Chamber News

Workforce Report | On Long Division and Dragons

January 20th, 2022

Like many people at the beginning of a new calendar year, I recently resolved to declutter and spend time cleaning up some of the boxes and totes that have accumulated and multiplied in my attic over the last decade. An entire corner of the crawl space is filled with old utility bills, my children’s report cards, and a few old newspaper clippings that seemed important at the moment that I had boxed them up for future reading.

As I opened envelope after envelope and determined “trash” or “keep”, I was taken aback by a small strip of lined notebook paper with the words” I can do hard things” scribbled by our late daughter Drew just a few months before she died. It was neatly tucked into her Math homework folder, between 2 different assignments where it appears from the grade given, she was struggling with the concepts of division. Those pages were next to drawings she made of a dragon circling a castle in an attempt to rescue a young boy sitting on the roof.

I share her story with you because I find incredible power in the words and drawings of an 11-year-old who was facing challenges by employing self-awareness and her determination to do “hard things”.

She may not have been aware of it, but Drew was developing resilience and creating a strategy for getting through adversity…in this case 6th grade Math. I sat on the floor of the attic a bit overcome with this newfound knowledge about my daughter and paused to ask myself: “what can I learn from this?”

A few lessons on resilience and the importance of coping strategies:

Be honest in both your strengths and your opportunities to grow! 

Drew was a great storyteller and had a brilliant imagination that brought dragons and imaginary kingdoms to life; however, the world of numbers and something as foreign as division did not come easy for her. By admitting that Math was a “hard thing”, she could give herself permission to be in learner mode and take some of the pressure off to perfect this difficult concept. When we admit that we need help and ask for resources we allow ourselves to grow and our focus changes from self-defeat to hope. This admission also allows us to still explore and celebrate our strengths and abilities through continued expression. I am quite confident that the young boy perched high atop the castle was indeed saved by the Dragon in some spectacular and creative way!

Name it! 

When we name something as difficult, yet we resolve to understand it or even master it, we ignite in ourselves the belief that we can do it! Using our ability to gather the information necessary to solve problems and trusting our instincts helps us build resilience. In approaching difficult tasks in my own life, I have learned to ask myself 4 questions at the moment: 

  • What do I feel?
  • What do I think?
  • What do I need?
  • What do I want?

The answers to those questions have provided me paths forward over the years when I have found myself in situations that cause me anxiety or social paralysis. Don’t be afraid to identify and give voice to thoughts and feelings. Listen to your inner voice.

Be prepared to do the work!

Complex problems are not often solved by simple solutions. Problems are often part of greater systems that we may not have a full understanding of or the ability to impact. Our brains learn by many iterations of trial and error with ideas and tasks. Research shows us that the more complex the problem, the more times we may need to explore and try out new solutions to those problems. We may need reminders that practice does not always make “perfect”, but it can lead to learning and more creative outcomes. 

Find a Good Coach

In Drew’s case, it was clear from the papers in her Math folder that her teacher returned her work with notes of encouragement and advice on how to not repeat a mistake. A good coach will help you learn from your past attempts and to avoid landmines that may trip you up in the future by providing specific and in-the-moment feedback. Find (or be) a coach that will do the following:

  • Develop and model self-awareness
  • Provide specific feedback on learning opportunities and progress
  • State clear and measurable objectives
  • Encourage creative problem solving

Developing strategic resilience is about anticipating that things will inevitably change and accepting that we live in a world that demands a response from each of us. In such a dynamic environment, success is not always defined by how quickly we can act as individuals or as corporations, but by how we prepare ourselves for the long term. Let us all work to embrace the challenges brought on by learning new skills and facing “hard things” every day…and don’t forget the Dragon!

Kelly Fuller Headshot

Kelly Fuller 
Vice President of Talent & Workforce Development