Work = Classroom, Colleagues = Teachers. What Are You Learning?

M. Nora Klaver Posted by M. Nora Klaver, Executive Coach, Bouchard Executive Coaching Ltd..

Nora is an accomplished executive coach with 25 years of experience developing corporate leaders. She is the author of Mayday! Asking For Help In Times of Need.


Work = Classroom, Colleagues = Teachers. What Are You Learning?

Years ago, in a downtown Chicago conference room, during one of those precious moments between the time your client is supposed to arrive and when he actually does, I found myself in a reflective moment. As I looked out upon the checkered pattern of office windows, I imagined a single soul behind each one. And I wondered, what lessons are being learned today?

That is how I see work; as a place of discovery and learning – a school. A school where you discover those lessons you are intended to learn.

You may think, “No way! Work is about competing to get ahead, professional development, moving to the next level, making the grade!”

It is easy to be drawn into this alley of thought.  I used to agree. But now my view, like the Chicago skyline, is much more sweeping.

Work, no matter what it is you do, is where we spend most of our waking hours. Yes, it is the place where we learn about business, communication, finance, and industry. More importantly, work is where we learn about ourselves and ourselves in relation to others. Work becomes the great teacher, challenging us to become our greatest selves.

Remember college? We learned a lot in the classrooms – most of the subject details forgotten — but the lessons, the intangible but life lessons that carried us forward, didn’t necessarily take place in the classroom. They happened in the dorm, on the field, the stage, or in the library. Now, your workplace is the substitute for those more casual venues.

Some of you may have been lucky enough to be able to choose which professor you wanted. We don’t get that luxury at work very frequently. Instead, you may be assigned to work under a real brute, or you may be hired and then transferred shortly after your first day. It’s another life lesson; we don’t always get to choose our teachers — or bosses, or office mates.

And it’s those bosses and colleagues who will be teaching us from now on.

Yet, if we don’t recognize them as teachers, it makes it difficult to see lessons coming our way.

A teacher may be presented as a troubled employee – someone with whom no one wants to work. Perhaps your challenge – your lesson – is to find her gifts and bring them forward. Or maybe your next teacher is the annoying guy in the cube next door. He’s teaching you tolerance and challenging you to look beneath the surface.  How about the intern down the hall? Perhaps she’s going to teach you patience and kindness.

Seeing work as a place of personal growth and learning, and regarding our colleagues as great teachers with important lessons, makes each day meaningful. Every challenge becomes a chance to be a better you. Every lesson allows you to choose to be the person you’ve always imagined yourself to be.

So, next time you find yourself gazing out a window, take the time to reflect on work and the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

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