WEAR GLASSES THAT WORK
HAVE YOU EVER DISCOVERED THAT YOUR VERSION OF THE SUPPOSED TRUTH WASN’T SO TRUE OR COMPLETE AFTER ALL?
If so, you may want to consider
PRACTICE 1: WEAR GLASSES THAT WORK.
If you don’t wear glasses that work, your “room” may feel like Sartre’s hell because:
• You act on incorrect information.
• You don’t get the results you want.
• You feel foolish when you recognize your version of the truth is limited and inaccurate.
Jon walked into my office, sharply dressed and with an air of urgency. He ran a team that constantly felt the pressure to hit aggressive quality and deadline goals, and had a reputation for being frustrated with anyone or anything that slowed things down. I could read his expression at once: he wasn’t happy.
“Todd, you have a moment?” he asked as he walked in and shut the door behind him. He knew full well I had an open-door policy as the chief people officer, especially when my door was open.
“Sure,” I replied, inviting him to take a seat. He hesitated, likely resisting the urge to pace back and forth while he talked. He nodded and sat down, looking uncomfortable at the sudden lack of motion.
“So what’s going on?” I prompted. Jon rubbed his eyes and gathered his thoughts.
“It’s Isabel,” he said, obviously frustrated. “She’s dragging her feet and putting the deadline at risk—again.” Isabel was a project manager and Jon’s peer. Thoughtful, intelligent, and a big-picture thinker, she was a valuable and trusted member of the organization. She also seemed immune to Jon’s sense of urgency.
“I see. How can I be of help?”
“I need someone like you to reason with her,” Jon replied. “I’m not a people person.”
• • •
Jon’s declaration that he wasn’t a “people person” reminded me that we view not only ourselves, but those around us, through a set of lenses; and like any lens, they either sharpen or distort reality. I use this metaphor purposefully, as it was something I experienced when I learned my vision needed correcting. I remember putting on that first pair of glasses in second grade and being surprised by what I discovered: For the first time, I could see the leaves on the trees a few blocks away! Myriad other details that had gone unnoticed were suddenly visible, and my entire world took on a vibrant clarity.
The funny thing is, until that point, I had no idea what I was
missing. To me, everything looked just as it should and it all made sense. No wonder my art teacher recommended a career in accounting! It took a new pair of glasses to see just how much I hadn’t noticed. You might think that finding a few extra leaves is trivial in the larger scheme of things, but there’s a greater truth at work. As philosopher and author Thomas Kuhn wrote, “All significant breakthroughs are break-withs old ways of thinking.”4
As it turns out, what we see informs how we think and feel, which influences what we do and the results we ultimately get.
Years ago a good friend of mine decided to get in shape and start running. This decision was important to him for several reasons, including a desire to live a healthier life and have increased energy to spend with his family. He did well for the first two days, but on the third, he tripped on a crack in the pavement and sprained his ankle. It was a painful injury that sidelined his efforts and required several months to heal.
When the time came to trade in his crutches for running shoes, he didn’t do it. He decided to give up on running altogether, despite how important it had been to his goal of realizing a healthy lifestyle. My friend put on a particular set of glasses, seeing himself as not athletic and the world as full of pitfalls. This view influenced his thoughts (that he’d made a mistake trying to run in the first place); those thoughts influenced his feelings (he was unmotivated and fearful); and those feelings drove his behavior (he ended up back on the couch). The goals that had been so important to him were forgotten.
How we view ourselves and the world around us is called a paradigm. This term has become so commonplace that, chances are, you’ve played “buzzword bingo” during an office meeting, and “Paradigm Shift” was one of the options. To quote Dr. Covey:
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE MINOR CHANGES IN YOUR LIFE, WORK ON YOUR BEHAVIOR. IF YOU WANT SIGNIFICANT, QUANTUM BREAKTHROUGHS, WORK ON YOUR PARADIGMS.
