Note: I had a conversation with Coco prior to writing and got her permission to share our car ride convo with you all. 😊
I’m Aunt Erin to 7 nieces and 1 nephew. The oldest starts her sophomore year in college in the fall. I’ve made it clear that they will all refer to me as “Aunt Erin” for the rest of their lives, no matter what their age.
Last weekend, we headed to Connecticut to celebrate my twin nieces’, Coco and Sydney, high school graduation. The twins are headed out of the house come fall. Syd is off to UConn and Coco is headed off to Case Western Reserve University in January.
That January start date has thrown Coco for a bit of a loop. Thanks to some creative thinking and brainstorming, she’s headed off for a semester at sea in the fall. For those of you unfamiliar, I would say Google it but actually don’t. Because if you do you’ll think why didn’t I know this existed? Am I eligible to go at the ripe age of insert-your-age?
The program looks incredible. Coco’s reaction has been a bit lukewarm, to say the least.
Saturday morning Coco and I headed out for a drive. She wanted to practice her highway driving. I thought what better opportunity to ask her how she’s doing while giving her the finer points of merging onto I-95? After her successful merge, I asked the age-old thoughtful auntie question–so what’s up?
What was up were quite a few interesting takes on her current situation. Her comments brought on multiple responses of the, “Is that true? Are you sure that’s true?” variety. We giggled on the outside at the ridiculousness of some of her narratives. My eyes rolled inwardly at some of the others.
Layer after layer Coco shared what was on her mind. Then she said it. “It’s the cold turkey part.”
“What do you mean, cold turkey?”
Cold turkey meant that Coco would be flying off to a foreign country and on a boat for 5 months, with no chance to come home. Her twin and her oldest sisters would be home from college at Thanksgiving. They’d have the option to come home. Not Coco.
Now I can hear it already, “Ohhhh, poor baby will be away on a boat touring the world. That sounds sooooo hard.” Or my husband’s persona favorite, which I hear on the regular: “Suck it up, buttercup.”
I get it. Half of the comments she’d been hearing were of that variety. The other half were: “What an amazing opportunity! I wish I could go! Can I come in your suitcase?” (Did you Google it?!)
As she was talking through the cold turkey situation, I thought OF COURSE. OF COURSE this is going to be hard for her. With that new little piece of cold turkey, I connected some more dots.
There was the isolation of Covid. Coco lost some of the mojo that she felt being around people in high school. There was the uncertainty of the past six months, waiting to hear what colleges she’d gotten into. There were other personal things, all of which piled up into a big old heap of uncertainty. Now, although it IS an incredible opportunity, the thought of getting on a plane and being on a boat with a bunch of strangers, being uprooted from all she knew and her tightknit unit that is her family and her twin sister who she has been inseparable from since pre-birth…it all made sense why there was a little trepidation.
“It’s a lot, Coco. Thinking of all of the changes, the uncertainty you’ve dealt with and will continue to deal with–it’s a lot. AND what an opportunity.”
“Yeah…it’s pretty cool.” Then she started talking about the places she’d go. She shared some of the research she’d done. The nervousness shifted to excitement, slowly but surely.
UNTIL THE UNCERTAINTY IS ADDRESSED, THE OPPORTUNITY WAS UNSEEN.
For those commenting on the outside, all we saw was the brochure and the stops at sea. We forgot to address what was happening on the inside for Coco. Perhaps we took her lack of outward excitement as a lack of appreciation, a lack of gratitude. Perhaps we dismissed some of her reasoning as foolish or nonsensical.
None of those assessments were true. What’s true for Coco is this is a big leap from where she is right now. It’s a big step into the unknown and is challenging how she sees herself and what she knows of herself.
Her reasoning was what she was saying on the outside. In that car ride on 95, I got to hear what was happening on the inside. We laughed through some of the layers of reasoning that even she would admit are nonsensical. Once we peeled those layers back, what we got to was the feeling at the heart of the matter. What we got to was Coco sharing what was going on in her, that little voice that was fighting itself saying, “This is an amazing opportunity and OMG I’m lowkey freaking out.”
I think sometimes we focus on the “brochure,” or the picture-perfect place we want to be. We focus on the “brochure” for our teams, thinking I know what’s best, I know that they can get there, I just want them to get there!
We skip over addressing what’s going on inside for them. We assume they are focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel or the new way of being, and that they can just GET there with a training session, or a conversation, or a performance review.
If we don’t address the inside, even if it seems nonsensical to us from the outside, that new outcome we want remains some far-off, elusive destination.
If you’re wondering why someone on your team isn’t where you want them to be, hasn’t seen the light, or isn’t feeling what you think they should, perhaps there’s an opportunity to ask “What’s up?” and hear what’s going on for them on the inside.
Listen. See what you haven’t seen. Hear what you haven’t heard. Acknowledge their reality. With that, you open up a path for smooth sailing.
Sunday night we got home, and in came this text. “Our car conversation was sooo helpful. you gave me such a good perspective but you also totally listened to my reasoning instead of just telling me – thank you so so much for that!”
Listen. Ask. Don’t tell. See what opens up.
We like to know. We like to have a plan. We want to know what’s going to happen.