I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic lately. I am blessed with working with a team of people who not only inspire me – they remind me HOW critical it is to ‘bee the change’ that I want to see in this world. Reflecting on how fortunate I am to sit back in my chair, computer on my lap, sipping tea while I ponder my daily work, I do think back to the days of being forced to be efficient and task oriented in a country that lives by an 8:30 – 5 work day. I recall how I often wasn’t motivated in this environment, simply because I was expected to be ON during “prime time” hours and how little space it left for creativity. The offices I worked in were typically so understaffed that I felt like my role began to be limited by mountains of paperwork (yes, despite technology) and endless meetings.
That model of what a work day looks like is a part of our US culture. Our identity is very much associated with not only when we work, but “what we do.” I don’t see that changing on a grand scale anytime soon, so I have considered, for years, how to infuse creativity and action for ‘beeing the change’ into that space. As people who care about culture, we talk about global citizenship and other lofty goals. But our culture combined with US higher education culture (bureaucratic, linear, test oriented, etc.) made me feel that it might be impossible to work in a way that allows for the ability to kick start meaningful change.
I see ‘beeing the change’ as a series of intentional steps. Sometimes are baby steps…and sometimes we are reduced to the size of an ant in terms of how much power we have to make those adjustments. The steps we then make are tiny, but they are steps!
Here is what I’ve managed to come up with – and I do hope that you’ll share your comments below as I sincerely do value your feedback and envision this as a conversation, not a concrete set of tips.
Commit to professional development
We are born to be curious. Curiosity SHOULD be part of the work place and should drive us to do better in our work. This is just one reason why professional development is not just needed, it is necessary. Professional development does not have to be cost prohibitive. Many affordable options are available virtually (including MelibeeU) as well as through face to face events (such as the Melibee Swarm). Our own team here at the hive trains each other using tools from the internet or by sharing wisdom gleaned from other developmental experiences. A training department isn’t the only avenue for receiving education. On a limited budget? Find a common read and dissect it over lunch together. Have more funds to spend? Consider bringing in a trainer or speaker. Have a day to spare? Take your group out to a local art venue and have them paint together, tapping into their creative selves. Growing our knowledge base coupled with exploration of creativity provides us with some key tools for thinking about and voicing change. Making a commitment to professional development opportunities will continue to develop the creative mind that we were all born with and people will feel appreciated, especially if they have some choice of training approach. Professional development isn’t just for managers and senior officers, it is for EVERYONE. Make that commitment to include not only your senior officers but also the person who resides in that little box on the lower left hand corner of your organizational chart. After all, s/he matters too and frankly, is probably a cornernstone for your ‘success’.
Make one small change
Now that you’ve committed to professional development and learned a new thing or two about how to be better in this world, you may feel overwhelmed and be thinking that there is no way possible that you can adjust your workload to incorporate changes required to shift outcomes with significance. What can you do instead? Make one small change in the work you’re doing. Take that baby step. For example, if you’re working in a college and seeing
twelve students in appointments each day yet feeling tanked, pause and consider one change you can make. For example, you know that the power of personal introductions means something to relationship building and how critical that is for your students, so commit to walking one of those twelve students across campus to introduce them, face to face, to a colleague in another department that you feel they need to know. Or perhaps you’re running a program that sends youth to volunteer accessing clean water in Jamaica each summer. If professional development has illustrated that having a stronger partnership with the local community is integral in sustainability and health care efforts, then make one small change and plan one additional meeting with your counterparts to begin the important dialogue about what partnership means from each group’s cultural lens. One small step. That little change in approach can be the start of something big because you’re going to continue adding one small step each time you see an opportunity. The snowball effect takes place and suddenly – BAM – a bigger shift surfaces. That student you walked over to meet your colleague – she now has an internship in a local recycling organization in your community because of the relationship she established as a result of the introduction. That discussion you added about the program abroad eventually developed into a discussion about the value of reciprocity in service abroad, and as a result your school has committed to funding two Jamaicans to spend part of each summer in a workshop in the US to better understand water cleaning options. And now they’re able to take the learning back to Jamaica to ‘bee the change’ locally.
Ask for feedback – mentor/colleagues – what are you doing right?
Feedback that is sincere and constructive is one of the most valuable gifts that you can receive. When you’re trying to be a change agent in your work, having a mentor to serve as a coach and sounding board is rewarding and comforting. Select a mentor who will be brutally honest with you about how you’re proceeding in your career. What steps does s/he suggest that will allow you to impact the world in a more positive way? Sometimes the lessons don’t resonate precisely at that moment and require reflection and more life experience for them to make sense. I’ve mentored dozens of people and encouraged them to ‘bee the change’ by finding their voices and trusting their instinct without fear of letting others down. When you’re young in your field of work, this can be a difficult message to hear. But when you’re ‘beeing the change’, you have to speak up about what matters to you and where you see glaring issues that impact ethics, sustainability, value, etc. Your mentor can role place difficult conversations with you so that you feel more equipped to raise your voice with confidence. Finding your voice takes practice and like a fine wine, comes more easily with age. But when it does, you will feel so incredibly empowered to ‘bee’ a change agent.
Create policies that are driven by heart, not money
Our culture is complex because it often leaves us with the idea that money = success. It is hard to undo that kind of thinking, as it is so driven into our way of thinking from such a young age. (Think of the games we played as kids – Monopoly is one good example.) It took my own husband well into his forties to be able to verbalize – and believe – that his own success was not solely defined by his income. When you are working, you are often asked to
follow policies and are often told that they can’t be changed or flexed. Policies are well intended – meant to keep us organized and to provide consistency – yet they are often not oriented toward ‘beeing the change’ because they are not written from the heart. They are written from a need for structure and to address potential liability (in my lingo – fear!) in many cases. If you can’t change policies because you’re not in a position of power, at least use your voice to share concerns. Develop examples of how alternative policies could better serve constituencies. In the case of Melibee, I have a refund policy that simply states “I want you to be happy. Contact me if you have any concerns.” This is how I am choosing to ‘bee the change’ – by not having set percentage of monies to return based on timelines/deadlines. Risky, perhaps, but it has served me well so far. I have never “lost” money as a result of this policy and I strongly suspect that I have had more customers because it is a policy that came from my heart and not my head.
Be realistic about what you can do
‘Beeing the change’ sometimes means that you have to be willing to walk away from a good paying gig. If your values don’t align with those of your employer, it is time to move on. This can be incredibly scary but it is certainly less awful than going to work and feeling like you’re betraying your spirit. I recently heard someone say that she left working for a corporation because her “heart was turning to mud.” She returned to teaching and hasn’t looked back. While I don’t expect everyone to be able to take a leap of faith when finances are at stake, I would simply suggest that if you can’t be effective at change at work, focus on where you can participate positively in your personal life and your community. Have you thought about composting, but haven’t taken the time? Have you considered volunteering at the local library once a week after work to teach ESL to an immigrant? ‘Beeing the change’ means contributing for the greater good of our planet and its people. There is always an opportunity to do that, even if it isn’t at work.
What suggestions do you have for ‘beeing the change’? Where have you made changes in your work and personal life that have you wearing the role of change agent? Please do share your tips and reflections in the comments section below!