Take a Field Trip

March 1, 2021

When I wrote Swimming in the Deep End I started by naming a few things I wasn’t ready to dive into the ‘deep end’ to do. One was to engage with Meg Wheatley’s Warriors for the Human Spirit cohort. Another was to do the learning sprint in Seth Godin’s altMBA course. Writing on page 4 in Swimming in the Deep End, I stated that I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth at the time to engage in these opportunities (and to be honest, they scared me). Then sheltering in place became my life in March 2020 and I jumped right into the deep end – first becoming a Warrior and now becoming a sprinter in the altMBA.

The altMBA recently posed a challenge with which I resonated. It asked me to be allocentric. To be other-focused. To think beyond myself and ‘take a field trip’ to another person’s life.

I write about this skill in my new book, Stretching Your Learning Edges: Growing (Up) at Work out in April. (More on this book soon!) We all to need to develop our ability to ‘suspend certainty.’ To go beyond believing that we are right and that how we think is correct. We need to be more open to seeing and understanding how others see the world.

I have written about seeing things from another person’s point of view in every single book I have written. And still this was a challenging exercise! This challenge asked me to think about the world from the point of view of someone I don’t respect. Why do they do what they do? Why do they make the choices they make? To see their decisions and reasons for doing what they do through an empathic lens.

I started out the assignment with a little disdain, snark and snootiness – but as I kept writing a larger and larger part of me began to empathize with the other. Not to agree with them in all ways but to empathize with them and their choices. The challenge made me take a deliberate field trip to this person’s life and I am better for having done so.

I know this was an exercise. An assignment. But I think it will be an assignment that I will keep doing over and over with continued conscientiousness and care. We all have moments of immediate frustration over another person’s actions. “What could they be thinking?” or “How could they do that?” we ask. And again, we don’t have to agree with the choice yet if we are working on suspending certainty, seeking other perspectives, and becoming more allocentric, this exercise is something we need to do often and intentionally.

Questions to ask yourself as you take field trips to other people’s lives:

  • How is the other person at least 10% right? If not more?
  • What are the current needs being met by doing what they are doing?
  • What is going on for this person at this point in their personal life that this is the choice that feels right and doable for them?
  • What reward is the other person getting for doing what he/she is doing?
  • Is there a barrier at this time that is stopping this person from making a different choice?
  • Is this something that emotionally or cognitively aligns with the ability they have at this current moment? Do they have the bandwidth to do something else?

I still have a long way to go to make this a more immediate way of responding in my life when I feel disagreement but that’s why stretching and growing are present tense action verbs. The good news is that deep end opportunities to stretch and grow show up daily, if we want to accept them. Join me on a future field trip!

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Cool Resources

Humor, Seriously: Why Humor Is a Secret Weapon in Business and Life (And how anyone can harness it. Even you.) “Business is serious and the world is serious, especially right now. That means we need the ideas described in Humor, Seriously even more than ever. Not because levity and humor are ways to relieve the pressure of serious times, although they are, but because they unlock our humanity in the moments where we most need it.” — Tim Brown, chair of IDEO and author of Change by Design

The Reunited States of America For our communities and our country. “No matter how you voted in this last election, over 70m people voted differently than you. We may have differing opinions, but we must work through our differences to solve the problems our country faces together.” Watching this movie this weekend.

Alain de Botton — The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships‬ from On Being with Krista Tippett “‘As people, and as a culture’, Alain de Botton says, ‘we would be much saner and happier if we reexamined our very view of love.’ His New York Times essay, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” is one of their most-read articles in recent years, and this is one of the most popular episodes we’ve ever created. We offer up the anchoring truths he shares amidst a pandemic that has stretched all of our sanity — and tested the mettle of love in every relationship.‬”