I was afraid that they would read pity in my eyes, that my apprehension and embarrassment would show. It broke my heart to look at those children. They seemed so defenseless, without the noisy running around so characteristic of their age.
Then I approached one of them, Marco. He trained his eyes on me with much effort, locked them onto mine, and smiled.
Suddenly everything else faded: the uncertainty of my steps, the pity, the embarrassment, and the tears. All that vanished in that luminous, miraculous smile. In his eyes I saw myself -- raw humanity at its best. Marco inspired me to want to be the best I could, to embody his humanity with my given tools. His spirit and the spirit of all those children still live with my every thought and action.
I had joined in that work to provide charitable assistance to them. What I discovered instead was that those children were teaching me much more about myself: I needed them more than they needed me.
Charity is a word rooted in caritas, which means love. Strip away all the things we think separate us and what you've got is pure beauty.
We used to believe that experts were such because they had all the answers. Life taught me that expertise means asking the right questions.
What did I learn by working with those children?
Three main things:
- the brain grows by use
- our development follows a pattern that marries genetics and environment
- when you grow one area of the brain, the whole brain grows
Each child, at the time of birth, has the same potential of Leonardo Da Vinci. Helping children achieve their human potential is a first point of impact on growth.
The three main things I learned are the reason I usually send expecting parents a copy of How to Teach Your Baby to Read. If you can teach a child who is developing slowly or not at all in some areas to catch up, imagine what you can do with the rest.
It was my first Thanksgiving in the US. I didn't know too many people and because I was working in non-profit, I didn't make enough money to buy or own a car. The insurance alone, I learned later, almost required a second full time job.
On top of that, I was working very long days and didn't have too many opportunities to meet people outside work. I did have an assistant at the office. A grandmother who derived joy in helping others. Thanks to her, I had an instant extended family for the holidays.
Marion's husband Roy would come to pick me up while she was thoughtfully preparing a feast for everyone. She understood and welcomed me like a member of their family, giving me things to do -- setting the table, greeting her son and daughters and their families, and keeping them company.
That gave me the opportunity to meet and get to know teenagers. Growing up, we were all teenagers at the same time, so I never thought about how inquisitive, experimental, and rebellious we were at that age. Talking with them as a young adult gave me the opportunity to see the world through their eyes.
Many years later, my niece would give me much more food for thought.
How is that phase of our lives shaping our choices?
In three main ways:
- experimentation with ideas and people
- influences of others
- awareness of self
The way to growth is through experience(s), so that is the stage where most of us get in trouble and become rebellious. The reason why rites of passage existed was precisely to signal this transformation from the chrysalis to the butterfly.
When real challenges don't exist in the environment, we create them. Any parent of a teenage child knows these are not easy years. Yet, we do come through. And being exposed to the right mix of stimulation, influences, and self awareness builds the foundations for what we'll go do in the world.
This is a great phase for mentoring -- if we had villages still, we'd have those challenges to overcome for the rite of passage and elderly or sage people to teach and counsel us along the way.
I work with students. They're not teenagers anymore, yet they're still young adults grappling with finding their first or a better job after graduating with a master degree in international business.
I help bounce off ideas on how to structure a presentation so that it is a conversation that leads to an agreement or negotiation, how to think about trading assets for practicum clients, and so on.
[being a teenager makes me think about a pumpkin pie: soft on the inside, harder around the edges]
After twenty plus years of work in corporate America, I decided to explore the consulting side eighteen months ago.
The move gave me the opportunity to edit down everything I have learned working in five industries and with all kinds of personalities and teams into a very focused approach to business growth.
How do you trade your assets creatively so that you can make better promises, which in turn give back strength, resilience, and endurance to the business? For large organizations, that means getting back to basics and focusing the promise.
For startups that means drawing on a more creative, diversified, and thus sustainable canvas on which to begin making promises, starting with the founding team. From there, it's about looking at building a true platform and business that has scale and longevity.
How does this collaboration work?
Mainly based upon:
- values: trust, honesty, and respect
- thinking: how we think about what we do
- action: willingness by all parties to do the work
I'm motivated by a sense of purpose. Working with decision makers and leaders is an incredibly energizing experience.
When Ann Handley asked me, along with 45 friends, what we're grateful for this year, this is what I said:
2011 kicked my butt (if I can say so in your post). I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to confront my enemy, Resistance.
This year I had to come out from behind myself and do the real work that is my calling and contribution to the world: a new model for thinking about business. I started Conversation Agent the blog 5+ years ago, and Conversation Agent, the LLC, 3 years ago.
This is the year I committed to the task.
I'm most grateful for the lessons I learned, because they're now giving me the opportunity to contribute to the world what I do best: connecting the dots, helping people see how we think about what we do, so we can make better promises.
[speaking with Sina Farzaneh at WOMMA Summit]