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My husband, David, and I just returned from a vacation to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and surrounding areas.  He had been there before, but it was my first trip.  The Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona are amazing places – and I was filled with awe and wonder at the sight of them.

We were in a group of seven people.  My husband’s best friend, Tyson, is working in the Grand Canyon on a temporary assignment that began this past January (what a gig!), and his wife and two adult children flew in for the trip. Ken, another long-time friend of my husband’s, joined us as well.   David, Tyson, and Ken are all professional photographers who met in photography school, so it was quite a reunion for them.

We had a wonderful time. I must admit that I did not think about work very much while I was away.  Now that I’ve returned, I have reflected on what my vacation experience can teach us about being in the workplace.

Here are a few lessons I took away from my vacation experience:

Accept and respect people’s differences.  Spending a whole week with adults who are not your spouse or significant other can have its challenges.  We were quite a diverse group in terms of ethnicities, cultures, regions, and generations.  We all had specific things we wanted to do and see while there.  Fortunately, we are all friends and like each other’s company, so getting along was not at all difficult.  Plus, we also had a lot of similarities, and we had one important thing in common – we all wanted to have a great vacation experience.  As much as you may like peope, however, living with them in close quarters can test your ability and willingness to accept and tolerate their differences.   On the first day of vacation, someone in the van tuned the radio to Bluegrass music (of which I’m not a big fan).  Although I was willing to tolerate it for a while, someone else recognized that it was probably not the best choice of music to satisfy the entire group, and the station was quickly changed to a type of music we all enjoyed.  It was that sort of awareness and consideration that permeated the entire week, and created a pleasant environment for all.

In the workplace, we need to accept and respect everyone’s differences.  Workplaces are diverse and are becoming more diverse every day. Many employee populations are diverse in terms of race, gender, national origin, age/generation, religion, physical and mental abilities, family status, educational background, experience, and a host of other categories.  Focusing on our coworkers’ differences can cause conflict, discrimination, low morale, and loss of productivity.   When we focus instead on our similarities and our common goals, we improve the work environment and contribute to a more productive and satisfying work life.

Be prepared to adapt to your environment.  The Grand Canyon is roughly 1800 miles from where I live on the East Coast, three time zones away during Daylight Saving Time, about 7,000 feet higher in elevation, and much less humid.   These changes required a physical and mental adjustment while there, and then again when I returned home.  The first difference I noticed was the effect of the dry air on my nose and eyes.  The altitude caused a headache and made it a bit more difficult to breathe.  After a couple of days, I had learned to hydrate better and my headache disappeared.  I gradually began to sleep through the night instead of waking up at 3:00 in the morning.  I quickly adapted to my environment.

And so it is with work. When our work environment changes, we must learn to adapt and change with it.  Our work environment may not always change as rapidly and drastically as mine did during my cross-country vacation, but inevitably it will change.  When changes occur, we must be prepared to adjust to them.

Manage expectations.  Having worked in the Grand Canyon for several months now, Tyson was a great tour guide and was eager to show us the sights.  He planned for us to take an early evening hike to Grand Canyon’s Shoshone Point to get a sunset view.  “It’s just a half-mile hike up the trail,” he estimated.  That isn’t far, I thought.  A little over a mile later, we arrived at Shoshone Point.  Indeed, it was a beautiful location, but we had hiked much farther than I was expecting to get there.  Although the destination was well worth the trip, I would have felt better about it had I been mentally prepared for the distance.

At work, how people perceive a situation depends partly on how well you manage their expectations concerning it.  As managers, you should strive to give employees a realistic outlook about work, including job tasks, goals, deadlines, and performance expectations so they can better manage how to meet your expectations.  As employees, you should strive to deliver more than your manager expects.  “Under-promise, over-perform” is the adage.  Setting unrealistic or false expectations leads to disappointment and can undermine trust in the working relationship.

Know your limitations.  To get all the way to the end of Shoshone Point required traversing a roughly five-foot wide path along the edge of a cliff.  The rest of our group went on, but, feeling a little queasy about it, I opted to stop about a hundred feet short of the end.  Shoshone Point itself is not very wide, and my legs were already feeling like Jell-O where I was standing.  I knew my limitations.  I did not feel pressured by the fact that everyone else walked to the end.  I was happy where I was, and I had no shame.   Besides, the view from my vantage point was still awesome, and I was satisfied.

At work, we also have to know our limitations and risk tolerance.  We cannot know, be, and do everything, even if everyone else seems to have it mastered.  That is not to say that we should not take risks or stretch and challenge ourselves to learn, grow, and achieve more, but we should exercise enough self-awareness to know when something is completely out of our league or reach.  Each person’s limitations are different, and we have differing levels of risk tolerance.  Stepping too far outside those limitations is risky.  Perhaps you will succeed, but failure could have disastrous consequences. The choice is yours; just make it a knowing one.

Realize that there is no substitute for the real thing.  I had seen many pictures of the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona before going there.  Seeing photographs of these locations made me want to see them in person all the more.

Seeing the Grand Canyon in person for the first time was exhilarating and breath-taking.  As good as the pictures were, they could not take the place of seeing it in person.  With pictures, I saw the Grand Canyon; in person, I experienced it.  It was authentic.

At work, people know whether you are being authentic.   People expect us to show up at work as who we are — our genuine selves — so that they can experience the real person.  People who are authentic portray more self-confidence, appear less guarded, inspire greater trust, and have more meaningful working relationships.  When it comes to who you are, there is no substitute for the real thing.

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