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  • Writer's picturePaul LaLonde

Message in a Poster

“Our own life has to be our message.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

white and blue cardboard box

At the beginning of my HR professional journey, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. So, I decided to take a SHRM Essentials of HR course. At that point, I had somehow never heard of “shroom,” and barely knew HR meant human resources, but I felt like I needed to take an intensive birds eye view of the profession to see if I really enjoyed it. Thus, the Essentials course seemed like a good idea at the time. As it turns out, that class changed my professional and personal direction forever.

The teacher of the course was named John, and he had personality! The man is a born entertainer. He had a way of making HR fun! He ensured we were smiling throughout class; and when he couldn’t answer a question, he assured us that he’d “swirl on it” (while he swirled his fake glass of wine) until he figured the answer out. That class was so meaningful because John LOVED human resources. He LIVED human resources.

During one of the lessons, John challenged us to write a professional mission, vision, and values statement. I wrote a few things down, but didn’t really follow through on it because, frankly, I forgot about the challenge – the class was so PACKED with HR amazingness that it sort of just slipped my mind.

Several years later when I was named to my first HR Director position, I randomly came across the Essential of HR notebook I used as I was looking for another notebook. I turned to the mission, vision, and values challenge page. I read my handwritten note, quoting John:

“Mission is what you want to do, vision is what you want to be known for, and values are what you stand for.”

I smiled, remembered a “John-ism,” and began to “swirl” on my own mission, vision, and values. I then created a colorful poster to showcase those items, which hangs on my wall at work.

I felt so proud that I could hang that poster on my wall. It really showcased who I was, but then, something funny happened. I forgot it was there! No, not really. I see it every day, but I don’t really SEE it every day. Like most people I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of work life. I’m talking to staff, walking the building, replying to emails, or forgetting to reply to emails, returning phone calls, or forgetting to return phone calls, writing up reports, prepping for a meeting, trying to figure out new metrics to use, and so on and so on and so on.

During all that, I get angry. I get frustrated. I become human. I fail to live up to my mission, vision, and values. So, in a sense, I do forget that my poster is there, and I act in a way that doesn’t further them in my professional or personal life.

Sometimes life gets away from us, and we forget who we are. Well, that’s OK. As Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master, once said so eloquently, “No mud, no lotus.”

I think that’s apropos. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to remember who we are when we’re knee deep in the muck. But we must remember that being knee deep in the muck doesn’t destroy us; it helps us be who we are! The muck should remind us that we hold a valuable message for the world, and we should post it and then live it.

Luckily, I still keep in touch with John to this day. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him, learning from him, hiring him! Of all the things I have learned from John, it’s that to be yourself, to be authentic, is the greatest message we can deliver to the world.

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