Everybody Ante Up!
Texans are suffering. People with Covid are suffering. Kids are suffering. First responders, healthcare workers, single parents, and minorities are all suffering. With so much suffering happening all around us, it’s easy to feel despondent, demoralized, depressed and anxious. There’s nothing easy peasy about this game called life. The only way to win is to ante up and play the hand you are dealt carefully. The only way to lose is to view the other players as opponents instead of as members of the same team. Our common opponent is suffering, not each other. You win this game by helping others win. So how do we do that when we have a less-than-stellar hand to play?
Let’s begin by dispelling a few myths:
You DON’T have to spend money to help others.
You DON’T have to spend a lot of time to help others.
You DON’T have to risk your health to help others.
You DO get more than you give by helping others.
To quote Ronald Reagan, “We can’t help everybody, but everybody can help somebody.” And I would assert that if everybody did help somebody then, collectively, yes we could help everybody.
Our theme for this month is unity. Whether you like it or not, we’re all in this game together. But there’s good news in that statement, because being in it together is precisely how we win. Every single one of us needs something we don’t have, and every single one of us has something we don’t need. Only by coming together do we make a winning team.
Helping someone else, even when--no, especially when--you feel you have nothing to give, is empowering. You become part of the collective. You get to participate, not just as a receiver, but as a giver. You get to contribute your unique talents toward making the world a better place for at least one other person. What better use is there for them than that? And when you experience the power of neighbor helping neighbor firsthand, you become less anxious and more confident that your community will also be there for you if and when you need it. Pay into the pot as much as you are able, whenever you are able, so that resources will be there for you when you need to take some out yourself. That’s how this game is played.
There are as many ways to help as there are needs to be fulfilled. You only have to look around you to identify a need and inward to identify a solution you have to offer. Everyone has at least one of the following necessary resources to contribute: Time, Money, Knowledge, Effort, Skills/Talents
If you lack time, contribute knowledge, effort, and/or money.
If you lack money, contribute time, skills and/or effort.
And so on…
If you’re looking for ideas on how to help during the pandemic, here are just a few ideas:
And don’t forget helping those closest to you. Sometimes we fail to notice a dire need in our own households because we aren’t paying enough attention. Put down your devices, turn off the TV, slow down and connect more to notice the holes you can fill right in your own backyard.
There’s nothing easy peasy about experiencing or witnessing suffering, but with some creativity, unity and a generous team spirit, finding a way to claim victory over it isn’t as hard as you think.
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Like much of the country’s school-aged kids, my teenagers have been engaged in distance learning for nearly a year now. I’ve been amazed and impressed at the creativity of our educators in surmounting huge obstacles in order to continue providing at least some semblance of an education to their students during this challenging time. But the limitations of this arrangement came into stark view one day last quarter when my daughter came to me, panicked and crying, overtaken by anxiety at the realization that her team was unlikely to meet their deadline on a group project.
The conversation went something like this:
N (daughter): “I don’t think we’re ready!”
Me: “Well, what is left to do?”
N: “I don’t know.”
Me: “Then you should contact the other members to find out.”
N: “I can’t. I don’t have their emails or phone numbers.”
Me: “Well who’s the group leader?”
N: “We don’t have one.”
Me: “Ok, well have you at least completed your part of the project?”
N: “I’m not sure what my part is.”
Me: “Haven’t you had team meetings to discuss who’s responsible for doing what?”
N: “We’ve had meetings, but we never talked about any of that.”
Me: “What did you talk about then?”
N: “We didn’t talk about anything. Everyone just sat there. No one said anything.”
Me: [Thud as my head hits the table]
As unbelievable as it all sounded, it dawned on me that because their “meetings” occurred in online breakout sessions, outside the teacher’s view (unlike in a regular, in-person classroom), the teacher was unaware that this team was struggling to make an initial connection with one another and lacked pretty much all of the other key elements of effective teamwork. It was, however, a golden opportunity to teach my daughter some essential skills that will carry her through life. After all, wasn’t that supposed to be the point of all those dreaded group projects everybody hated in school? Usually one or two people on the team ended up doing all the work because it was easier for them to complete the project on time the way they thought it should be done than it was to figure out how to work effectively as a team. The end result may have been an “A”, but it was accompanied by feelings of frustration, resentment, confusion, and even more dread at the mere prospect of facing future group projects.
The old adage “many hands make light work” is true only when those hands are working together in sync. An effective team is more than just a collection of individuals working toward a common outcome. Real teamwork requires communication, organization, delegation/designation, evaluation, problem-solving, efficiency, and mutual respect. But what do those look like?
Communication - Completing a project without good communication is like trying to have a phone conversation without a signal. Solid communication means everyone is clear on the expectations and responsibilities of each team member, that the frequency and method of communicating works for everyone, and that there is agreement on not only the ultimate goal but also the plan to achieve it.
Organization - Once a communication framework has been laid out, determining an execution plan comes next. You wouldn’t build a doghouse without a blueprint. Tackling a group project of any sort without a plan will only lead to confusion, miscommunication, and wasted effort. Organizing your team begins with defining each team member’s role and responsibilities and selecting a leader (or leaders) to keep everyone on track. Prioritizing, creating a timeline and interim deadlines, facilitating communication, and evaluating progress along the way are all key components of keeping your team organized.
Delegation/Designation - Successful teamwork should flow like beautiful orchestral music, with each member’s perfectly-tuned instrument playing his notes in perfect time and harmony with those around him, always aware of the whole sound and attentive to the direction of his conductor. When each member plays to his own strengths while observing others to learn and improve upon individual areas of weakness, everyone comes away having learned something new. You wouldn’t ask the violinist to play the drums, but he will develop a keener sense of the rhythm by listening to the drummer. And as with any orchestra, your team needs a guiding force, a conductor. Select someone with natural leadership abilities to head the team. Remember that not everyone is suited to that role, and talented players to take his direction are equally important, lest the orchestra remain silent...or worse!
