A conversation about the ways we surprise ourselves when we chose to try
I once told my coworkers that our job reminds me of working infant room a daycare. They laughed when I said this, but it’s true. When I worked infant room just out of high school, you were legally allowed to be with four babies by yourself.
Four babies is a lot of babies for one person. But it’s doable. The way you manage is to get everyone on a schedule—to plan out the day. Baby A eats at this time and then will be content to play while Baby B eats. About the time Baby B finishes eating, Baby C will be waking up from their nap, and so on. You get everyone on a schedule, you have a rough idea for how the day should go, and then, you’re dealing with babies so really, anything can happen. Someone won’t eat, and someone won’t sleep, and someone else decides to cry all day for no reason. It’s chaos but, because you started with a schedule, it’s organized.
Well over 15 years since graduating high school, that’s still my job: managing organized chaos. I have a calendar, I make plans, I block off time for important tasks. And then, anything can happen. New meetings get scheduled last minute. Important meetings that need to take place get cancelled. Urgent Teams messages interrupt focused work. The project that was priority yesterday gets superseded by something else today. And hopefully, that schedule, that plan, I had at the start of the day helps keep the chaos somewhat organized.
I loved working infant room, and I love my job now. I enjoy the fact that unexpected things come my way. It gives me an opportunity to troubleshoot. To problem solve. It lets me try new challenges and build my resume. It gives me an opportunity to prove—both to myself and those around me—what I’m actually capable of.
And what I’ve learned, really in all the jobs I’ve had, is that I’m capable of much more than I imagined. Much more than even the people around me believed I was capable of.
When I first started infant room, I didn’t want to do it. I’d done toddlers and preschoolers for years, but I was scared of babies. I thought I would break them. I’d had experiences where I couldn’t get a crying baby to stop, and I thought that would be all day in infant room. But when the opportunity arose, I did it anyway. I told myself I could do it, even though part of me didn’t believe it. I told myself I’d learn how to get a crying baby to stop, and I’d figure out how not to break them. And guess what? That’s exactly what happened.
I did a similar thing when I began my career and didn’t think that I had the capability of writing anything shorter than a 10-page essay. I took the skills I had and figured out how to apply them to write short articles and other copy.
When I started with my current company, they told me I’d need to hit the ground running and learn fast. The work they needed done was different from what I’d been doing for over six years. But I told myself I could do it. I committed to trying my hardest, applying the strengths I already knew I had, and learning everything I could. And here I am several years later, managing organized chaos for that team.
Why am I sharing this? Maybe I’m sharing it because I needed to hear it. Right now, I have a whole new set of challenges at work. I’ve been handed new responsibilities, and I’m scared I might break a baby (metaphorically speaking, of course).
I think I’m also sharing it because other people need to hear it too. Many of us have opportunities in front of us that look bigger than we can handle. And we all have more inside of us than we give ourselves credit for. We’re capable of things we won’t be aware of until we try. Those things we’re afraid of or tell ourselves we don’t have the capacity to accomplish, might just be our metaphorical infant room.
As we step into those things, we’ll realize we can rise to the occasion. We’ll discover things we love that maybe we didn’t even expect we’d like. And we’ll start to see how the things we’ve done in the past prepared us for where we are today—how they gave us skills and knowledge that we didn’t realize could be transferable. I never would have thought that feeding and rocking babies at 19 would prepare me to lead a team at 36. Yet here I am, applying some of those organization and management skills I learned to keep programs moving and help those who report to me be successful in their jobs.
The other reason I’m sharing this is because it doesn’t just apply to work situations—or even tangible skills and tasks. It applies to our interpersonal lives and mental health as well. In my personal life, just like my work life, I’ve done things that have surprised me. Things I didn’t think I was capable of. Setting boundaries, building healthy relationships, healing from intense trauma, finding good things and quality people I want to invest my time and energy in. If you’d asked me five years ago (even three years ago) if I could be where I’m at today, I would have told you there was no way. The person I see when I look in the mirror today isn’t one I even had the capacity to dream of back then.
Yet, I’m here. I’m here because I took steps to change and heal, even when I wasn’t sure I’d be able to. I found a way to cut out toxic people when it felt nearly impossible. I sought out others who could relate to my experiences and learned from what they’d done to heal. When I didn’t have a roadmap for what to do, I went back to therapy and chose to be honest in ways I’d previously avoided. When I was afraid of the outcomes, I had hard conversations anyway.
Just like when I started working infant room or jumped into my current job, I didn’t let the fear, doubt, or naysayers stop me. I chose to believe I could do it. I drew on past experiences and realized there were things inside me that I wasn’t aware of.
You might not think this is true for you and your circumstances. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t’ have either. But the process of growth—personally or professionally—isn’t about knowing. It’s about trying. It’s about taking a step tomorrow that’s different than the one you took today. It’s about picking up the crying baby even if you have no idea what you’ll do to get them to stop.
You likely won’t see transformation overnight. Growth, I believe, is about time and process. And sometimes, it’s also like working infant room. You can put together a plan and establish a timeline. You can set a framework for how things should go and when you want to accomplish certain milestones. But it is life, so anything can happen. Circumstances and events you didn’t foresee will pop up. Factors out of your control will impact your progress. Some things will simply take longer than expected
And that’s okay. Be patient with yourself. It may feel chaotic, but ultimately, you’ll have that plan to fall back on. And if the baby won’t shut up, remember that sometimes, they cry all day for no reason. Your only job is to keep the chaos somewhat organized.