Debra Swersky
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Opt-in for weekly journal, not blog, posts.

Stepping Back

Over the past year, I’ve had to get pretty clear about who I am, what I do (and not do), where I want to work (and not work), who I want to work with (and not with), what I want to work onhow, why, when, etc. etc. You get the point. I made some big decisions in answering these questions and have defended myself more than once with regards to my answers.

The problem is, regardless of how clear I was able to get on my answers to each of these questions (and justify my responses), I failed to recognize one little big detail: the outside forces. 

Recently, I sat down with a former professor of mine who is familiar with my current non-profit-startup-consultancy-new-life-in-Dallas-house-buying situation. More importantly, she’s also intimately familiar with my work: the way that I work, the things that I excel at, what I like to work on, and why. (Our class work was… foreign and atypical so she got to know me pretty well.) In our conversation, as I talked through the hyphenated “mess” of my life, she listened intently while I delineated my reasons for stepping down as Executive Director for IDEA for Africa. (Don’t worry, I’m still a board member.)

As I spoke she could tell that I was making claims that fit the storyline. I was attempting to position the story in a way that makes sense in an effort to save face for everyone involved. I was wasting airspace ascribing a practical path to my situation. So, she called me out. She knew that I wasn’t telling the full story. (See above… she knows what I can do. She’s seen my work.) What she did was politely interrupt my thought pattern and say:

The conditions weren’t right. You weren’t able to do what you know that you can do and what you’ve done so successfully before. 

She brought “the outside forces” to my attention in a way that allowed me to breath a sigh of relief. The thought “it’s not me, it’s you” ran through my mind… but that wasn’t it. It was still me, just a different part of me. 

I remember, back in the day, when I deplaned the rocketship of LevelUp. I sat down with a whole host of people who imparted their words of wisdom onto me with regards to figuring out my next step. We talked about practical stuff: what I wanted to learn, who I wanted to learn from, in what industry I wanted to be etc etc. It was the fluffy stuff that I struggled with. I distinctly remember saying to Wynne: This doesn’t feel like something that can be listed in my Evernote notebook structure. (Oh boy.) The fluffy stuff: the deal-breakers, the fit (you <> company - not one sided), your pet peeves and wants. Nope, these are not neat Evernote lists.

After those conversations I forced clarity on the practical and easy questions and tried to create lists (cliff notes) of the fluffy stuff. But, years later, in coming back to those conversations (yes, I reviewed my notes), I now realize that I can add a whole new set of “outside forces” to further define my optimal conditions.

It’s all about communicating, setting expectations, and “onboarding” people. I just need to remember that, remind myself of it moving forward, when I dive head first into new projects…

Debra Swersky