An Airplane

Seated next to me on the airplane last week on a flight to Salt Lake City was Glenn, a friendly, talkative dentist from Alaska. He was headed to a dental conference while I was going to Park City to spend the weekend in conversation with friends exploring humanity at the center of our work.

Glenn and I had plenty to chat about. My father was an endodontist and I’d worked in his dental practice so Glenn and I talked dentistry: Running a practice, procedures he likes to do, what he refers out, funny dental stories because yes, dentistry can be funny, and the challenges of finding dentists to cover him when he travels.

We talked about “Finding Nemo” too. I’ve always loved the Easter eggs to dentists in this Pixar film: The fish in the dentist office give technically accurate commentary about the endodontic procedure the dentist performs based on the Schilder Technique taught at Boston University where my dad trained. It’s hilarious if you know what those fish are saying!

And we talked Alaska. The military brought Glenn to Alaska, and he stayed to raise his family and start his practice. In the late 80’s I’d followed my husband there living first in the Aleutian Islands for four years and then in Homer for four years. Glenn and I agreed that one of the most beautiful vistas on the planet is on the road driving in to Homer. I shared about my time living there, our home overlooking that view, raising a young family, and my husband’s accident.

And then, unexpectedly, Glenn gave me an essential connection to my own fear and love story.

You see, on September 1, 1992, my husband crashed his Cessna 170 in the Caribou Hills outside Homer. He was permanently disabled and forever changed by the impacts of his severe head injury. This profoundly altered the course of our lives and our children’s lives forever.

Last year when I began A Human Workplace, a friend encouraged me that this story should be part of my effort to make work more human.

At the time, I couldn’t see how my very personal story of facing tragedy, overcoming obstacles, and finding my voice and the courage to change fit in with advocating for more love and less fear at work. I was just too close to it and probably way too linear in my thinking!

But over time it’s become clear thanks to your stories of love and fear, to the challenges voiced by leaders and teams, and to the continued provoking questions of my friend.

Now I see how it fits.

A Human Workplace is where we can bring to our work our insights, metaphors, lessons, and unique contributions that come from our life experiences, identities, and personal passions. The fact that I spent eight years caring for a head injured husband, that I am an artist, that I love to travel, that I was a single parent of four children, that I enjoy cooking, that I’m Irish, those things are infused in what I bring to my work each day. Those things are not separate from my work because I am not separate from my work. My experiences, identities, and passions are core to who I am; they enliven what I bring to my work. 

Yours do too!

But it can be really hard for us to see these connections, especially in a society that tells us to separate the personal from the professional. It can be hard to respond to, “What are you learning about your work from your interest in canning or spelunking or training horses? What do you bring into your work from growing up in the South or from your Hispanic heritage or from having a disabled brother? What books are you reading, what films are you watching, what music are you listening to that inspire how you work?”

We are usually just too close to these things to make those connections directly. But with some prompting, we can reflect on those experiences, passions, and identities and discover how they inform our work. Then we can bring ourselves and our unique contributions forward with greater intention and confidence. And we can welcome the same from others.  

So, coming later this fall we will be offering a workshop to do just that. We will pilot it at A Human Workplace: Olympia and then make it available to work teams who want to welcome and benefit from the full humanity of their team members.

So what did Glenn tell me?

I was stunned when he told me this:

Glenn and his friends snowmobiled out to my husband’s crash site in the Caribou Hills. He had seen the airplane.

In that wilderness he saw the wreckage of our lives and the cause of the most fearful experience lived by my family. And, that abandoned wreckage is also my source of deep wisdom, compassion, and love. Today it still enlivens my life, my work, and my efforts to make work more human.

Glenn has been there, seen it, and touched it. What are the odds of sitting on an airplane next to someone who could bear witness? What are the odds?

Everywhere I go people tell me stories of love and fear in the workplace.

And at just the right moment, Glenn connected me to my own fear and love story.

I’m so grateful.