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Still Tinkering

By Mary Jo Katras, Program Leader — Family Resiliency

At the start of the New Year, I shared my goal for 2017 — to take more risks. Over the past six months, I have been stretched in different ways to do just that. As a result, I have several “ah-ha” moments to share.

Support is Essential

In late March, as part of my participation in the National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) program, I took a 10-day trip to Costa Rica with colleagues from different universities all over the U.S. This trip illustrated in multiple ways how risk taking is not a solo endeavor. The most dramatic illustration was when we had the opportunity to fly through a forest on a zip line. While there had been other examples on the trip where we all supported each other in pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone, in this activity, we all rose to the occasion.

line of adults with red helmets walking through a forest
Forward march!

It was amazing to see the support that surrounded this activity. There was hesitation, anticipation, tears, negotiations, cheers of encouragements, and success. Even when we were being chased by a swarm of angry bees, we all still stayed on task and completed the mission!

We often do not take risks alone — we seek support from our families, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. We ask for advice. We share our excitement, concerns, frustrations, and failures. How do your colleagues support you in taking risks? How do you engage others to get the support you need as you take on something new? When something chases you in a new direction, how do you resist and keep on task?

Be Comfortable with the Unknown

Believe me, some days it is just easier to fall back into the same routine that we are used to and not push ourselves into the unknown. When you take a risk, you do not know what the outcome will be. This can be difficult and just plain scary!

Over the past year in Family Resiliency, we have been stretching ourselves to increase our capacity in online learning. As we build our skills and knowledge in this area, we have to take risks. Learning new online platforms, translating in-person content for an online environment, and working with a large team to balance and negotiate all the moving parts takes skill, but also much trust in the unknown and each other.

circle of adults with close up of hands piled on top of each other

Many questions are on our mind: Will this programming be effective? Will it meet the needs of our audiences? Is this sustainable? These questions do not have immediate or apparent answers. However, what we do know is that our team is comfortable with the unknown, and that this work is not a linear process. Some days, we take one step forward and two steps back. Other days, we soar toward the finish line!

Do you have work that could be taken in a new direction, but the unknown holds you back? We do not have it have it all figured out at the beginning — often, our work is formative in nature. Taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zones opens doors to key opportunities for growth at both personal and organizational levels.

Just Do It!

There is no time like the present! Just do it! Taking a risk does not have to be a well-orchestrated plan. Take the first step and don't look back! In the last six months, I have wanted to challenge myself and try a new form of exercise, like kettlebells or circuit training. I have researched for hours and looked up many classes online.

row of adults doing pushups on kettlebells
Totally doable, right?

And, I have made many excuses why most of them do not work for me, for my schedule or my budget!

However, might there be a way for me to look at exercise in a different way? Perhaps I do not have to have a regular exercise schedule. Maybe I just need to fit it in when I can: a half hour dog walk some mornings, a Saturday yoga class a few times a month, running with my 14-year old daughter and trying to keep up. Some is better than none!

We need to be flexible, nimble, and see what happens! Start with a conversation over coffee or a walk with a colleague about a new idea you have. Research that idea to see what has already been done and see if it could be adapted into your existing work. I see taking a risk as an incremental process, but it cannot happen without the first step!

barefoot baby taking a step on grass
And remember, every first step has a supporter behind it.

So do I have more work to do in 2017? Absolutely! Do I have it all figured out? No! Am I heading down the right path? I think so! Will there be detours? Perhaps! Am I loving every minute of this journey? Yes!

selfie of four women in red helmets
We did it!

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