Lessons from the Rink

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It was a Wednesday afternoon in April 2017, and I kept checking my phone for alerts. I was waiting on a delivery that would dictate the rest of my evening. Depending on the arrival, I was going to be playing hockey on ice for the first time in my life. In order to do so, I had to have the proper gear. My pants, shoulder pads, shin guards, and elbow pads were all set to arrive between the ever so precise window of 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. I paced my hallway, taking a break to periodically glance out the front door. See, I was invited to join a group of like minded hockey enthusiasts with varying degrees of skill, and our ice time began at 7 p.m.

Around 5:30 p.m. a box large enough to house a “major award” arrived. I hurriedly peeled the stickers and labels off everything and shoved the gear into a bag. Upon arriving at the rink, my heart began to race as the thought of actually maneuvering myself around the ice began to seep in. I had skated before, but turning, skating backwards and, most importantly, stopping were all foreign concepts to me. Beyond that, I never really thought about the order of how to put on this gear. I non-creepily checked out what everyone else was doing. Some did skates before pants; others went pants, then skates.

Having helped my son get ready numerous times over the past year, I mentally checked off the order of that process and managed to get myself ready. Spoiler alert, I was already out of breath. I hit the ice in time to meet at center ice with the rest of the team. Coach had us circle around him and he introduced himself and then asked if there were any FNGs.

FNGs?

Funny New Guys?

Close.

The F, did not stand for funny.

I raised my hand and he skated over to me. “Hey big boy, do what you can and we’ll get you there.” We then immediately started some drills. It had been a long time since I had subjected myself to anything where I was clearly the worst skilled individual out of the group. For the first drill, we were to line up at the far end of the ice and skated backwards as a group to the other side of the ice. I turned myself around like everyone else did and coach blew the whistle, indicating the start of the drill.

Nothing happened.

I was essentially a sweaty statue. I stood there trying to make my legs propel me backwards.

Still nothing.

I then started to drift forward…you know, the complete opposite direction as everyone else. “How are these people making their legs do this?!” Dread began to creep in.  Coach skated over to me, told me not to worry and instructed me to do something called “C” cuts with my skates and to bend my knees a little more.

Right…I was simply trying to stay upright at this point.

Enough time had passed that now everyone was at the other end waiting for the next drill and I was holding them up. All eyes were on me.  It felt like the sitcom equivalent of when you walk up to the chalk board and aren’t wearing any pants.

What have I gotten myself into…?

Some how I muster two “C-ish” cuts with my skates.  My adrenaline-filled brain won’t recall the precise details, but I do remember that the entire row of players started tapping their sticks on the ice with encouragement. It was a beautiful thing. Like a Disney movie, did the music swell as I then skated backwards the entire rest of the way?

Of course not, my back was burning and I felt like my spine was going to pop out of my jersey. I glided forward, hunched over and rejoined the team at the other end of the ice, where I was given further fist bumps of reassurance.

It’s now been a little over a year and a half and I’ve gone back almost every week. Am I now Bobby Orr?

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Pictured: not Bobby Orr after a mid-ice collision.

Clearly no. More often then not, if I catch a glimpse of myself on video, I appear as fluid as the Tin Man in need of some oil. However, I’m continuing to play with the same group trying to better myself as well as helping coach two youth teams. In doing so, I’ve added another layer of life experience and relationships to my journey and most importantly, I’m really enjoying it.

I share this story,  not as a humorous anecdote to fill space, but because I’ve skated away with these three reminders:

1. The importance of having the correct “gear” in order to be successful. For example, education via a degree or certification may have equipped me with knowledge, but what good is that gear if you don’t know how to put it to use? Just because I have shoulder pads and skates, doesn’t make me a hockey player. (see “In the Weeds” for more gear/ tool metaphors) I’ve been fortunate enough to have many coaches along the way help me put my gear to good use.

2.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a new/unfamiliar situation. Doing the same activity or duty over and over again can help sharpen and fine tune the skills used for that circumstance, but it doesn’t allow for growth outside of those skill sets. However, putting yourself out there and trying something new will help you expand experiences and grow skill sets. As an example, back at the beginning of my District 2 Presidency, I had to attend my first PRPS Board of Directors meeting. There were similarities between that meeting and my first hockey practice. I wasn’t exactly sure what my role was, and I wasn’t familiar with the format of the meeting. (Probably pulled the sweaty statue move too) It can be uncomfortable at first. However, each time afterwards I became more familiar with what to expect and how to contribute. Having gone through that process has equally enriched my understanding of PRPS as an organization, as well as put me in the path of some great peers.

3. Sincere encouragement goes a long way. We’ve all been FNGs at one point or another. Whether it’s your first day of a new job or your first time attending a conference, it’s nice to have someone who knows the ropes give you feedback and support. I implore everyone to do their part. If you notice someone new at the next conference or district gathering, give them a stick tap and help them on their way to becoming a better member of our society.

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A Tangible Reminder

Remind Finger

A few years ago I decided to rip out our hallway restroom while my wife and son went away for the long Columbus Day weekend. The vanity and lighting were from the 70’s, the door and some of the vinyl flooring was chewed up from a puppy training experiment gone wrong, and everything was in a desperate need of an update. Now I consider myself “handy-ish”, but not an expert by any stretch. I spent the next four days demoing, picking out new finishes, paint colors, watching some Youtube tutorials on cutting angles for trim and wainscoting, and largely living in that 8 x 6 area like it was a cell from Shawshank Redemption. After my second 18 hour day, I was beginning to daydream about what else I could have done with all my “me time”. It mostly consisted of seeing how far into an NHL season I could get on my PS3, or how many hours of binge watching the latest peak TV series I’d relinquished in hopes of surprising my family.