Let’s return to my friend and take a closer look at what was really going on. His ankle had healed, he had two normally functioning legs, and he was in good (but not great) health. His doctor told him he could—and probably should—take up running again, and that new pair of shoes was just sitting in the closet waiting to be laced up. And yes, the world is full of cracks in the pavement, but he can be on the lookout and learn to navigate them better. Imagine if my friend were to swap his limiting lenses for something more helpful:
• Seeing. I am physically able to run and navigate the small obstacles that come my way.
• Thinking. I can and should take up running again.
• Feeling. I’m optimistic I can reach the goals that are important to me.
• Doing. I’m pulling the shoes out of the closet and going for a run!
Simply choosing how we see ourselves and others has a cascading effect on what we think, feel, and do. This concept is a foundational principle for making significant changes in our lives. Consider some of the common ways we may inaccurately view ourselves and others:
• I don’t belong.
• I’m too lazy.
• I’m impatient.
• I’ll never be good enough.
• I can’t change—I am what I am.
We also have some common ways in which we may inaccurately view the world or others:
• Everything is against me.
• Things usually turn out bad.
• My friend is thoughtless.
• My colleague doesn’t know what he’s doing.
• People can’t be trusted.
• My team will never change.
Running was the basis for one of my own struggles with this principle, and it had a profound impact on me and one of the relationships that mattered most in my life. By the way, my preference for running stories reminds me of the old joke: How do you know if someone runs a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!
Years ago my daughter, Sydney, like many teenagers, had her share of struggles with self-esteem. Compounding this struggle was the fact she had lost her hearing at an early age. It often made it difficult for her to communicate and served as fodder for the kind of teasing such challenges incite. I had recently taken up running, and wondered if completing a marathon might be good for her. She seemed to like the idea, so we started training together. Before long, however, she began to struggle. Between the early mornings and constant grind, it ended up being too much for her, and she dropped out. I was disappointed at first, but to be honest, I was also a little relieved that I could focus on my own goal of finishing the marathon in under four hours.
The race came and went. I didn’t make my goal and Sydney continued to have life struggles.
The next year I asked if she’d like to give it another shot. She agreed and we were back at it. Sydney hung in a little longer this time; but eventually, the mornings grew colder, her muscles grew sore, and she quit again. Again, I was disappointed, but I went back to my own training regimen. The race came and went. I didn’t make my goal, and Sydney continued to have struggles.
The following year I paused and reevaluated what was going on. Obviously, my good intentions weren’t working. I carefully thought about my daughter and how truly strong she was. I had seen her overcome barriers related to her hearing loss that I couldn’t imagine taking on. She had an almost unbelievable combination of strength and resilience. And if that were true—and I knew it was—the problem didn’t rest with her. I realized that I had never really seen her as being capable of completing the marathon. This belief expressed itself in the way we
trained in the previous two attempts. For instance (I’m almost embarrassed to admit it), because she ran slower, I would often run around her so I could focus on my own conditioning. I was actually running around her! I can’t even imagine how discouraging it must have been having someone literally run circles around you every morning during your training. I’m sure Sydney thought she was holding me back, and that made it even easier for her to quit.
When I asked Sydney to run the marathon the third time, I expressed how I absolutely knew she could do it. And this time, I believed it! Therefore, so did she. We started training again, but now I focused completely on her. Sometimes it would materialize as little things, like me carrying the water bottles for both of us so she could concentrate on her form. Or in bigger things, like running slightly behind her so that she pushed her pace. This time Sydney didn’t quit; and that, in and of itself, was a great achievement. I knew there was more: I saw my daughter as someone who had the strength to not only make it to the starting line, but to the finish line as well.
Race day came, and I knew Sydney was going to finish. My only concern at this point was making sure we finished before they took down the balloons and ended all of the hoopla at the finish line. Based on our final training runs, I suspected we would come in around the five-and-a-half-hour mark . . . maybe five hours and twenty minutes if we really pushed it.
The race began and we took off. At about mile sixteen, I actually remember telling Sydney that the race was going by too fast. She looked at me like I was crazy. What sane person running a marathon ever complains of it going by too fast? But that was my feeling, because I was so enjoying watching Sydney accomplish this amazing goal. We crossed the finish line long before the balloons came down with a time of four hours and twenty-three minutes. We were exuberant, and she was on top of the world. It was a moment I will never forget. Crossing the finish line of my first marathon was thrilling, but nothing could compare to being with my daughter in this moment as she crossed her first finish line. And to think it might not have ever happened had I continued to see Sydney through the wrong glasses.
