You don’t know (and that’s ok)

It’s hard to understand something until you’ve been there.

Doing this job with a kid, it suddenly clicked. I’ve always wondered why those parents out there seemed a little (a lot) frazzled at times. But now, I understand. I get how much those parents are juggling. People who haven’t been there don’t. I didn’t.

I didn’t understand the late nights and the new priorities. I didn’t get how it’s harder when you’re in a minority role – in a place where it’s mainly kidless co-workers, the systems and expectations are shaped for the typical person without kiddos.

I thought I understood. But being there changed things.

It was the same when doing some humanitarian work globally. I was in charge of communications for a non-profit doing work in countries overseas. My boss said I needed to get there to understand. At first, I honestly blew him off a little. I can communicate people’s stories without going, right? But he was right. Once I went, being there, smelling the air, meeting the people, seeing the towns, tasting the food, and hearing the stories firsthand shifted my perspective. You can do a job, but once you get your feet on the ground, it makes a difference.

Once again, being there changed things.

I don’t mention the changes to complain about the difficulties of having a kid and working. Not at all. I love my job and I love my kid. So it’s a win all around.

But before I had the kid, or went overseas, I thought I understood, and that colored how I made decisions and viewed others. But I didn’t.

The truth is, in working with students, or your peers, or anyone, we’ve never truly “been” where someone else has been. It’s tempting in a tragedy or a challenge a peer is facing to immediately point out our perspective. But it’s usually more important to listen and care, without having to immediately prove you understand. Because often, you don’t.

Or in leading a team, it’s about understanding that different people’s backgrounds and positions mean they come to the role with different expectations and different things they’re juggling in the back ground. People have unique ways to approach the role. We all need to get the core of a job done, but maybe there’s some leeway in how that happens according to people’s strengths and needs.

And that’s why it’s ok not to know. We can’t walk in everyone’s shoes. But we can recognize each person has a different perspective. A different story to tell. Something to add to our group. We can approach other’s stories with humility. We may have overlapping experiences, but we also have a huge amount to contribute to and learn from each other. Because being there changes things.

Once we understand that everyone’s walking around with a unique set of experiences that bring a new perspective, our leadership and relationships are dramatically transformed.

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You don’t know (and that’s ok)