December, especially this week, is crunch time. Instead of indulging in sparkling wine by the twinkling lights of my Christmas tree, I’m drinking coffee with my computer in my lap combing through elaborate spreadsheets. Because the calendar year is our fiscal year, we at COMPASS are knee deep in budgets, planning, forecasting, and administration. Sound familiar? Perhaps your crunch time involves grading finals, submitting grades, scheduling the next term’s lectures, balancing your year-end budgets? Lots of us are drowning in what feels like a never-ending sea of things to do before we can finally put work aside for the holidays.
We want this to be a time for family, friends, appreciation, and perhaps most importantly, a time for reflection. Year’s end is a time to step back and take stock. But who has time for that? You do. I challenge you to find just 30 minutes to reflect and think about the future. Those 30 minutes could play an unexpected, transformative role in your growth as a communicator and leader. Here’s why and how:
One of our year-end tasks at COMPASS is our annual performance review. We ask ourselves to look back and capture, in writing, what we did well, what we wish we had done better, and what we hope to accomplish in the coming year. We also look at the previous year’s review and reflect. Are we moving towards the goals we established? Are those still the right goals?
While this often feels like just another thing to tick of the checklist, it’s actually a wonderful exercise in vision. I learned a lot about imagining and articulating a vision during my time as a Donella Meadows Fellow. I encourage you read to Donella’s speech about vision. Like many of us, she was a scientist, a teacher, and a writer. She made a great case for the power of a strong vision – for actually seeing, literally seeing with your mind’s eye, what you want. She argues that the best visions are shared with others, and unfettered by the limits of current reality. Most importantly, she reminds us that by imagining what we are trying to achieve, we begin to make decisions – consciously and especially subconsciously – that lead us toward those goals.
What’s your vision for yourself as a more effective communicator and leader?
I appreciate the constraints and obstacles that you face as a scientist in your effort to communicate. But for just 30 minutes, suspend your disbelief and imagine a world in which you are no longer constrained by time, money, or cultural norms. Imagine yourself as the scientist, communicator, and leader you want to be. What does it look and feel like to be a more engaged scientist? Be specific – are you talking with a Senator? A rotary club? A 5th grade classroom? A regional land manager? Stephen Colbert? How do you show up in these discussions – are you funny, serious, a little of both? What are you talking about? Now, what’s one thing you might do in 2015 to get you closer to that vision?
Write down the one thing you want to do next year. Then – this is key – over the coming weeks, share your vision with someone. My hunch is that even if you don’t set aside weeks of time to attend intensive communication trainings or immerse yourself in engagement, you will make small decisions that you get you closer to this vision, like choosing to see a visiting journalist speak on your campus, attending a lunchtime session on communication at a conference, or finding yourself Googling local, relevant decisionmakers. Next December, I encourage you to revisit what you wrote and see how far you’ve come. One of my favorite parts of our review time is opening up that year old file and reminding yourself of what you, a year ago, wanted.
For us here at COMPASS, we reflected on the past year and envisioned our outlook for 2015. We saw ourselves investing in new, more accessible and more affordable ways for scientists to access communication training and support. Hopefully our vision can support you in the pursuit of your vision. Here’s to crossing things off your list, finding that 30 minutes for reflection and vision, and enjoying that sparkling wine (without a computer in your lap).