Here’s how the “Wear Glasses That Work” pattern played out for me when it came to my daughter:
• Seeing. I chose to see Sydney as someone with the strength and capability to finish a marathon.
• Thinking. I changed my conditioning strategy from focusing on both of us to focusing on just her.
• Feeling. I had confidence in her and what she could do—confidence I knew she felt.
• Doing. We trained in such a way that we both crossed the finish line together.
Whenever I contemplate this topic, I’m reminded of the words purportedly carved on an Anglican bishop’s tombstone in Westminster Abbey:
WHEN I WAS YOUNG AND FREE AND MY IMAGINATION HAD NO LIMITS, I DREAMED OF CHANGING THE WORLD.
AS I GREW OLDER AND WISER, I DISCOVERED THE WORLD WOULD NOT CHANGE, SO I SHORTENED MY SIGHTS SOMEWHAT AND DECIDED TO CHANGE ONLY MY COUNTRY.
BUT IT, TOO, SEEMED IMMOVABLE.
AS I GREW INTO MY TWILIGHT YEARS, IN ONE LAST DESPERATE ATTEMPT, I SETTLED FOR CHANGING ONLY MY FAMILY, THOSE CLOSEST TO ME, BUT ALAS, THEY WOULD HAVE NONE OF IT.
AND NOW, AS I LIE ON MY DEATHBED, I SUDDENLY REALIZE: IF I HAD ONLY CHANGED MYSELF FIRST, THEN BY EXAMPLE I WOULD HAVE CHANGED MY FAMILY. FROM THEIR INSPIRATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT, I WOULD THEN HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BETTER MY COUNTRY, AND WHO KNOWS, I MAY HAVE EVEN CHANGED THE WORLD.
We do a great disservice to ourselves when we wear the limiting lenses that are so often a part of human nature. But the good news is that changing one’s glasses is a choice, and we all have the power to do so—even my colleague Jon.
• • •
“I need someone like you to reason with her,” Jon replied. “I’m not a people person.”
And there it was—the all-too-common view that we are simply who we are and we can’t change. I knew Jon came into my office looking to recruit me as an ally to influence Isabel, but I felt there was something more important going on. “Jon, tell me why you believe that?”
“That you’re not a people person.”
I could tell from his expression that it wasn’t the response he had anticipated. He cleared his throat before continuing. “Well, you know how it is.”
I pressed on. “How is it, exactly?”
Jon sighed. “Look, I’m a results guy.” This script was a well-worn groove I’d heard countless times before. (For those of you born after 1980, google “record player” for more information on how all this “groove” business works.) “I push, I get results and, by doing so, I sometimes turn people off. I’m just not good at the soft stuff.”
“Remind me, you’ve been married how many years now?” I asked, knowing full well what the answer was.
I knew that Jon was both an amazing husband and father, so I wasn’t buying in to his current view of himself. “Sounds like you’ve got a handle on some of that soft stuff after all.”
Jon opened his mouth to object but stopped himself. I think he knew me well enough to realize I wasn’t about to let this go. Instead, he raised his hands and slumped back into the chair. “Fine, I surrender.”
“Let’s say that you really are a people person then,” I continued, “how would you handle the situation with Isabel?”
“Well, I suppose I should be talking with her instead of you.”
I nodded. “I like how you said talking, because it’s about mutual respect and a shared purpose. I imagine you and Isabel both want the same things. So my suggestion is that you reject the notion that you’re not a people person and go and have a constructive conversation with your colleague. You might also want to consider the paradigm you have about Isabel.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I have a hard time believing Isabel isn’t as equally concerned about meeting the deadline.”
Jon thought it over. “Yeah, I’ll think about that. Good point.”
As Jon got out of his seat, he looked like he was doing his best to hold back a smile. “You really enjoy this ‘people’ stuff, don’t you?”