Have you ever had anybody change your life? I don’t mean the big changes like your spouse agreeing to marry you or your kids being born. I’m talking about the unexpected gifts from an otherwise bit player in your life. A friend recently got me thinking about one of my more impactful examples. A decade ago, I was in a senior executive’s office making a passionate case for why our company should create a diversity mentoring program. The leader looked kindly at me, and respectfully asked me what I’d done lately in that regard. I’m not often left speechless, and I vowed never to not have an answer to that question again.
I began reaching out to more junior professionals, often women and often new to our male-dominated business. All were too polite to refuse, though it was clear that most of them spent that first lunch trying to figure out why a stranger had taken an interest in them. Over the years, I became comfortable with the uncomfortableness of those first lunches. No matter how awkward, I always scheduled a second. The cool part is the vast majority of those second lunches were suddenly comfortable, with new “old friends”. Some even came that next time with problems on which they wanted advice; other relationships took more time to develop to where we could both share openly. Of course, a few didn’t survive beyond a second or third awkward lunch, but the majority did and became friends, some of whom I still have today.
I hope I was able to help a few of them, if nothing else by lending a friendly ear. But I gained so much more from them than I ever expected. From the woman born in the Philippines who shared with me that she still dreams in her native language, making me wonder about my own Chinese-born daughter we were in the process of adopting, to the young grain merchant who taught me a profound lesson about myself when I abruptly recognized as in a mirror a personal challenge she shared about herself. My life has been richly blessed, an unexpected blessing and yet perhaps maybe not—giving so often means also receiving. What an amazing gift that executive gave me all those years ago. I am so glad I had the courage (or nerve) to overcome my reserved nature and accept his challenge. I’d be a different leader and less fulfilled person if I hadn’t.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” –Wayne Gretzky