Delusions of Grandeur

Alright guys, a quick warning right up front, this one is a bit spiritual (in case the title didn’t give that away) so those of you who are all “ewwww God” you might want to skip this one.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, those of you who have rather rigid views of religion may also want to avoid this….as many of you are aware my own concept of religion is cobbled together from the pieces of various traditions that resonate with me specifically and not necessarily strictly in line with that dictated by any one particular organized religion or denomination of a religion.  Okay, warning over on to the real stuff.

There’s a Jewish proverb (and I suspect versions of this same thing exist in other traditions, but this is the one I’m familiar with) that states “Ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders.”  This has always resonated with me as I don’t really picture god as some sort of overworked office manager in the sky dealing with an overloaded inbox (now I’m picturing Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty lol!).  For the most part I don’t think God interferes too much with our day to day existences….the bigger picture, however, that’s God’s domain.  So while I don’t think God is worried about individual stressors and pains in our lives, I do believe that he gives us the tools to deal with them.  Sometimes (in fact quite frequently) I think that those tools are given to us through the very trials and tribulations which we are normally so quick to bemoan.

I’m definitely not perfect and I’ll admit there were definitely times I’ve prayed to get a certain job or to avoid a particular hardship.  In the cases where I’ve asked for something (like a specific job) I’ve frequently not received it….and those few times I did I quite quickly learned that it really wasn’t a good fit for me and I would have been better off pursuing something else.  The lesson I learned from all of this was that I don’t always have the big picture view of my life and destiny that God does and don’t really have very much business meddling in it.  So rather than asking for specifics I’ve learned to ask for two related but still very different things.  When facing a decision I’ve learned to ask for insight and guidance.  I don’t always get it, but a surprising amount of time when I ask I do in fact receive it.

Second, and I think most importantly, rather than asking to be relieved of a certain burden I’ve asked instead that I be allowed to understand at some point in time why it was that I was given the burden to bear.  I’ve been amazingly blessed in that regard.  While I’ve sometimes had to wait years or even decades for the answer, I have in fact discovered many of those answers.  Those that I haven’t yet learned the answer to I’m assuming I’m simply not ready for.

To some this view on life would be extremely simplistic and naive.  Others would say that it abdicates responsibility for my own destiny.  Still others would say that I shouldn’t even be asking for the things I do.  I won’t call them little things because in fact I think a request for understanding of meaning is a HUGE thing and quite a bit to ask of God.  I’m extremely grateful that my request has been granted so frequently.

To those who ask for more trust in a higher power and fewer answers I don’t really have a good response.  I’m simply not built that way and if we presume that we’re all constructed the way we are for a reason, then I think that’s probably answer enough.

To those who think I’m naive and simplistic or not taking enough responsibility for myself….well my viewpoint leaves plenty of room for making your own decisions and mistakes (in fact it virtually demands it).  It’s simply a perspective that allows for the idea that there is greater meaning to our existence than simply plugging through the daily grind. It allows for an understanding that not everything in our lives will go perfectly, that we will have times of struggle and times of failure and it makes each of those things okay….a normal part of our existence as humans.  Most importantly it allows for a perspective of self-compassion.

We each have to find our own answers to the big questions in life,  a defining framework for our existence.  I think that finding something that you can truly believe in and live with, whatever that may be, makes it easier to live consciously; to connect with your own values;  provide a foundation for the major decisions in our lives; and finally impart our “auto-pilot” with functional programming the daily activities that we go through sub-consciously.

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The topic we were covering in class today was organizational citizenship behaviors and proactive work behaviors.  There’s a lot of overlap between the two topics.  Both of them are positive behaviors engaged in by employees to help either members of their work groups or the organization as a whole.  The difference between the two is that OCB’s are in response to a current need, i.e. “I see that Suzy is having some difficulty balancing her workload right now and I have the skills and time to help her out so I’m going to offer to take something off her plate” whereas proactive work behaviors are more future oriented, i.e. “I see that Process C is somewhat dysfunctional and a source of problems for the organization so I am going to do a bit of research and suggest some possible changes that can be implemented.”  There are some personality factors that are more highly correlated with these behaviors, however interestingly there has been some research that has indicated that the same people who engage in OCB’s and proactive work behaviors when dis-engaged can act in ways that are detrimental to the organization (counterproductive work behaviors).  That would suggest that environmental factors can play just as big (if not a bigger) role in generating OCB’s.  While we were talking about this, I kept thinking of the work environments I’ve been in throughout the years and it struck me that one organization I’ve worked for actually managed to build an environment that did more to support and generate OCB’s than any other place I’ve worked or studied.  For those of you who’ve heard me rave about this place I can already see you rolling your eyes, and I know you won’t be surprised about what I’m about to write.  For those of you who haven’t heard about this amazing company, I’m about to introduce you the single best company I’ve ever worked for.

