[Life Back West] May 2010 – Chinatown Gates

If you catch the right seat at Cafe de la Presse, you can get a full view of the Dragon Gate, boldly guarding the entrance from the shopping area along Post and Grant Streets to San Francisco’s Chinatown. When I took my seat to collect some interview data in my coaching consultant role I had more than the conversation at hand, and the Dragon Gate on my mind.

While the Grant Street entrance to Chinatown might suggest many things – including a history of discrimination and assimilation – they also announce “arrival.” “You’re here!” they proclaim, as if the move from signs noting Prada and Shreve & Co. to ones written with hànzi characters promoting tourist trinkets might be missed.

But reaching that “You’ve arrived!” moment sometimes does get missed in your life.

While there can be the occasional party to celebrate the new vice president, the successful launch of business, or the gift of a letter opener from Tiffany to mark the new SVP role – “the better to ward off the corporate snakes at One Post Street” – most of the time that moment when you really hit stride in the new role – whether as a parent or at a new job – passes by unmarked.

And that’s too bad.

While I’ve drunk the Double D Kool-Aid, as in Duckworth and Dweck, and believe that achievement and accomplishment is based on perseverance and trying, I also know that it’s important to mark stages. Part of what gives life – personal or work – a sense of place is those reflections on milestones.

William Bridges‘ work on change and transition proposes that marking starts and ends has a tremendous value in helping people develop their new identity, experience the new energy of that role, and discover the new sense of purpose and competence.

But you have to note it to mark it. Forget to experience that sense of competence and it’s like a friend’s missed birthday. You may know it happened, but you’re just not sure when it was.

Facebook friend Beverly Oden recently posted that she was “lighting up candles previously deemed too pretty to burn because it just dawned on me that life is short and they ain’t for looking at.” It is the equivalent of that phrase about roses. Apart from being the title of a Ringo Starr album, “Stop and smell the roses” is really a call to pause, to note, and to reflect.

When I took a year off in the mid-90’s to figure what I wanted to do next – and started my coaching practice part-time –  I discovered that a neighbor had some of the most beautiful and fragrant yellow climbing roses imaginable on his front railing. Though I had walked by literally hundreds of times, I had never noticed them before.

For the new me, the one that’s relishes my role as a parent to a great kid and as a consultant building my coaching practice with execs and teams, smelling those roses has become a regular stop.

And  as a sat at Cafe de la Presse with the person I was interviewing, I realized that I might be hitting stride in both of those roles.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.