No other experience has changed my approach to life more than becoming a parent.
I know lots of people say something similar, and they all have their own (good) reasons. For me, though, it’s because of my shift from product to process.
During my early career, I was very product-oriented. No matter the project or task, I wanted the final product to look perfect, and that was all that mattered. I remember in my first job, as a youth director, I took over completing the program forms for the kids (even though they were supposed to do them) because I wanted the forms we submitted to look perfect. I remember when I was a teacher, being tasked with writing a curriculum and insisting that I would do it alone over the summer without input from students or colleagues as I thought that would be the most efficient way to achieve my own version of a “perfect” final product. I also remember working with my students on their final projects one year and steering them a little bit too much and editing a bit too much and taking on a bit too much myself. For each of these, the goal of submitting a product that was professional and refined was definitely accomplished, but at what cost?
Then I had kids. And they didn’t care about my focus on product because they controlled the process. All of them.
It didn’t matter if I intended to leave the house at exactly 10 am because if they needed a diaper change, time didn’t matter. If they weren’t entertained for the planned 30 minutes by the Magnatiles I’d set out for them, it didn’t matter. If I had imagined a really calm family dinner in a clean house, and they had other plans, whatever I had in mind just didn’t matter.
So gradually I shifted to thinking about the process and the learnings that could happen, even when the product looked nothing like my original plan.
I love to cook and bake, for example. And my kids love to help me. Chocolate chip cookies, when baked just by me, will take 10 minutes to make, and the taste is consistently solid. When the kids are involved, it takes an hour, we go through twice as much flour somehow, and there is always a chance we mixed up the sugar and salt. And, yet, the kids love those cookies so much more. They are always eaten and proudly gifted to others, and they talk about the experience of making them for days.
Nothing is learned or invested by a perfect product that I control and puppeteer into making happen. Everything is learned by the bumpy process that comes with others’ learning from their mistakes and feeling ownership and, ultimately, being responsible for that product, whatever it looks like.
My Own Personal Process
After the closing of Einstein Academy, I very intentionally took a professional breather. I was tired. After starting and running a school and working 90+ hours each week, I was tired (and that doesn’t even include trying to be a mom to my four kids). I told people that my two goals were to not set an alarm for 2 am (which had become my “normal” waking time) and to take my kids on a trip and not be distracted by work all of the time. Really, though, my goal was to find me.
I had no idea how to go about this though, so I started to make a list of things I thought would help. I focused on my physical fitness, attending yoga and Barre classes. I committed to sleeping eight hours a night and drinking more water. I spent as much time outside as I possibly could. And I gave myself a lot of grace.
For someone who has measured her worth by productivity for the last 20 years, this was really hard. But I started to feel stronger. Slowly, I started to open up to my inner circle about how I was feeling – a little sad, somewhat scared, a lot lost, a bit confused…and cautiously optimistic. And the recommendations started coming. I completed the Yale Happiness Class (officially known as “The Science of Wellbeing”). I read a book about learning to love yourself that my therapist had recommended about five years ago. I read the complete Brene Brown collection (and then read them again with a highlighter). I read both Designing Your Life and Designing Your Work Life. I read You are a Badass (and then all of Jen Sincero’s other books). And then a whole collection of other books: Chatter, The Art of Gathering, Creativity Inc, Originals, Boundary Boss. I counted at one point, and I’d read over 30 books in four months.
I had an internal timeline in mind that I kept missing because I was so invested in this process and where it was taking me. I thought I would be “ready” by July 4…and then when my kids went back to school in August…and then maybe Rosh HaShanah would be a good time.
By giving myself the time and space to engage in the process, I began to understand where I was headed and what I wanted to accomplish in a very authentic and meaningful way, and I made two commitments:
I am committed to designing and living a life that I love.
I am committed to being my most authentic self in all situations.
It’s worth noting that both of these commitments reflect process over product, a theme I am currently embracing.
