I sat in my high school guidance counselor’s office as a junior; it was her time to spend with me helping me plan my future. I recall two things about that day, one she said to me if you do not work harder you are destine to become a ditch digger after high school. Well, I have always been a bit of a rebel and that statement set my rebellion in motion. I suppose some people would respond to that statement as a challenge, but not me I responded with a question. “What is wrong with being a ditch digger?” The problem with my question was the intent. I intended to be obstinate. I wanted to be argumentative. What I failed to grasp was that she was simply trying to get me to aim higher, to align my passions and gifts, to see myself as worthy of great things.
Jumping ahead 25 years to current day I was reminded of that story as I stood in the basement of a large academic hospital. I was there on tour to meet a very special woman. The young woman was part of a program designed to help adults with special needs to align their passion and gifts with a skill or trade.The program is called Hope Academy and is funded by Hope Haven. As a board member of Hope Haven I was there that day to see how well the program was working.
As our group approached the young lady began to explain with such enthusiasm the responsibilities of her job. She worked in Central Supply and she showed us how she pulled items off the massive shelves and placed them on a cart for delivery throughout the hospital. What I noticed the most was how meticulous she was in describing each thing she was responsible for. Alongside her was her coach who is part of the program. The coach’s role is to support the special needs adult. The coach explained that when the young lady had applied for the program the only goal she had was to be a grocery bagger and now her goal was to be a supply chain specialist. As her coach described this to our group the young lady beamed with pride.
When the tour ended I got back on the elevator and headed up from that dingy hospital basement. I could not get out of my mind what I had just witnessed. As I walked across a busy street, dressed in my best suit, heading to my parked BMW, the high school guidance counselor conversation came roaring back into my mind. Why had I not expected more from my life at a young age? What parallel could I draw between myself and the young lady with special needs. Why had she not expected more from herself? I dare to say the answer is simple. EXPOSURE. Now I cannot say for sure what the young lady had been exposed to in her life, but I bet she got that bagger idea from what she saw. She was exposed to others who looked like her who bagged groceries and thought, yep that is what I will be able to achieve in life. For me my exposure to great leaders or successful people growing up was almost nonexistent. I went to a failing school, I hung out with failing people, and the community I lived in was poor. I expected nothing more of myself then what I was exposed to.
What changed for me again parallels with what has changed for the young lady in the program, someone took interest in me. Someone exposed me to greater things. Some of these have come from written word, programs, church, conferences, and finally meeting great leaders. The greatest exposure has come from stepping outside of what I was comfortable with and allowing myself to be worthy to achieve more.
I will end this with one more story. I noticed that as I was teaching my dog to jump up and grab the stick that he would jump only to the height that I held the stick. He would not jump any higher, although sometimes he would jump lower. Isn’t this how we can be in life to, only rising to the level of expectations that others put on us. I challenge you to set your expectations of yourself high and then take action to exceed those expectations. What does this have to do with culture? Everything. It is our duty as leaders to create a culture of exposure for those we serve.
· Can you relate to a time in your life where you set the bar too low and did not even realize it?
· How do you create exposure in your organization or life?
Photo credit: www.adventurefilms.org