My wife and I spent our careers moving to new places, taking on increasingly difficult responsibilities. The great part of moving to grow is learning new things and meeting new people. It’s fulfilling to bring skills to a new area and apply them to problems that maybe haven’t been solved because people in an area are too close to see solutions.
The new kid generally gets six months or more to learn the ropes, to start to see how the stars align, and to begin operating in a new position. It was nice to be able to make some mistakes and get a pass: After all, I was new. People were generally tolerant of social, cultural and professional gaffes, to a point. Learning a new job, finding out what worked and what didn’t, and planning for a smooth transition to taking over the various facets of my duties was a nice interlude, but there’s a down side to being the new kid.
I had to find solace in silence more than I might be otherwise be inclined. Being new often meant listening a lot more than talking, watching a lot more than doing, and thinking more than I was wont. What was driving people, what motivated them, and how did they prefer to learn, to lead, to carry on? Of course, I would throw my two cents in where it seemed appropriate.
I learned early not to bring up my past in the sense that I would not say, “Well, back in East Egypt we would do it this way.” Nobody cared about East Egypt and not one person wanted to be criticized, however benignly, by being compared to people who clearly didn’t know much and lived in East Egypt. It’s not that what we were doing in East Egypt was bad; it’s that people aren’t interested in how I did it long ago and far away. This place is this place and we do things differently.
OK. So, I learned to say things like, “Well, one idea might be to try it like this.” Oh, said my peers, that might work. No comparisons to East Egypt and no implication of doing things smarter elsewhere; just a suggestion that might take root and have a good result. That principle worked the other way as well.
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I often found people doing things in my new town that made much more sense than my former residence. This was particularly true coming to Custer from the People’s Republic of Minnesota. I applied for and received my South Dakota state driver’s license in an hour in Custer versus two visits to two different offices in Duluth and a month-long wait. I came to understand that Minnesota needed to hire more people in their social safety net doing lots of busy work so people could feel valued and necessary, I guess.
The most important lesson I learned, often imperfectly, was to suit up, show up, shut up, and do the next indicated thing for the first year or so. My peers sometimes felt that I seamlessly transitioned into a new job, at least when I was actively listening.
Yes, I have lots of ideas. Yes, some of them are good ones. Yes, I’m dying to tell you about it. But, first, you need to get to know me and I need to get to know you before I’ll have the cred I need to wax loquacious about you and your town and the way we work here, in the new place.
It worked pretty well, listening, observing, and only engaging after lots of reflection.