Go To Work Like an 11 Year Old

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Resilience has been on my mind lately, after spending a summer watching my child respond — day in and day out — to new situations. His summer was filled with a collection of day camps where he learned new things like zip lining, archery, and how to make suits of armor out of old cardboard boxes.

Week after week, we would drive him to a new location and he would get on a bus with strangers. At the end of the day I would ask him how his day was and he’d respond, “Awesome.” At the end of the summer, I asked if he had a good summer and he said, “Oh, it was so awesome. It was the best.”

Now imagine any of us, adults, doing what he did. Every week he got on a bus and went somewhere he’d never been before and played with kids he’d (mostly) never met before. Every week he was in an entirely new situation, and he loved it. I admire that in him. (For the record, when I was a kid, my parents wanted me to go to a lovely Vermont sleep-away camp and I said, “No way, no how. Nope.”)

What does my son possess that I didn’t? And that most people don’t come by very easily? Adaptability and resiliency. He has the ability to go into a new experience feeling confident that no matter what happens he will be okay. He makes the best of things day after day. Even when he got into a little trouble (Boys and balls! And apologies.), he wasn’t any less enthusiastic about going back the next day.

The thing is, I’m not actively teaching him resiliency. It’s just something he possesses. I do actively encourage it, validate it, and praise him for it. But every time I see it in him I can’t help but think that resiliency just isn’t something that most adults possess. At least not like that.

Adults like routine and familiarity, and yet in order to really embrace what needs to happen at work — do better, work faster, produce more, innovate, compete — we have to be resilient enough to not only create some surprises but react to them in a positive way. To meet experiences head on and create something good from unknowns.

As we grow up, we start caring about what people think of us. And then, somewhere around 40 or 50, we (hopefully) stop caring as much. But we don’t have that time to wait anymore! We have to invest in our own strength of character and our own interest in adventure, even at work. We can’t wait to be 40 to 50 for that kind of confidence.

We have to embrace new opportunities and new experiences now, in order to embrace (and produce) better outputs. We might screw up, but that shouldn’t stop us from wanting to go back the next day and make the best of that situation and learn from it.

People are scared. Fear influences most of the decisions we make at work. We’re afraid of screwing up, or falling down, or making idiots of ourselves. It’s that fear that makes us less resilient and open to change. If we let go of that fear and commit to being more open to new things — disruptors, agitators, and uncomfortable ideas — imagine the fun and adventure we could have!

Stop caring what people think of you, and start thinking about how to be less afraid and more resilient. I think that’s the secret to getting better at work.

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