By mid-day Monday of that Columbus Day weekend, the transformation was beginning to take shape and by the time my family arrived home later that evening, we had an entirely new bathroom. From the mirror and lighting to the sink and vanity to the flooring and wall treatment, everything was updated. Beyond surprising my family and seeing their smiles, I sat back and felt proud about the work I had put in. There was a visible transformation in front of me that I was responsible for.

I often think about projects such as this while I’m sitting behind a computer at work. I think about how tangible and immediate the satisfaction of that project was and how in our line of work that isn’t always the case. Now yes, there are special events, park and trail projects as well as new facility construction that scratch that visual satisfaction itch. Something as simple as a clean pool or a freshly cut athletic field can give me that feeling too. What I’m referring to is the day to day administrative grind of reviewing budget numbers, facility bookings, programming, payroll, insurance and preparing report after report after report. And yes, there are some that really enjoy a great spreadsheet or pie chart, and I can appreciate that as well (where my excel-heads at?!), but it never comes close to the satisfaction gained from a concrete accomplishment.

It was around this time that I found myself at one of our parks in the evening. It was such a different environment than the daytime crowd that we experience during business hours. It hummed with activity as tennis lessons and pick up-basketball created the rhythm section for the evening’s soundtrack. The athletic fields were in full swing, and friends chatted leisurely as they meandered around the walking trail. Children buzzed through the playground equipment with their imaginations in full overdrive. It. Was. Awesome! It was also a complete “duh” moment for me. THIS is the tangible outcome of the work we do!

Ever since that ah-ha moment, I’ve encouraged my staff to make sure they get out and experience the many accomplishments of all their time and energy. It can be as simple as popping into a program, or taking a day trip, or just going for a walk through a park or trail. The faces of the many individuals and families enjoying the work you’ve put in and seeing these wonderful facilities in use has been a much needed reminder of where to look for that visible, real time satisfaction. If you are like me, it’s all too easy to put in your eight (plus) hours staring at a screen, glued to a desk covered in papers. It is so vital to get out and experience the wheels you’ve help put in motion, born from the passion you’ve put into it, and to feel the pride that accompanies you when you sit back and take stock of your work. And if that doesn’t work, you can always renovate a bathroom.

In the weeds

In the WeedsOne evening, I was watching one of those cooking competition shows with my wife. One of the contestants was in the midst of a particularly stressful moment in her meal preparation. She was working on five different components to her meal, as the stove top flared up, a mixing bowl was knocked over, and she couldn’t locate the kosher salt. The omnipresent ticking clock was dipping under 3 minutes to go when another contestant asked her how she was doing. Her reply? “I’m in the weeds.”

I don’t believe I had ever heard that phrase, yet I knew exactly what she meant by it. That chest tightening- panic induced cocktail, part dread, part helplessness with a dash of frustration and disappointment, shaken not stirred.

Last fall I found myself in a similar situation. Though not in a cooking competition, I was just drowning under the weight of a smorgasbord of work …multiple projects, deadlines, budget cuts, exasperating decisions that were out of my control, on top of my everyday work/life responsibilities. One small part of those obligations was helping get the word out for the District 2 Fall Social. I was emailing back and forth with a fellow PRPS member about how surprised I was that it was already October and that I needed to get an email out to the District. During that conversation I confessed, “I’m in the weeds.”
His reply, “Well, weed whack yourself out of the tall stuff.”

This got me thinking, what tools do we have at our disposal to help us escape the “tall stuff?” My incomplete, but growing tool shed has accumulated the following:

• Make a list of all the tasks that need done and prioritize them. Don’t let the length of your list intimidate you, just dig in and start chopping away at it. Inaction/ mental paralysis will only compound your problems. Start with a few small things to get the wheels turning. Soon your long list will be a short list. Celebrate that sense of accomplishment, and feel the relief of the weight lifted from you.

• Delegate and/or ask for help. Whether a supervisor or a front line employee, we can all be a little too stubborn, embarrassed or proud to ask for help. Supervisors, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, task someone else from your team and give them a chance to shine. Frontline employees, ask your supervisor for help if you’re lost or need clarification on a task. Depending on the situation, the help doesn’t have to come from your own agency or department. I don’t know how many times I’ve reached out to my fellow local directors to see how they do something, or to pick their brains. PRPS and its member base is a vast resource of experience and knowledge that should be taken advantage of.

• Be honest about the extra dishes you’re adding to your menu. Now, I’m not suggesting you tell your superiors, “No thanks!” when being tasked with a duty. I’m referring to the extras that we all add to our days, whether you’re coaching or a member of a volunteer board, those extra dishes can add up. For example, last year Tim asked if I would help write for the new website during the height of my journey through the weeds. Even though it was a relatively small commitment, I evaluated my situation and had to decline. I feared I would have submitted something subpar and not up to the standards of my fellow bloggers. To his credit, he followed up three more times before I felt that I was in a place ready to add another course to my meal. (i.e. if you’re not enjoying this read, you can blame Tim and his incredible persistence.)

• Lastly, never stop tool shopping. Anyone who’s ever worked on a project, whether it be a home improvement project, or work task, knows that having the right tool is paramount to a more successful finished product. Seminars, workshops, conferences, or a simple brainstorming session with a peer is like a weekend stop at your local hardware store for your brain.  Those are the places to pick up a new skill or sharpen an existing one.

If you ever find yourself in the weeds, it is my hope that some of these tools will assist your journey out. I’m happy to lend mine at anytime and I hope that others with deeper or more varied sheds will share their collections as well.