Evaluation - A few months ago, the scientists at Pfizer unveiled a remarkable achievement when they introduced a Covid vaccine developed in record time. Only after months of testing the vaccine on thousands of willing participants was it ready for widespread distribution to the public at large. Without meticulous evaluation of the vaccine’s effects along the way, the citizens of the world would have been at great risk of serious consequences or even death from receiving the vaccine! Waiting until hundreds of millions of doses had been administered to discover a major flaw in the vaccine’s efficacy would have been disastrous on so many levels. The long-term success of any project depends on careful evaluation of your team’s efforts all along the way so that it’s easier to back up and correct course when results are skewing in the wrong direction. Consider up front what tools and methods you will use to evaluate your team’s performance? Who will determine the benchmarks used to measure your success? When will you measure? And how and at what intervals will the findings be communicated to the rest of the team?
Problem-solving - The biggest test you will face as a team is your ability to regroup when the plan goes awry. First, agree not to panic. Seek input from each member and listen to all suggestions with an open mind. Think outside the box. Share past experiences. Perhaps you can adapt a previous problem’s solution to this situation.
Efficiency - Finding the sweet spot in balancing quality of output against the expenditure of time and effort is crucial to reaching the objective by the deadline with satisfying results. An efficient team remains focused on the goal, omits the unnecessary, and stays attentive to the results of self-evaluation in order to correct course when needed. Avoiding conflicts or resolving them quickly minimizes disruption and keeps things humming along. A nimble team adapts and evolves, learning and perfecting as it goes.
Mutual Respect - Have you ever been surprised to learn that your favorite TV show cast members actually dislike each other in real life? Chances are if the show continued successfully for many seasons, it’s because they made a good team despite their personal feelings. Real teamwork doesn’t require friendship, but it does require enough mutual respect to be able to continue working together effectively...to communicate, organize, delegate/designate, evaluate, problem-solve and work efficiently despite your personality differences. Honesty, empathy and kindness, when used together, foster respect. Listen as much as you contribute and remain open to constructive criticism and willing to learn. Focusing on the talents and abilities each teammate brings to the table instead of on their individual quirks or annoyances can generate mutual respect, even between the most viscous of adversaries.
Whether you find yourself forced to work with others, or voluntarily choose teamwork to lighten your load, making the time and effort to ensure these elements are in place first will yield better results and a more positive experience than rushing in headlong, pushing your own personal vision. Teamwork is a valuable tool...when it’s wielded correctly.
The title of this blog is only the first, better-known part of Maxwell’s quote. The rest is, “...but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”
With these seven key elements, joined by a spirit of unity, even building a dream team will be easy peasy.
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Restoring the Broken Bridge
There’s been a lot of talk about unity lately. President Biden made it the theme of his Inaugural address, and leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle have emphasized a need for the country to come together to bridge the growing schism that divides our society. Regardless of your political or societal views, you cannot deny that division and discord yield stress and anxiety...neither of which contribute to easy peasy living. So our theme for the month of February is Unity...because reaching out for healing, sharing abundantly, working together, and meeting each others’ needs is really the only path to true peace and easy peasy living.
There’s a common misconception that unity requires you to suppress your own views, to stifle your voice, or to sacrifice your principles on the altar of communion. But none of that will bring about true and lasting peace, only simmering resentment. Only balance will yield genuine unity. Indeed, we say something profoundly important when we listen to another point of view. We teach how to be respectful of differing opinions by learning to model respectful behavior. We receive grace by giving it. It’s not about giving in, but rather about simply giving. Enough of us on both sides must be willing to invest ourselves in the effort if we are to restore this broken bridge.
The greatest tools we have at our disposal are knowledge, history. and facts. Only by sharing these with each other, can we build bridges that last. Only when we each embrace our dual roles of teacher and student with equal fervor can we bring about real change. Most of us lecture enthusiastically, but fail to take substantive notes on what the other side is preaching, much less to study the roots of their concerns. A dearth of background information leads us to view our fellow citizens as the other side instead of as merely another side of the same multi-faceted jewel.
They say knowledge is power, so if you want to wield power, you must first learn. Real knowledge is fact-based. We live in a time where all our scuffling has blurred the line between fact and opinion. Any attempt at unifying that doesn’t begin with finding and sharpening that line will fail. Your quest for knowledge must include a quest for truth. Check your sources. Do your homework. There is no such thing as my truth and your truth, only the truth.
Lectures, learning and homework all sound a bit drab and boring though, don’t they? Well, not necessarily, especially if you start with the fun stuff! Explore the factual histories, traditions, and beliefs of cultures other than your own. Discover how other ethnic or religious groups observe holidays. Experiment with recipes for traditional foods, listen to unfamiliar music genres, or visit museums and read books to learn more about the contributions of another culture’s heroes and icons. One thing all humans share is a love of good food, beautiful music, historical heroes, and strong traditions. Who said you have to stay in the same boring lane your whole life long?
Basic values like freedom, justice, hard work, faith, and love of family and pets offer additional common ground. While your vision of exactly what each of those things looks like may differ from someone else’s, merely acknowledging a shared reverence for them brings greater understanding of what motivates each of us. Try to identify the fears of your counterparts, not for the purpose of exploiting them, but rather to find ways of allaying them. Chances are they look very much like your own or may even be based on misinformation that you can correct. Use humor to diffuse tense situations and remind everyone that no matter how our viewpoints may differ, sharing laughter always feels better than slinging insults. Connecting on the most basic human level is the first step in repairing the bridge we share.
There’s a funny fact about bridges: You can only cross them if both sides meet in the middle.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.