't gon' crack? (laughs)
Pardon me, I had to laugh at that
This ain't no tall order, this is nothin' to me
Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week
These are lyrics from Jay-Z's verse in the remix of Kanye West's "Diamonds are Forever." I love the way he laughs off the idea of pressure getting to him. I love the confidence in the words. More and more, this is the attitude that I've been working to cultivate. What is "difficult" or "impossible" has more to do with how I feel about my abilities than the actual task itself. I do the difficult every day, and many of the things I do often feel impossible, at least when I start them.
Recently someone asked me for some coaching on how to do X because I manage to do X very well. Keep in mind that X isn't a simple task -- it's a very complicated negotiation of competence, partnership, style and communication. It's something I haven't always done well, but I've gotten better and better at over the years. I still have my less-than-stellar moments, but they are blips on the radar of an otherwise successful process. But when this person asked me how I do it, I was taken aback.
How do I do it? I hadn't really given it much thought. It's like when someone comments on how I put together a particular outfit, or came up with an unexpected color combination that just works. How do the pieces add up to a whole that works? When I go shopping, what exactly am I looking for? How do I pull together a blouse from here, a skirt from there, some shoes and have someone look at it and say "that is so Tara"? I don't know. I just do it.
Or maybe it isn't that mysterious, at least when fashion isn't involved. One factor is easy to pin down: I work my ass off. I don't shy away from hard work or long hours. Do I love occasionally staying up til all hours (or up all night here or there)? Of course not. But do I love what I learn from the people I work with and what I learn about myself when we're all pushing together to do something new and better. Of course, that's why I'm in the game.
But hard work can't be the only reason. It isn't about the number of hours I put in. I think part of it is also that I don't shy away from getting involved. When it comes to work, I would rather look for connections to what others are doing to see how I can add value, what I can learn about what they're doing and how it might connect to or enhance what I'm doing. I like knowing what others are doing and working on because it gives me the fullest picture possible of what our work is, where we're headed (good and bad) and what needs to be done. This is also a reason I've grown and succeeded -- I more often than not will ask to be included or just include myself and add my thinking. Even when I was in a much more junior, more entry-level role, I was experimenting with where the boundaries were around adding my two cents.
Somewhat connected to getting involved is my firm belief in something that my boss talks about all the time, and that is the idea that my goal should be to make everything I touch better. So I'm almost always scanning the environment -- looking at what is out, listening to conversations -- with an ear and eye for "Are we being consistent? Is this our best thinking?" We produce a lot of materials for client events (books, articles, posters, etc.) and I always feel like people are ->this<- close to not putting the materials they're working on on the tables in the middle of the room because I so frequently just walk by and catch something that seems off or just plain wrong. When someone gives me something to read, I used to ask what I was reading for. Was I reading to make content changes and edits or just to catch typos? I don't ask that 9 times out of 10 now because I'm going to suggest what I think is right and it's up to the person working the project to figure out what to do with my input. What I WILL do is tell them what changes I have a strong stake around, what are merely my notions and what I would see as a next step (e.g., does the document need to go back to the originator for their approval of my change). More and more, I have opinions about things - and I'm working to add my thinking and defer to higher-ups less because I realize that 1) my thinking can actually influence them, 2) my thinking can sometimes mean they don't have to think about the issue as much or at all and they can spend their time thinking about other more important things and 3) how on earth am I supposed to grow if I keep pushing up the hard thinking to others? (Someone I work with recommended the book The Responsibility Virus, and I have a feeling based on her very short description that this is exactly the kind of thinking the book talks about, but I haven't gotten to that book yet.)
So...that's just a little of what's been on my mind lately about thinking, growing and high performance. Even posting this will be pushing myself, because so many of the messages women get involve modesty, and I'm sure a lot of people would consider a post like this as bragging. But I'm realizing that I need to be deliberate about identifying what my strengths are and what is going well. If I don't understand what I'm doing right, how I can repeat it? How can I coach others? If I don't call out my successes, what will I have to look to as affirmation that I really can do it and do better when I'm faltering or when I'm faced with something that feels big and scary and difficult?
And I guess that brings me back to where I started. Are some things difficult? Yes. Growing and changing and continuously improving is hard. Hell, staying awake to write this is hard. But I've taken the stance that I'm going to do the difficult as much as possible and not limit myself to what feels comfortable or known. And if adopting a little swagger is what helps me get there, then that's what I'm going to do.
(I often cook on things a long time and I'm not done with these ideas, but I started this post on 9 February, so I figured I better get something resembling a complete thought out of my head so that I could move the whole internal conversation to the next level. I actually finished this entry but then managed to lose it somehow when I tried to post it. I was really frustrated at the time, but now I'm glad, because whatever it was I said wasn't this and wasn't really done enough yet. And speaking of cooking on things for a long time, the next post I want to write is about some song lyrics and what they me -- lyrics I've been turning over in my head for about 15 or 16 years.)