So I’ve gone back and forth trying to write this post, completely deleting what I’d written twice in the last hour. For our professional staff retreat this year, we went to Sacramento, NM, for a few days. Last year we also went to NM, but this year we were headed to a new location. After about a 5 hour van ride, including one stop for lunch, we arrived at the retreat center and almost immediately moved into work stuff. Before we began our Strengthsquest discussion, though, we did an ice breaker called Link. I’d played before, but this time we were asked to link ourselves to others with deeper experiences. I wasn’t uncomfortable with the level of sharing, I was just surprised that we were so open so quickly.
Anyway, we finished the game and went about our way, doing some work things and eventually having dinner. After dinner we had a little bit of free time. We were supposed to have a bonfire, but the rain made it so that wasn’t going to be an option. We instead formed a circle inside, and our facilitator (a coworker who I truly admire) began with questions like, “What was the last book you read?” Each person went around and answered in a few words. The questions gradually got deeper, asking what one thing has changed the course of the relationships in our lives and what we were most proud of. I started getting emotional, and actually started crying when he asked what we would do if we found out a nuclear bomb was going to be dropped on us in an hour. The people who were close to home said they’d spend that hour with their families. For me, I think it was the first time I really had to face that all I would have been able to do was call.
Thankfully, we were given a little break and I was able to lock it up. We went on to continue sharing, and people around the circle gave very in-depth answers about their struggles and triumphs. Some of the people in our department have only been working with us for about 2 weeks, so I was surprised that they were willing to share so much with people they didn’t really know. On the flipside, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about some of the people I’d worked with for a year. Additionally, I shared more than I had shared with the vast majority of the people in the room. At the end of the activity, we shared the names of someone who surprised us, someone who really opened up, and someone who we want to get to know better (among other things that I can’t currently remember). After what some of my peers shared, I was SHOCKED to hear that there were people who wanted to know more about me. Not only was I surprised that people said that, but the people who it came from really got me thinking.
We wrapped up the activity and there were lots of hugs passed around, and some of us stuck around to play some card games before bed. The next day, we went out to White Sands, NM, as a large group and had a great time sledding down the dunes. We also went to dinner at a restaurant called Tia Lupe’s for some really good Mexican food before heading back to Sacramento for our last night. When we got back, we started playing Hot Seat, a favorite game of my friend and co-worker Andy. This game usually gets real raunchy real fast, but the 10 or so people playing ended up keeping it at the same deep level that we’d been sharing the previous night. There were no tears this time, but I definitely learned more about people and continued to share with both old and new friends.
On Friday morning, we were all ready to do a little bit of work stuff and then hop in the vans and head back to Lubbock. Our second to last activity (facilitated by the same coworker who facilitated the Wednesday night activity) involved our leadership styles. He asked for a panel of 6 of us to come up without telling us what we’d be sharing. Having already opened up more than I anticipated, I opted to be on the panel, thinking that I couldn’t really share much more.
We were then asked to share what one event had changed how we thought about leadership. In order to respect the confidentiality of my coworkers, I won’t share their stories, but I shared that seeing my grandfather die and watching how my mother and grandmother, two of the most important people in my life, pulled our family through it made me rethink about the kind of woman and leader I wanted to be. In retrospect, I realized that this wasn’t really the event that changed how I lead. From November 2011 to December 2012, my family and I lost 8 people in our lives. Seeing how my friends, family, and peers responded to these events inspired me to be a better role model and a stronger person.
Our last activity of the retreat asked people to write something they’ve learned, something they’ve felt, and something they’re going to take away from this experience. I’m going to go backwards: I said I’d take away new relationships and work on opening up to everyone, but particularly to those who said they wished to know me better. I felt very exposed, as someone who talks a lot but doesn’t share a lot. And for something I’d learned, I took the words from our managing director: “Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener, it’s just different grass.” I decided to write “I like my grass” because this department is so much different than the department I left 8 weeks ago.
Like I said last week, this newfound positivity is NOT something I’m used to. It’s also not something I can realistically hope to have all the time. I am still cynical and am quick to laugh at just about anything. However, the amount of sharing that we did made me realize that my life experiences have shaped everything about the professional I am. By sharing, I know that my peers are accepting of who I am and what I’ve experienced, and I know so much more about my peers and my friends.
Having had a retreat last year and this year, I very quickly realized that this retreat is EXACTLY what we needed this year and probably what we needed last year as well. I’m truly looking forward to my last year here at Tech and look forward to continuing to build strong relationships with my peers here. Thanks for reading this week! Hopefully we’ll have something good and funny happen this coming week so I can get good and snarky again for ya 🙂