In It For the Long Haul

I rarely have felt fully prepared for a lot of the big milestones and challenges in my life. Whether it was the transition from school and stepping into “real” life when I graduated college, or giving a best man’s speech at a wedding, or completing a marathon, there was always a moment of pause and hesitancy right before that moment happened wondering how it will go. (I’m still feeling out this whole real life after school thing. I’m not sold on it just yet.)

What I do know, however, is that I work my way through it all on a daily basis.

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Turning Fifteen Again

Greg Macek Junior Year High School

Fifteen can be a good age, as seen in the headline image. (That was me in my junior year yearbook photo, not quite 16 yet.) You’re firmly planted into your teen years, start to have an idea of who you are and a little more confident after being in high school for 2 years, and have a lot of optimism about the future, especially because this is the year you get your driver’s permit.

I find I get nostalgic and reflective in June because it’s that time of year when you graduate high school, college, or if you’re me, you remember when you landed your first – and only – full time job. Today, June 19th, marks my first official full time day at my job. It’s not the first or second time I’ve reminisced about this, nor will it be my last. However, 15 feels like a big milestone for a couple reasons.

1) Years that are divisible by 5 feel more important.

2) Change and opportunity has been a big theme this year personally and professionally, much like the year 2000.

Just like that time of transition from college to “real life” where the world felt full of new opportunities amidst so many unknowns, this year mirrors those characteristics. Seemingly there hasn’t been so much change and possibility all rolled up into one inconveniently undefined package delivered to my door. People who I thought would be around moved on, directions of things I thought would be one way have changed – ultimately in many ways for the better.

The INFP and Idealist in me is internally thriving in the “in-between” phase of the past and the unknown future. I love this space where the opportunity of something fresh and new can be created. However, this doesn’t mean I’m without questions or fear. I also want it to go well, perfectly even however perfect can be defined in these situations. Given how unrealistic that is, I need to forge ahead and do my best.

All of this change processing requires more time alone to figure things out. I remember spending a lot of time at 15 in my bedroom trying to figure out life and everything happening then, journaling my thoughts. I was optimistic then too, even when I was unsure of the “next thing.” Guess some things don’t change.

Welcome to “Career” 15 years old, me. There’s still a lot to figure out; you got this. You still look pretty good too for your age. You should thank your parents for good genes.

Ask More Questions & Listen More

Questions

Often times I need to take a step back from everything and ask myself, “is there an overarching theme or pattern happening in my life?” It’s fascinating to see how various facets of my life are intertwined usually to teach me – and maybe the world – something.  That current “something” is that we don’t know everything. We think we do so often, assume a bit too much, and because of that often miss something critical. We must ask more questions. It is a significant step to understanding of all manners of things, especially ourselves.

At work, I try to teach and encourage those on my team and around the company to not take anything at face value. Too often someone takes a task or project request and runs with it. At surface level, everything seems straightforward. But peel back even one layer and finding out the “why” that is driving that request and you learn that on-the-surface craziness has some context and reasoning you can support – or at least acknowledge. Or you ask your client to expand on an idea and all of a sudden a great idea is sparked to take the project to a new level or a future potential issue is avoided.

In relationships, questions are the basis for learning more about other people. You know what everyone’s favorite topic is?  What they know best of course: themselves. In my life, I have had many conversations with people without uttering much beyond my name, where I’m from or live, and a gloss over of what I do. How? By continually asking questions about just about anything they want to talk about. I’m amazed by how much others like hearing their own voice. I tap into this by keeping the focus on the other person with questions crafted and carefully selected for them.  When I’m not in the mood to talk about myself, it’s a powerful deflection tactic that works on at least 80% of people I talk to (a couple close friends are on to me.)  The only problem? When I do want to share something about my life, people still like to talk about themselves even when I’m not asking them anything. This cumulatively results in only one person feeling like they are known better; often times that person is not me. It can lead to a sense of isolation or not feeling cared about.

When it comes to ourselves, how often are we asking the really tough questions in a way that results in action or real insight? The right questions can be uncomfortable to respond to. Why? Do we not ask them because we don’t care about other people or about ourselves? Or is it because we’re afraid someone will ask us about stuff we don’t want to talk about? Maybe it’s why I direct a lot of conversation focus back to other people.

One of the worst things we do is assume we know everything we need to know from work to friendships. Without questions, we are left to assume what we don’t know, and Assuming takes you to dangerous places. So don’t be too taken aback if I ask lots of questions. It means I care and I don’t want to miss something along the way.