The Container Store’s hiring philosophy specifically seeks out individuals prone to engaging in positive work behaviors.  Their foundation principle which directs hiring decisions is 1=3, that is, 1 great employee is equal to 3 good employees.  By only hiring great employees they are deriving three times the benefit from their human resources as organizations that focus on good employees and even more than those organizations that don’t even bother to select for “good.”  Positive behaviors are further engendered through extensive training to ensure that employee’s intuition is aligned with the overall organizational values.  (Intuition does not come to an untrained mind was/is my favorite of the foundation principles, I still wish I had bought that shirt before I left!!).  So TCS uses selection to bring in employees prone to OCB’s, hones that tendency with training to ensure that those behaviors are of maximum impact to the company and finally the company ensures that it’s all tied to together by assessing for those behaviors.  When you complete your annual evaluation you are evaluated based on your overall contributions.  1=3 is simply average….all employees are expected to meet that baseline.  Employees aspire to be 1=4, 1=5 or at the highest level 1=6.  Each of these levels has clearly articulated competencies and each is associated with a different merit increase.  I remember when I had the conversation with my store manager for my one year evaluation, I as extremely proud to be at a 1=5, but even more motivating to me was the fact that I was so close to a 1=6, which is extremely difficult to do in your first year.  I loved that I was told exactly what was necessary to get to that next level and given a clear action plan to achieve it.  It was the most relevant review process I had ever been through and I think the transparency and obvious congruity with our daily activities was what made the process so positive and motivating.

By hiring for excellence, training so that employees have the tools to give excellence, maintaining an employee-centric culture that drives engagement, and assessing achievement of excellence The Container Store does an incredible job of building a culture of organizational citizenship.  The company serves as a model of how effective management of organizational culture pays out in multiple ways.  While I no longer work with TCS (honestly the evening schedule simply wasn’t sustainable with the needs of my family) I will always remember and appreciate the lessons I learned working with them.  Their success is proof that it is possible to take care of your stakeholders and still be successful. I hope I will be able to apply these lessons to improve other organizations as I move forward in the pursuit of my PhD in Organizational Development and Leadership and in my career in general.

One of the pieces of advice I’ve read over and over related to blogging is that you should pick one central theme and stick to that.  I’ve officially decided to respectfully disagree with that advice.  In the case where a blog is your own personal blog and you are writing it for your own personal exercise (and maybe to keep up with your friends a bit because many of them still complain that they miss the days of live journal), I think it’s perfectly acceptable for your blog to have just as many “identities” as you do.  None of us are one single piece of our lives.  We’re not only students or parents or children or taxi drivers or whatever (I could go on indefinitely, but I don’t want to drag it on).  Each of those things are only a piece of us.  So if you want to have a blog about scrapbooking, mountain climbing, silly internet memes, travel advice, the most annoying places you’ve stubbed your toe and the occasional post about underwater basket weaving in the north atlantic (dress warmly!), then that’s what you should have.   If the purpose of your blog is business related and you’re trying to drive one specific type of customer, then by all means make it single purpose, but if it’s your own personal ramblings, shouldn’t your WHOLE person be part of that?

This particular topic is on my mind right now because I’ve taken a year and a half (or so) sabbatical from blogging and more than half the problem is that I forgot that I started this mostly to entertain myself and started thinking I needed to be “meaningful” and “insightful.”  Talk about Delusions of Grandeur eh?  So for my friends who are annoyed at me for taking such a long break, I’m back 🙂 and I promise more of the “whatever’s on my mind” ramblings that you were previously used to.  (The rest of the problem is a sheer lack of time, until I figure out how to convince the universe to let me use more than 24 hours in a day there’s not much I can do about that!)  Anyhow, I’m done with my little mini identity crisis and have decided to embrace my whole identity instead of trying to figure out which piece is the most meaningful to myself and to all of you.  The one exception is that I will still be keeping all of my Fragile X and most Elijah related posts in my other blog (fragileperfection.wordpress.com) simply because that truly does make sense to keep in its own grouping.  Here’s to embracing our whole selves, let the random begin (again!).

One of the ironies of life is how seldom you do things at the time you’re “supposed” to be doing them.  I just finished an MBA.  At no point in time during that entire program until my capstone course did I read any of the popular business books.  You know the ones I’m talking about:  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The Experience Economy, Good to Great.  You get the idea.  Part of it was that I wasn’t required to read them.  Part of it was that I hadn’t yet discovered the beauty of having books on my phone (thank you thank you thank you for the Kindle App….you’ve made all that time I spend in waiting rooms productive!!), and part of it was that I wasn’t really that interested.  Sad for someone enrolled in business school, but also a partial commentary on one of the deficits of the way education is set up.

It was actually the capstone course which was much less of a traditional “course” and much more of an overall “experience” that actually got me thinking about these books and in the weeks since my capstone I’ve been plowing my way through them.  Some of it reinforces what I learned in business school.  Some of it puts a more “real world” perspective on things and some of the material in the books is decidedly more optimistic and how things “should” be.  What I find most interesting is that I feel like I’m retaining far more from reading the books and working backwards to the concepts behind them than I did learning the concepts by themselves.  Perhaps it’s because I already know the concepts or maybe I just learn better this way.  The fact of the matter is that I won’t truly know because I don’t have a comparison right now to a state where I don’t know the concepts.  But I intend to find one.  As I work my way through these books I’m finding things that are vaguely connected in other fields, but which are equally interesting and I suspect when I get to those books there will be several concepts I’m not familiar with so it’ll be very interesting to see if the “backwards” learning style is still better for me.

