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I’m not sure what compelled me to finally pull out the lessons I had collected while working in Uganda in 2011. But today, as I work these lessons like puzzle pieces and fit them into my life, I sure do wish I had pulled them out sooner. As I’m learning, and in some cases re-learning, these lessons, I see that there are a few that would have come in handy with some of those tricky situations I’ve encountered over the past nine years. Especially that one in South Sudan just last year.
Lesson: The x3 Factor of Communications
If you think the conversation is going to take 10 minutes
for everyone to feel heard and understood,
better plan for 30 minutes.
We’ve all got them, these lessons collected but not yet learned. Lessons we’ve picked up along the way and jammed in our pockets because we were too busy to learn them at the time. We were forward facing and focused on what was in front of us. Wrapping up that one thing to leap into that next thing and rather than learn the lessons, we swooped them into our pockets, choosing advancement and hustle over reflection and stillness.
And we raced on. The lessons jingling in our pockets like coins, calling out periodically for our attention. “Hey!” they yelled, “Don’t do that! You’ve already made that mistake!” or “Really Catherine, you don’t need to struggle with that again. With a little reframing and a little tweaking … voilà … you’ll have it.” But nope, I jammed the lessons deeper in my pocket saying, “Shhhh, I’m busy,” and ran faster in pursuit of the shiny new thing. Besides, we all know, there’s never a good time for a good debriefing.
Lesson: Never go to Kampala City Center without a fully charged phone
There’s a lot going on out there and when we go out,
we’re often out longer than we expected to be.
When you leave, make sure your phone is fully charged
and that you have a granola bar with you.
In fairness, it can take time before we’re ready to learn our lessons. We need time before we can objectively appreciate what it is we’ve achieved. We may need some distance, maybe even therapy, between our experiences and the emotions that came with them. Our achievements and experiences need time to take root and to withstand a cycle of seasons before revealing their full impact. Think about it, how many times have you put something aside, calling it a failure, only to return later to discover that in fact, it was a success?
As humans, we too need time to take root and withstand a cycle of seasons before we can fully realize what we have done. Far too often the person we were then had a limited understanding of what success might look like to the person we are today.
Lesson: Give it time
In all that has been done,
trust that there are seeds of success.
Then something happens, a long line at the market, the Internet router needs to be reset, or perhaps a pandemic and suddenly we have some time. We slow down, put a hand in a pocket, and feel something familiar. We gently pull the lesson out, shiny it up, and roll it in and around our fingers. We feel the lesson warm from our touch and we remember.
Some lessons make us snort and shake our heads, while others make us cringe, cry, and giggle all at the same time. In any case, the debriefing has begun. We are taken back in time to stand face-to-face with the person we used to be. I hardly recognize her. Then just as quickly, we’re returned to a place where the person we are today can reframe, tweak, and learn the lesson.
And as they say, “better late than never.” I’m learning, and re-learning, these timeless lessons I collected from Uganda and they’ve proven to be quite useful in the last few months as I’ve navigated these choppy waters that come with a life defined by uncertainty and an unknown future. But then who isn’t navigating choppy waters these days and when isn’t life defined by uncertainty and an unknown future?
Lesson: Give the rebel something to smile about
You’d be cranky too if you were working a checkpoint,
in the middle of nowhere, in the hot sun, opposition all around,
with only the sound of The Nile for company.
Make this guy’s day, and by extension, everyone else’s day,
a little bit better and give the rebel something to smile about.
So I’m curious, what lessons are jingling in your pockets that are calling out to be learned? Would now be a good time to take out one or two and learn them? I know there’s never a good time for a good debriefing, but it’s always a good time for a good cringe, cry, and giggle.
Lesson: Always, always pack your dance shoes
If it brings you joy, then take it with you.
Who knew there would be salsa dancing under the stars in Kampala!