What Kind of Wall Will You Build?
A few years ago my job function was “technically” business development and operations. As with most start up environments, this was really just a title that was broad enough to encompass “anything that needs to get done”. That said, I was accountable for “marketing and sales deals” as well as devising the strategy and running the day to day operations of the company’s call center. There was not one area of the business that did not somehow effect either of these functions and as I was “employee 1”, I had a background or had worked in every other company function: building the website (design), developing the CRM (technology), driving traffic and tracking the sources/how they performed (analytics), setting up all clients and vendors (ops) just to name a few. The upside of the start up environment is the experience you get in a vast array of functional areas. The tough part is when you are told to focus in ONE or TWO areas, but you know enough about the other functions so when new employees are brought on, you are constantly working with them as well. What happens? You lose your focus.
Part of all of our journeys is to become self aware enough to recognize our faults, and choose either to fix them or use them to our advantage. At this time a few years ago my mentor sat me down and said the following,
“I assign you the project, ‘build a wall’. And you start building your wall; and it’s sturdy and beautiful – it looks like it’s going to be the perfect wall. But then, you look to your left and you look to your right and you see that your teammates have been told to build walls as well. However, their walls don’t look as good or as sturdy as yours. So, you leave your wall and you go to help them. You help them and guide them in building better walls for themselves and when their walls are done – they’re much higher quality walls than expected. You get back to finish your wall, and you’re almost done – but again you see someone who needs help on their wall; repeat performance. This time, however, when the wall is finished, you go back to your own wall and you find that the time to complete your project is almost up. You rush to build the rest of your own wall, and of course the quality suffers. When all is said and done, your team has 3 quality walls (not yours) and one semi quality wall (your wall). However, what I did not tell you is that your wall was the most important. Your wall was going to be the wall that protected the entire city and all of the other walls. I trusted you to build the most important wall because you were the most talented, the most tenacious, the most passionate; but you failed. You failed to build the wall I thought you would because you lost your focus; your passion for ‘people’ overran your passion to produce. You lost your focus.”
When my mentor told me this story, I understood. It was simple – he was telling me to focus on my tasks and stop worrying about everything going on around me. I was screwing up. What I did not realize then, that I do now – was that had I delved deeper into the story and continued a discussion, I would have realized way back then that I had a skill set that would set me on a new career path. While in a corporate environment working in one functional area, building others walls was not the ‘right’ way to perform. However, there is a whole industry of people who do nothing but “build walls” for other people. The industry is consulting. So while it took me a few years, I have realized what I’m really good at. I’m great at building other people’s walls. My “own wall” has manifested as a result of building others walls.
I think there are a lot of people who are stuck in boxes given to them by a title; who have the ability to add value in a myriad of functional areas and industries. Don’t stay in your box. Test yourself. Try building other people’s walls. It just takes one successful wall to gain the confidence to build another and then another. Eventually, you will have so many walls that you can quit your job and do nothing but creatively build other’s walls. It never gets boring; there is both short term and long term gratification; and like any famous wall – people will remember it was you who built it.