Lessons from Leave

by Samara Anderson

Recently I had a surgery that took me out of work and my normal routine for 6 weeks. I knew I would be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t use this as an opportunity for growth. I promised myself that while I would be allowed some netflix time, I also needed to read and meditate and keep my mind open for learning moments.

Here is what I found out:

1. Presume Ignorance & Tap Your Tribe

As soon as I found out I was going to have surgery, I started frantically reaching out to everyone I knew who had ever had open abdominal surgery, or had a medical person in their life. I was combing the internet for everything I could find to provide insight and information. I was very intentional about making sure to soak up as much knowledge as possible, that way I didn’t kick the same rocks or make the same mistakes. I wanted to begin from a knowledge base that already existed. This was such an obvious start in my journey, but it made me realize there are times in my life when I skip this step when the situation is not quite so severe. By skipping this step you’re robbing yourself from the opportunity to start from a higher place of learning — someone else might already be able to help you along.

2. Confidence Grows with One Baby Step

Often times we think of baby steps as being one, after another, after another, and in our minds that’s a super long path that we don’t want to tackle. But my experience was different. For example, I was sitting in the hospital bed with the guardrails up to protect me from getting out of bed. In my head I knew eventually I would have to get out of bed. I didn’t realize that all it would take would be going to the bathroom. Once I realized I was capable of taking those five steps to the bathroom, I was out of the hospital a few hours later, walking up and down the hallway at home. It wasn’t incremental — once I gave myself the confidence to do this one little thing, I took off. In our lives in the workplace, this is a mental block we need to overcome. If you can find a place where you can have a quick win then the path after that will be a straight shot forward.

3. Let People Help the Way They Know How

My parents and friends really stepped up to help in many different ways and I have never felt more loved. Everyone pitched in differently. My mom’s way of helping was to stay busy, clean the house, make me dinner, brew the coffee; she waited on me hand and foot and made sure the house stayed immaculately clean. Sometimes I just wanted her to sit down so I could relax, but I realized that was just her way of helping. My dad came right after and boy was it different than my mom’s! His way of helping was giving me the confidence that I could get up and walk around the block. I didn’t think I could do it until he gave me that push, and that was his way of helping me. He made sure we went on a walk every morning and was really focused on keeping me active and my spirits lifted Throughout this experience I learned that even when it’s all about you, it’s never really all about you. It’s about how your whole group of family and friends can get involved so they can feel like they’re helping and being a part of it.

4. Experts Need to Lead

I remember the day before my surgery the doctor said, “You’ve taken six weeks off work, right?” to which I responded. “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. You said six weeks off working out. You mean I’m not going to be able to go into the office for six weeks?!” This was news to me, but the doctor goes through this every single day. To her it’s just second nature while to me it’s the first time I’ve ever had my stomach cut open. She sort of assumed I knew it would take six weeks to recover. Projecting our own expertise and assumptions is something I know that we do that in our work lives all the time, and I’m definitely guilty of it. This interaction gave me a ton of perspective and empathy for how I do that to others.

It was a difficult time but I sure enjoyed the time with my friends, family and intentional growth. And last but not least — Law & Order SVU on Netflix never disappoints :)

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