I was in a conversation a few weeks ago where I was reminded of how strongly I connect to my success at work to feeling a sense of self-worth. I had a rough year at work in 2019, falling short of my financial targets for the year. I’ve been feeling down about my performance. Typically, I try to be the best problem solver, the smartest person in the room, and the one who figures out the hard issues. I’ve strived to be creative and innovative and successful.
But this year, I came up empty with every attempt to out think the team’s financial performance. It shook me up. I also struggled connecting to some of my staff and creating an atmosphere of excitement, creativity and innovation, all of which helps me get out of bed each day. That leads to a lot of growth, some conflicts, and lots of conversation and searching for how I can be a more connected manager and a better leader as I try to find my value as an individual.
So back to this conversation from earlier in the week… I was lamenting about not feeling like I have the same passionate fire, like maybe I’m not in the right position or in the right place, like I am lacking the ability to be successful moving forward. I was asked what I would like to be acknowledged for, if one day there were to be some sort of celebration of my life. I listed off some work achievements of cool projects I have designed and managed, methods I created, and ways I’ve communicated issues to bring opposing parties together. And then I was asked about why I didn’t mention being a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a friend, a fisherman, a fly tier, and all the other things I have in my life.
I immediately thought of a conversation I had with a friend’s father in my youth, early in high school. He was a tradesman that had been furloughed from his job. He was searching for a new job, and he used the opportunity as a teaching moment for me and my friend. He stated that we needed to use our brains and stay in school so we wouldn’t be a tradesman like him when we grow up.
I heard his words differently as I reflected on them 30 years later. Now he’s retired, but also a grandfather, father, husband, handyman, singer, and so many other things. His worth is not limited to or even determined by his past vocation. Neither is mine. I think that’s a hard thing to let sink in. We are all multi-dimensional, and we should appreciate all that we are when we look at ourselves.
As I started appreciating how multi-dimensional my family and friends are, I thought of football. (I bet you thought I was going to say fly fishing. That’s coming later!) In most every football game I’ve ever watched, I’ve heard at least once from an announcer or analyst that a goal of the defensive unit is to make the offense one-dimensional.
George Halas once said “Find out what the other team wants to do. Then take it away from them”. Making teams one-dimensional creates advantages for a team against their opposition; it limits the choices the team can make and increases the likelihood of victory for the opposing team.
In most areas of life, outside of self-perception, it seems like common sense and general consensus that being multi-dimensional is more advantageous than being one-dimensional. I think of the beautiful model who fights aging with plastic surgery and the football players and boxers who suffer brain injuries as their careers extend. Holding on to being one-dimensional can endanger ourselves and misses all the aspects of who we are.
So why am I, as with many other people I have met, focused on defining themselves based on work status or success? I am not implying that successful people are one-dimensional, but that as an individual, our value is simply that we are alive. Through being part of the world, we have many facets to ourselves.
When I am fly fishing I have to react to changing conditions to be more successful. I choose to expand my skills so I can fish in more places for different fish and to experience more of the joy I feel when fishing and learning. I recognize that I have a preference to use dry flies, but I catch more fish with nymphs and have experienced the thrill of having a 22” brown strike a streamer. Labeling myself as a traditional dry fly fishermen or a tightlining nymph fisherman limits my skills and experiences. Leaving the labels and pride behind opens my opportunities. Learning to fish streamers, nymphs, wet flies, and dry flies through a variety of methods and in a variety of settings helps me be a multi-dimensional fly fishermen. Now I just need to learn how to better appreciate being a multi-dimensional human.
The streams I fish are also multi-dimensional. Based on the watershed, or the area of land that drains to the stream (imagine the path a raindrop follows when it lands on the ground and eventually flows to a stream, every possible path that combines to reach a particular stream defines the area that is the stream’s watershed), different amounts of water flow at different rates in that stream channel. The rate (volume per time) at which water flows through a stream is called discharge and is usually measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). The geology of the watershed dictates the rocks, soils, minerals, and vegetation that surrounds the stream, making up the stream bed, stream banks, and riparian area (the transitional land between a stream and the upland area in the watershed). All of the features provide protection, food, shading, nutrients, and energy to the stream, shaping its functions and appearance.
Steeper streams that drain the mountainous areas are rocky and have plunging flow over rocks into pools. These streams are often called step-pool or cascading streams. Through the rolling hills of the Piedmont in Maryland, the streams often have slightly meandering patterns and have channel beds that are wider and steep, called riffles, and narrower and deeper called pools. When a channel transitions from a riffle to a pool, a run is formed. Conversely as the pool shallows and transitions to a riffle, the feature formed is called a glide. A great graphic showing these features can be found here on the Riverbum Blog. On the coastal plain, the watershed valley slopes are much flatter and the stream becomes deeper and wider. They lack riffles and pools, but have lots of woody debris and streamside vegetation that create diversity in the channel bed shape.
I can see the parallels between our lives and river systems in my exploration of multi-dimensionality. This may be the nerdy part of me rearing up. All of the changes our lives take over time follow an unpredictable path, meandering and growing as we go through life. This path and growth helps us evolve and have space for new experiences and expanding our families and friend networks. Without our different dimensions and paths we’d follow a straight line, like a concrete channel where a natural channel should be. We’d lack the habitat and diversity to support a life ecosystem. So I’m going to start looking for the growth in the space where I am feeling down or less-than and see what new parts of my stream I can explore.