Structure Matters

Intentional strategy leads to success in a changed world

As human beings we naturally dislike change. Perhaps we abhor it so much that we find ways to make the change fail. That way we can say we tried and it just didn’t work. It is often easier to admit defeat than it is to plow on to success. Success takes more than a willingness to work hard; it takes clear vision, awe-inspiring skill and prodigious tenacity.

The journey can be filled with unexpected challenges, like the COVID-19 virus, that derail even the best-laid plans. This spring saw our youngsters challenged with distance learning programs that were haphazardly thrown together, supervised by teachers with inadequate preparation. The result was disastrous in many cases. I thought I would start with a look into that world from the perspective of my 13-year-old son and how social distancing and home-based schooling had affected him.

Troupe is entering eighth grade this fall at a private Christian academy in Southern California. As it was with many schools, the need to develop a distance learning program was thrust on them with almost no notice. The resulting program left much to be desired. Troupe didn’t do so well during that last part of the school year and that made me wonder what went wrong from his viewpoint. What was the biggest failure of the program in his opinion? How did the teachers respond to the experience and how did they deal with behavioral issues? From those answers I hoped to not only help him but also learn for myself from the mistakes that had been made.

Here’s what Troupe thought: Teachers were simply unable to control the behavior of the students during class. Some students played music, which led to many playing music at the same time, and the teachers wouldn’t mute them. So it was a real distraction. It seemed like every day at some point I would get a real zinger of a headache. There were times that I asked and others asked to record the session but the teachers often said no. And as for discipline, what are they going to say, stay in your room? We were already quarantined, so it was a disaster all around. I think I would like distance learning if it improves, and I hope it will be better this fall. Last year it was really hard to focus, and I tried to take a break and sit outside and talk to friends, but talking to friends isn’t as fun on the phone. Having just moved to the area it is impossible to make new friends without some face-to-face time. Hopefully it will all be over soon because this is not a lot of fun.

I spent some time thinking about his responses. It’s not surprising that some people would not want to be recorded but it is something that we are all going to have to come to terms with, and soon. Remote learning also creates a very difficult situation for the supervising parent who has a full-time job. The parent can’t sit and watch every move the child makes; after all, they have their own work and the responsibility to pay the bills. My conclusion is that every class should be recorded and posted online so that the parent can more adequately help the child with homework and understand what is really happening in the class session. I realize now that there is far more that I can do to help the distance learning process, but also there is much we need to do to help the teachers to be successful. There are groups of parents who are coming together to hire their own part-time teachers to assist in the homebound education process, and that will be super helpful and give the parents and kids a break from each other.

What about physical development? I spoke with Devon Driscoll at D1 Sports for some ideas. “We offer some options for kids to do some distance training and even have small groups that have hired us to do independent physical education instruction for an hour three times a week,” he said. Having worked out at D1 I know that Devin and his team will find a way for these kids to be successful. It’s something to discuss with Troupe as he begins another school year in another state.

Thinking about the adjustments he’s had to make led me to ponder the many pandemic-related changes to my own routines. I’ve been grousing about having to work from home and not being able to visit my customers as much as I would like to. Poor me. I was resisting change and trying to find an excuse to make my failure acceptable, and that was depressing me and affecting my performance. This is simply not acceptable. I had to find what exactly was the source of my distaste for this new paradigm.

For one thing, like so many others, I didn’t have to get dressed for business anymore, because no one could see me unless I was on a zoom call. And then just my shirt was visible. What I hadn’t realized is that I missed the routine of preparing myself for work because it makes me feel good and gets me mentally prepared to be in the game. The person I most needed to please with my preparation was myself. I had lost sight of that.

I made a commitment to dress just as I would have if I were going to see customers. Dressing for success is an important part of a professional daily strategy. It shows the people you are calling on that you care about yourself but, more than that, it sets a precedent that you are ready for work. I have always admired someone who dresses well right down to a properly shined pair of shoes. I realized that caring for my appearance applied whether someone else could see me or not. It affected how I felt about me, and, if the opportunity came for a video call, I would be ready.

And then I started to look at my new home workspace, and that didn’t bring me any joy either. It was far too casual. So I decided to make some changes to make my space look better for when I electronically invited people into my home-office world.

I have been on many video calls where poor lighting and sound made the person I was speaking with look and sound horrible. Trite as it may seem, it feels like they didn’t care enough to properly prepare for our meeting. As a professional photographer/videographer I knew better. Recently I was making a decision about some software and the salesperson wanted to have a video call to preview the product. I was sold and wanted to speak face-to-face with her to finish up the deal. She made it clear that wasn’t going to happen. I knew she was not properly prepared. I realized I too had been guilty of going to digital meetings unprepared. You just can’t wait till the middle of the day to dress and prepare.

Finally, it was time to get back on a time-management routine. It is easy to work past or through lunch, or have breakfast at my desk, or end up pounding away at the keyboard way past quitting time. In this business there is always something to do, and mid-afternoon can easily stretch into late evening, leaving no time for a walk or a workout.

It wasn’t just social separation but also the lack of separation of the parts of my life that led to my dissatisfaction. When it all started to run together I had less to look forward to. Was I working at home or living at work?

I had seen the difference in others in lots of my recent calls. So I reviewed my appointment calendar and made some notes on each video call. What was my reaction to the way the person dressed, and to the environment they were broadcasting from? As expected, the people who demonstrated preparation for our online meeting were easier to do business with, just as the well-dressed salesperson has a better chance to close the deal.

But all of that just addresses the work aspect of my life, and, as I have said before, life is a balance of business, home, social, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects. With business back on track, how could I better balance the equation? It was time to reconnect. For people who strictly adhere to the social distancing mandate that could be a challenge, especially come winter. The backyard fire pit may see a surge in popularity as folks look for a way to socialize while keeping some distance.

I have a pretty clear idea of what I want out of life and how to get the job done. But thanks to Troupe, I realized it was time to make it happen every day. I wish all of our students a successful school year and encourage them to have the tenacity to see it through.   

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