In any event, I wanted to share a recommendation from this reading.  One of the books I picked up was David Cottrell’s “Tuesday Morning Coaching.”  It is one of the books recommended by the company I work for last year after he spoke at our annual company meeting and it’s one I’ve been meaning to pick it up.  I’m about 2/3rds of the way through it and so much of it applies not only to work, but also to a good way to lead your personal life.  He’s done a fabulous job breaking down very broad “life lessons” into accessible plans anybody can work into their own self-improvement projects.

So as we all know I’m pretty terrible at actually updating this blog.  Which naturally in Nikki logic means that I should create a second blog that I can ignore and not update, right?  One of the reasons that I’m so bad at actually updating though is that the thing that is frequently at the top of my mind is Elijah and his progress and information about his diagnosis.  Rather than completely overrun this blog with that information I’ve decided to create a dedicated blog just to that so I can leave this one free for the more trivial stuff that is a bit easier for the average reader.

As many of you probably know, I have major issues with people who constantly post downer status messages about their problems on Facebook and while frequently what I want to talk about is a celebration, the overall topic itself is still a bit depressing.  So for those of you who are interested you can follow the other blog (http://fragileperfection.wordpress.com/) and for those of you who aren’t I can promise that this one will go back to being the much more lighthearted blog that it used to be.  It will also still probably be updated extremely sporadically….because let’s face it, that’s how I roll.

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“Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments” -Rose Kennedy

Every parent celebrates those major milestones when their child takes their first steps, babbles their first words, eats their first mushy bite of oatmeal.  I’ve not yet found a satisfactory description of the feeling of pride and joy that fills your heart when you see that miniature person grasp an activity or concept that is something you probably take for granted every other minute of the day.  As a parent of a child with fragile x I find that not only do I celebrate the big deal milestones, but that frequently things I’ve never even considered milestones or even really thought of at all take on tremendous importance.  Things like communicating a desire or request, the basic building block of communication, become just as big of a deal as walking when they’re things that your child has to work so hard to grasp.

It’s shortly after Elijah’s second birthday and communication is a hurdle we are still figuring our way around.  He’s just recently begun to request things like being picked up (by standing in front of us with his arms raised in that classic childhood pose which is so amazingly cute that you can’t help but feel your heart melt) and he’s also started bringing me his favorite story so I can read it to him.  It’s so amazing to have him doing these that even by the seventh time through Brown Bear Brown Bear I’m still happy to be reading it to him and read it with the exact same amount of enthusiasm as the first time through.

He’s also started babbling with a few more sounds these past few weeks.  I’m trying not to read too much into it as he’s done this in the past and then regressed for months at a time, but there’s always the hope that maybe this time he’ll continue to make gains in communication.  I suppose the overall theme of our days is that there is always hope, but in the meantime, rather than focusing on the milestone, we’re enjoying the moments 🙂

Many of us grew up hearing the nursery rhyme that began with “Monday’s child is fair of face.”  Something that has always bothered me, even before I had a child born on Wednesday, is the “Wednesday’s child is full of woe” line.  I actually recently read a bit of history about the rhyme that mentioned that originally it was Friday’s child that was woeful and Wednesday’s child that was loving and giving.  Guess that goes to show that it doesn’t matter what day of the week you’re born on and that it’s all superstitious nonsense.  Yet, somehow it’s that nonsense that seems to stick in my mind any time I hear bad news about Elijah.

A bit of background for those of you who still aren’t aware of this story, back in October Elijah was diagnosed with a genetic disorder called Fragile X Syndrome.  Before the geneticist mentioned testing for it, I had never heard of it.  I won’t go into all the details on my reaction right now, I actually have a solid four months worth of blog posts surrounding that issue saved in OneNote, I just wasn’t ready to begin talking about it before now, so I’m sure they will eventually make their way on to here in some shape or form.   But for now it’s enough to know that Fragile X isn’t a physically debilitating disorder, it doesn’t typically cause any major health problems (with a few exceptions, but those aren’t that prevalent) and it is definitely not the worst thing out there.  That being said, it does cause some major intellectual disabilities, particularly in males, and has a high association with autism.

Elijah is definitely showing the developmental delays one would expect for someone with his diagnosis, although so far they have ruled out the autism spectrum disorders, for which we continue to be grateful.  Actually, in this way he’s much more of the “loving and giving” type than “full of woe.”  He’s actually one of the happiest kids I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and he’s so loving that he needs at least 30 minutes of hugging, kissing and cuddling when I get home from work or pick him up from school.  It’s adorable how attached he is to both of his parents and immensely reassuring.  Every time I walk in the door and see the huge smile he has for me with his arms open for a hug my heart sings and I know that despite all the other worries, this, at least, is right.

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