Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lessons Learned From The USA Ski Jumping Story Project

Lately I have been following the 2014 edition of the USA Ski Jumping Story Project, which shares stories from ski jumpers (and fans) from across the nation as part of a fundraising campaign. Last year’s version of this project was one of the inspirations for Imagine!’s “50 Years, 50 Stories,” shared right on this very blog in celebration of our 50th Anniversary in 2013.

I recently came across a post in this series that I felt had some relevant thoughts to our work at Imagine!. The post was from Walter Malmquist, a two-time member of the US Olympic Ski team. In the post, Malmquist recollected a story about an assignment he received while still in high school from a ski coach named Jim Page. The assignment was for Walter to write out his goals for his ski career. For Walter, this was a transformational assignment, as it forced him to publicly commit to certain aspirations that had up until then remained unspoken, and therefore existed without any sort of plan as to how to make those aspirations a reality.

As Walter put it, the challenge:

“. . . broke the ice which in turn made me think about myself and my aspirations completely differently than I had... my fantasies became my goals... my goals became consequences of my willingness and ability to confront/commit to address actionable items... my commitment to address actionable items became my day-to-day tasks... my day-to-day tasks became actions to record and monitor... my records became data to evaluate progress toward my goals... my progress toward my goals became my motivation to set new/better goals... my new goals became consequences of my willingness/ability to commit to address actionable items . . .” 

In my opinion, that short paragraph offers a roadmap for Imagine! employees, and the people we serve, to achieve success.

 Let’s start with employees. It is fairly clear that we attract a certain sort of employee at our organization – bright, compassionate, and committed to making a difference in the lives of others. That last part, however, can be tricky without a plan in place. Too often employees come in with the best of intentions but without a concept of what success looks like and no idea of how to get to desired outcomes. Sadly, it isn’t enough just to want to help. You need to know what that help looks like, you need to record and monitor your day to day tasks and evaluate the data constantly, and create new and better goals as time goes on.

The same holds true for those we serve. I have often said that our job at Imagine! isn’t to serve as caretakers. Instead, we are facilitators working to connect the individuals we serve with the tools and resources they need to become contributing members of their communities. As facilitators, our job isn’t to “do for,” instead; our job is to set the stage for success. This means that the ultimate success or failure for any of the individuals we serve is dependent on that particular individual. We can help lay out the path, but only they can travel it. Without actionable, measurable goals in place, success can only ever remain an aspiration, not a reality.

Then again, what do I know?

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