Monday, 16 December 2013

Blooming and Planting

Last weekend I spent some time calling a few friends with whom I had not made contact for some time.  One of the ladies I spoke with – Elaine – was  explaining how frustrated she had become because, although she was grateful to be employed, she felt that she was being forced to forego her dreams in order to focus on less rewarding work. 

During our conversation I learnt that she wanted to start her own business - teaching English to non-native parents of primary school children.  In her current job she provides classroom support for disabled children, enabling them to access the curriculum. Elaine wanted to start her business several years ago but her personal circumstances did not allow and she had to put her plans on hold.

As I listened to Elaine I realised that she was missing an important fact – she has not deviated from her course; in fact she is actively paving her path. She fails to see that by acquiring experience of supporting disabled children she is developing skills that will enable her to work better with her chosen target group.  Not only will she be able to teach English to parents but she will also be able to empower them to proactively contribute to the education of their children – disabled or otherwise.  Elaine is perfectly positioned to develop skills that will widen her repertoire and enable her to offer practical help to parents, particularly those with challenging/challenged children.  She will develop added value and be able to carve out a niche for herself providing a unique service.  There is a Spanish proverb “no por mucho madrugar amanece mas temprano” (rising early won’t make the sun rise any sooner).  Take  your time, be methodical and things will fall into place.

As I thought about her situation it occurred to me that very often we fail to appreciate emerging opportunities because we can only see our ultimate goal.  We think that  if we haven’t achieved it by X time we would have failed and society would judge us harshly.  The fact is, we are the ones who are judging ourselves and demotivating ourselves unduly; people who matter do not spend time watching and judging others – they focus on things that are more important.  It is right to pursue your aspirations but there is no single, tried and tested route to success.  The fact that you desire to go from A to B does not mean that you have to go in a straight line; indeed you may find yourself being diverted to C and D or even to E before you eventually arrive at B.  We can’t always plan how we live our lives – our experiences along the way will dictate the steps we take.  Given the same raw materials different people will embark on different  paths and achieve dissimilar outcomes – that doesn't mean that they are wrong.  Take for example the numbers 3 and 2.  If I were to ask for an equation using those two numbers (in their positive or negative form) what would I get?  Following are some possibilities: 

3 + 2 = 5
3 – 2 = 1
3 x 2 = 6
3 ÷ 2 = 1.5
2 ÷ 3 = 0.66
-3  + 2 = -1
-3  – 2 = -5
-2  + 3 = 1
-2  - 3 = -5
-2 – (-3) = 1
-3 - (-2) = -1
3 ÷ (-2) = -1.5
2  ÷ (-3) =  -0.66
-2  ÷  ( -3) = 0.66
-3 ÷ (+2) = -1.5
-2  x (-3) = 6
 -2 x 3 = -6
-3 x 2 = -6
-3 x (-2) = 6
3 + (-2) = 1
2 + (-3) = -1
3 – (-2) = 5
2 – (-3) = 5
3² = 9  AND  2³ = 8

Until I experimented with these numbers I didn't realise that there were so many possibilities (and there may be others that I have not discovered!) We don’t know everything - there are always other ways, even when we think that our options are exhausted.  It shows that you should never give up - chances are you could discover that important difference that everyone else overlooked and you’ll be able to develop your unique selling proposition and create a niche for yourself.  

Don’t get frustrated because you are not where you want to be today – while there is life, there is hope.  Life is a journey, at times may seem stormy but always remember that cloud lined with silver.  Keep planting, especially when you are not blooming!  Keep giving – to yourself the gift of knowledge and to others whatever they may need, especially when you think that you have nothing to give.  Keep ploughing and you’ll reach deeper depths where you are likely to find dearer treasures.

There is a Jamaican proverb that says – it’s never too late for a shower of rain.  Don’t panic because you are getting older and haven’t yet achieved your dreams.  Look at where you are and see how it can position you to get to where you want to be. Celebrate your achievements - yesterday and today are building blocks for tomorrow but only you can decide whether you will multiply your opportunities, or divide them.  The past helps you prepare for the future; it does not dictate the future and you surely shouldn't dwell on it. As we journey through life we focus on images we can see ahead through our large wind shield, though we glance from time to time in our tiny rear-view mirror.

Many of us are working in areas that are different from the subjects we studied - learning prepares us for life; not just for a career.  You gain transferable skills that can be applied to a range of areas and it boosts your marketability and appeal.  Do not scoff at opportunities presented; indeed see them as building blocks for the future for you never know which block will become your chief cornerstone.  Make the best of your current situation and your future situation will make the best of you.   There will be moments when we are unhappy - take the bitter with the sweet, take a step back and look for the opportunities lurking beneath the shadows.

One key principle in life is the importance of setting goals.  It orientates you, gives you direction and something to aim for; it promotes growth.  I can attest to this: some time ago as a young professional I decided that alongside my work I would earn an average of one certificate (academic or otherwise) per annum.  One year I received a certificate in drawing and painting, another year I received one in poetry writing, and the following year I received a certificate in Portuguese language.  Today my hobbies include oil painting; I have had my poems published and won monetary prizes for poetry; and I have been head-hunted by a top UK university to lecture on a Portuguese Translation programme. Knowledge is never too much and we never know which doors it may open.

How can people in business encourage their employees to bloom where they are planted?  Can we endeavour to inspire creativity and foster a work culture that promotes growth, recognises effort and rewards achievement?  As business owners we too must bloom where we are planted as we strive to maintain and improve our position in the marketplace.  Complacency has no place in business for there will always be someone striving to overtake, replace or obliterate you.  As we build our workforce we should promote learning organisations where employers and employees alike are able to unleash their ingenuity and use their initiative to produce quality and promote excellence.  Do not be afraid to support your employees in their quest for new knowledge; encourage critical thinking, tolerate mistakes, allow autonomy – dare to let your employees fly! Foster a culture that promotes collaborative decision-making; chances are new avenues for business growth will be identified. In his book – Maverick! veteran Brazilian entrepreneur Ricardo Semler advocates this kind of leadership and he empowered some of his employees to become independent suppliers to his company.

Continuously be in pursuit of knowledge, for learning is lifelong and it’s by expanding our horizons that we develop the confidence to reach for greater heights. There is a Chinese proverb that says: Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still. Let’s not therefore lament over our current position; instead let’s use our condition to leverage our future; let’s keep planting and we’ll keep blooming.

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