My personal process was hard and messy and complicated and not linear at all. And I am so grateful for it. I examined trauma from my past and released my stories. I looked at baggage I was carrying from different people and experiences and worked through no longer letting it power over me. I reflected on who I am and who I want to bring to the world and learned to love that.
And I couldn’t have done any of it without process.
We engage in different processes every day in our personal and professional lives, both consciously and unconsciously. And it’s through embracing those processes that we really learn and grow.
Key Insights about Process
Each Process is Unique
My brothers and I used to watch a lot of The Price is Right when we were growing up, and one of our favorite games was Plinko (a game where the contestant drops a disc through a series of pegs, and where it ended up would determine the prize money). We were fascinated by how even when the contestant used the same starting place, teh disc would always end up somewhere different because it always used a different process. Each organization is unique. The players, the history, the landscape are all unique. And, certainly, the challenges are all unique. The process one organization may go through to review and revise its vision and mission statements may be totally different from another. A curriculum that is an amazing fit for one school would be a terrible fit for another.
Trust the Process
All processes involve a certain aspect of ambiguity, unknown, and iteration. Just accept that and embrace it. If you commit to engaging in a thoughtful process that is mapped out with intention, you will get there, and it will all come together. And the process of the process will be such an opportunity for learning and reflection for all involved that will, ultimately, strengthen the power of the product.
Be Open to Different Products
Most of us, when we start to plan a vacation, don’t just think, “I want to go somewhere,” and get in the car and start driving. We want to escape the cold or get in some skiing or experience international culture. We approach our vacation planning with a problem to be solved and go from there. So, too, with the product, you need to have an idea of the problem you want to address, but be open to different solutions. If you want to shake up the way teaching happens, and you think you’re aiming for a three-year vision of integrating project based learning, and the process leads you to a five-year plan to focus more broadly on progressive pedagogies, okay. If you are struggling with your organizational culture and set on coming up with all new core values, but the process leads you to a new focus and direction with your current core values, great. Ultimately, the product is our solution to a problem, and we want the best possible solution, even if it’s not what we originally had in mind.
Never Underestimate the Power of the Process
Engaging in a thought-out and intentional process takes time (and sometimes money), and so we are often inclined to skips steps or skip it entirely. But don’t. Taking the extra time now will, ultiatmely, lead to your success later. If you’re engaging in a process to develop a new scope and sequence, for example, but you don’t engage the teachers in the process, you may have a beautiful document that never gets put into practice. If you launch a series of programs without first taking the time to think through your goals and get everyone on board with what you are trying to accomplish, you may lose some of the potential impact. If you begin a strategic planning process without first accurately assessing the current state of your organization, you may be headed in the wrong direction. Engaging in the right process is essential to ensuring that you actually reach your goals.
Product Still Matters
While I am now fully invested in the process, the goal, ultimately, is still to have a successful product that can be implemented to accomplish your goals, so I am not downplaying the importance of the product. While the process contributes to the eventual success of the product, the product is the focus. As such, any good process should be driven by that product and adjusted as needed to ensure the product meets the goals.
My Focus on Process
I deeply believe in process. I am known for wanting to “take a step back” in order to better understand what we’re trying to accomplish instead of just moving forward. I believe in never doing anything just to do it. I collect all of the data and double check each of the steps to make sure we haven’t missed anything. And I believe that the easiest way to get something done is rarely the best long-term.
At Sarah Rubinson Consulting and Contracting, process is a major focus, both for developing the “product” and also for implementing it. I work closely with each client to ensure that we are considering the best possible process in order to meet our goals.
No one needs another document on a website or images on walls that mean nothing or a plan that just sits in a binder on a shelf. What we need are solutions to challenges and frameworks to help us create the best possible learning environments for all involved – and process is the way to get there.
Interested in learning more and thinking about how a thoughtful and intentional process can help you achieve your goals? Let's talk!