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How Did You Get To Be You?

While having lunch with a colleague two or three years ago, she asked a question I’d never been asked before. Being stunned at the time, I can only paraphrase it as, “how did you get to be you?” I recall fumbling through my answer, talking, not about education or training, but about some of the experiences that have helped shaped me.

The following passage from Frank Barrett’s “Yes to the Mess” provides a less rambling description of the process I’ve been through.:

When you’re learning to be a professional, it’s not just a matter of memorizing a set of rules or a stock of explicit knowledge. Often what you are learning is an outlook, a mood, a disposition. You’re learning to absorb a whole way of being —picking up practices, rather than learning about practices. This learning is anything but clean, rote, or logically arranged. Learning to be a practicing musician, like learning to be a practicing executive, is a sloppy process. It’s intuitive and vague. You are guessing and adjusting, trying to grasp what to do next, listening to how others grapple with dilemmas, imitating the phrases and facial expressions of admired peers, trying something based on vague glimpses and threads of meaning—and, critically, reorienting as you go.

This kind of learning involves trying, getting stuck, and then trying again. With jazz players, as with rising executives and junior partners, this is a work in progress that’s performed in public. But the presence of others and the stories they share make a difference. Just as a division head in a meeting learns the proper way to critique an idea and how to receive and give critiques in public settings, the jazz musician learns the norms of meta-learning, how to help others think, how and when to give advice—crucial skills for everyone.

– Frank J. Barrett, “Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz” (p. 107)

What do you think? Maybe you’ve been through this process too?