From Traveler to Pioneer

Thailand-hotel-marketOn a recent backpacking journey across Thailand, I took a few days of respite in the mountain city Chiang Mai. I spent my time in the busy outdoor markets learning the names and uses of exotic foods and playing checkers with monks in courtyards. This is a common scene in the bigger cities of Thailand. The idea is to give monks a chance to practice foreign language skills and for tourists to learn more about life in a Thai monastery. Although I’d never had more than a passing interest in Buddhism, I listened intently and learned some valuable insight that guides me to this day.

A prominent iconography of Buddhism is the depiction of his largely disproportionate ears on Buddha statues. Buddha (Siddhartha) was born into great wealth (which he later renounced) and spent the first part of his life wearing heavy gold earrings, which were believed to stretch out his earlobes.  In Buddhism big ears are symbolic of spiritual wisdom and strength, signifying that listening is more important than talking, or as a monk explained it to me:  “Big ears make for a better journey than a big mouth.”

As contractors, we are in some ways tourists in foreign nations. Although we do not enjoy the status of citizenship, we are often held to higher standards and are expected to be more formal and more polite than our native counterparts.  I often hearken to my many journeys in foreign lands to remind me the importance of being a good tourist and particularly the value of having “big ears.”  I have learned that an attitude of “learning” (listening) is not only more valuable but is an obvious precursor to “proclaiming” (speaking).

Attrition trends have left many companies temporarily impaired as employees attempt to find order when key roles have been eliminated. Recently, I was called upon to make a decision over something I’d never had jurisdiction or even expertise. I recalled the countless meetings I sat in over the years. Meetings sometimes seem to go on endlessly, and often the things being discussed have little to do with my responsibilities on the project. During these long meetings, there is sometimes a temptation to use that time efficiently by mentally preparing for other meetings or upcoming tasks.  To keep my mind from wandering, I always take notes. It turns out that these meetings were not a waste of my time. The things I jotted down proved to be invaluable in later years when the people who imparted this knowledge were no longer with the company. I was able to make recommendations with specific examples and help lead the team to solutions.

A recent Theoris newsletter heralded the importance of being not just task masters but also solution architects. As I pondered this, I realized that we cannot offer solutions without having the facts and a history of examples to draw from, and we can’t draw from those examples unless we are listening.

Had I spent those seemingly pointless meetings engaging my own thoughts instead of listening, I would have had very little to proclaim at pivotal moments in my journey and had no advice for other weary travelers. By listening and imparting lessons we have the opportunity to make a transition from traveler to pioneer.

– Amy Pettinella


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