I was challenged by my colleagues to write a post reflecting on 2018. Oh, I've had several ideas about what I could write about...I could share a metaphor about how much I love my G2 gel pens and how they're like the community (I started a draft that I couldn't seem to complete), or I could share a metaphor about the process for revamping Canvas release notes (but that notation never made it out of my head).
But the idea that really got me thinking was a metaphor about my house plants.
Two weekends ago, I re-potted all the plants in my house. I have three philodendrons of various sizes (fun fact: they've all been alive since 1999) and three other plants I inherited from other people (I have no idea what type they are, but their types are not relevant to this story). I needed to re-pot the plants because contrary to popular belief, you are supposed to change the soil to provide new nutrients, but I also needed to get rid of some fungus gnats that had taken up residence (also not relevant to this story). But most significantly, a couple of the inherited plants needed new pots because their roots had outgrown their existing pots. A couple of times I was not watching what was being pulled out with the soil, and with two of the plants I ended up ripping out some of the existing roots, or they came out on their own. (One of those two scenarios is correct but I'm not sure which one—you can decide).
Let me begin by saying I am not a horticulturist* in any sense of the word. So naturally, knowing very little about plants, I thought that perhaps the literal disconnect between the roots and the soil that had been removed from the pot would end up doing the plant a favor. The plant already had a significant number of roots. Surely they're not all important—perhaps having fewer roots would be good, right? Yeah... well, a week went by and the plants were both more wilted than they should have been. Still green, but significantly wilted. I thought perhaps they needed more turgor pressure** (this terminology is one of the few phrases I retained from high school biology) and gave them more water.
Not the right answer either.
Google eventually told me that my plants were probably in shock from the transfer and that they'll rebound in a few days.
It's been, like, 10 days. I'm starting to think these plants are dying. And I killed them.
Why am I drawing a metaphor from my dismay of (possibly)*** accidentally causing the demise of my innocent plants? My experiences of 2018 were varied and memorable. But the main thing I learned has to do with the value of people and conflicts that may exist between various personalities. I'm not sharing this metaphor to suggest that I may have potentially damaged someone in a negative direction (I don't think any good-natured person truly has that intention), but when we aren't paying attention, we don't really know the effect that we may have on people—for better or worse. What I learned in 2018 and from my (sad) experiences with these plants paints a poignant story for me that I'll probably remember for a long while.
Each person that we encounter has some sort of root system that we can't always see. Some people's roots are still growing in their existing situation—they may be developing confidence and finding their place in the world, your company, or other environment that is new to them. Some people have been established for a bit and need a larger opportunity to branch out and expand because they've outgrown their current situation. And some people are fine just they way they are.
Regardless of the situation for people, don't do anything to damage any positive growth that has already occurred. You may think that trimming the roots (inadvertently or not) will do them a favor. But really, you don't know what's best for them or what you're potentially harming. The only person who knows what is best is that person. The best thing you can do is ask people how they are and what they need. Listen to their needs and their concerns. Listen to their likes and their dislikes, their successes and challenges, their dreams and their realities. Figure out how you can help put them in a situation (or readjust an existing situation) that is best for them.
And if you get criticism—usually constructive is the best kind, if you're lucky—consider humility in how that criticism can make you a better person. Let's face it (see what I did there?), nobody likes to admit they've received criticism. (But seriously, raise your hand if you've never received criticism from anyone. Ever. See? Not possible.) There's usually some truth behind the criticism we each have received, even if it's hard to hear and rips your heart out. But don't beat yourself down further.
Here I am in a public forum to say that my 2018 handed me some criticism about things I wasn't cognizant I was doing from the perspective of a contrasting personality. Having a contrasting personality doesn't make that person wrong. But it can help you see situations differently and develop more empathy. I can tell you that in all of my time of working with people, 2018 will be the year I remember the most, the year that I received some of the most important feedback I'll ever receive in my life. (See, Stefanie Sanders, we can admit hard things!) My personality gives me some amazing strengths with organization and processes, but people are more important, and they need the most love and nurturing of all, even if it takes more learning on your part about how to do it.
My resolution for change came midway through 2018; you don't have to wait for the New Year to right any wrongs you want to improve. Or to improve existing situations that could become even stronger. After you read this post, send a note to someone in the Community you admire. Or better yet, send a note to someone that seems to be struggling and see how you can help. Take an extra moment to ask your family how they are doing, or give the next person who walks into your office a smile and a handshake (and maybe a hug, too—if someone does need a hug but you aren't up to it, call Renee Carney 'cause she hugs everyone and nobody stays sad for long after that ).****
In short, find ways to keep people's roots engaged for growth and further development. Be a positive impact. Be a catalyst for changing a life for the better, not just in our cherished Canvas community, but any time—anywhere you are.
* If you are a horticulturist, I am truly sorry for causing you pain from this story.
** Transpiration is also crucial in maintaining water pressure within cells, keeping them rigid so they can support the plant. The water pressure inside plant cells is called turgor pressure, and it is maintained by a process called osmosis. (garden.org)
*** I'm hoping for the best and that they'll pull out. Boiler up and hammer down!