The Upside Down Turtle Approach

The Upside Down Turtle Approach

Author: Joel Peterson

I went on a backpacking trip with my brother along time ago.  This particular trip was full of switch backs leading straight up to a summit point. From the summit, the trail continued straight down the other side of the mountain.  As I made my way up that steep path toting my sixty-pound backpack, I felt strong, capable, and felt ready for whatever nature sent my way.

For me, navigating life as an HRDEPT1 is like each tenuous step on that mountain trail.  At times, the crazy workload feels like a sixty-pound backpack.  I feel the weight of my responsibilities and still, I charge through each day full-speed-ahead, ready for all the twists and turns that come my way.  Still, as I’m sure you know all too well, ready and not, eventually, the unexpected happens.

The trail up the mountain had been clear and dry.  The part of the trail that was now in front of me however, was narrow, completely muddy, and on the intensely downward side of steep. I remember hearing my brother call out to be careful.  Whatever.  I moved forward.

Not surprisingly, each step seemed to get more slippery than the last as my foot met with gooshy wet mud on the trail.  A few times, I felt myself almost lose my balance but that just made me laugh.  “Joel – be careful,” my brother called behind me.  “Slow down.”  I laughed out loud. “I’m fine,” I said and stepped more forcefully onto the trail, only to almost fall again.

After repeated attempts at moving down the trail without falling, I paused.  I was clearly stuck. Each step I took I would slip and almost fall.  There was nothing around to help me. I didn’t even have a walking stick.  It seemed my only option was to, heaven forbid, wait for my brother to help me.  Instead, I stepped forward with sure-fire intent…and then it happened.

In the split second it took for my foot to touch the trail, my balance vanished. For a moment, I felt suspended in mid air in a struggle with gravity as my entire body locked into a muscular battle against the weight of my backpack which threatened to pull me forward onto my face into the mud.  Not happening!  I probably should have let go though because when I yanked myself the other direction to force the weight of my backpack from toppling me forward, I overcompensated.  The weight of the backpack tipped forcefully backwards and took my feet right out from under me. I full-on wiped out.

Had you been there that day, here is what you would have seen. I have fallen backwards on top of my backpack in the middle of a muddy trail.  The pack was already heavy on its own but it now has my  full body weight on top of it as well. And I am strapped to it.  The backpack is thick enough that my upper torso is a couple feet off the ground.  I can’t reach the ground with my arms. I look like a turtle that has flipped over onto its shell with its legs flailing in all directions.  Ridiculous.  Utterly.

Do you ever get into situations at work like this?  A task you’re given turns out to be bigger than you expected and threatens to overwhelm you.  Or your boss delegates a crucial new responsibility to you that you have no experience with. Or you make a decision simply because you have no time not to…without realizing the impact it will have.

I bet you know what it’s like to end up like me on that trail then – upside down, with nothing to grasp onto, pinned to the point where you tripped up. You’re stuck and you have no one else to blame but yourself.

Look, I’ll own it.  I’ve been an upside down turtle a lot in my life.  I have not only wiped out on a mountain trail, I’ve wiped out at work too.  Being an HRDEPT1 is hazardous!  You’re charged with a lot of responsibility because you’re clearly capable.  You like that a lot.  But if you not careful, or worse – if you believe in your own hype too much you are sure to reach a moment in your day when a decision you make, or don’t make, takes your proverbial feet out from under you.  I know you know this. And if you don’t … just wait!

You see the thing is I want to be great…or at least good at what I do.  So do you, I know.  And to get good at what you do, you have to take risks.  If you are asked to do something you don’t know how to do, just say yes and figure it out later.  Absolutely.  I agree. Still, I challenge you to consider these tips as you proceed:

Slow down and proceed with careful, deliberate intent.

Sometimes it feels like everything is urgent, especially when you have employees at your door, 1,367 unread emails, and your boss breathing fire down the back of your neck. But urgent simply means “requiring immediate action or attention.” Sure, sometimes it means NOW. But rarely does urgent mean fast, hurried, or careless. Do yourself a favor – slow down so that when you do respond to the needs of your employees, urgent or not, you can be as good at what you do as you know you are.

Acknowledge openly when you don’t know where you’re headed.

Take the time you need to learn the route before you proceed.  If you can’t do that, at the very least, you owe it to yourself and your employees to locate the tools you’ll need to navigate into the unknown.

Admit when the path you’re on feels unsteady.

If something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel right.  Period.  Don’t second guess yourself. You’re better off pausing whatever process is in motion to identify what isn’t right and to fix it before you proceed. If you proceed ahead without doing this, you’re sure to step somewhere you shouldn’t have.
ASK FOR HELP when you need it.

This is crucial to your success as an HRDEPT1.  Leaders can’t lead just in word.  They have to lead in action too.  If you don’t ask for help when you need it, you’re modeling a leadership style that is fated to topple you over on the trail.  To be a leader is like a turtle on a fence post – you won’t get there without help.  Furthermore, you risk there not being anyone nearby to flip your ridiculous, upside down turtle shell over for you when you fall.

Does this resonate?  What else would you add to this cautionary tale for HRDEPT1 leaders?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  After all, like a turtle, to move forward, you have to stick your neck out.

Joel Peterson is Director of Human Resources and Administration at Goshow Architects in New York City.  Joel began his career as a professional actor before transitioning into Human Resources.  His diverse, creative background spans a variety of industries ranging from international education, the pharmaceutical industry, and public television. For the last eight and a half years, Joel has worked in the architectural industry where as an HR pro he helps build the people who build the buildings.  Outside the office, Joel is the Social Media Director for the New York State SHRM Council and volunteers for the New York State Special Olympics.

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