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Shannon Huffman Polson is the author of The Grit Factor: Courage, Resilience andLeadership in the Most Male Dominated Organization in the World, and the founder of The GritInstitute, a leadership institute committed to whole leader development anda focus on grit and resilience.
As one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter in the U.S.Army, leading line units on three continents, Polson combines her passion and first hand experience in and study of leadership and grit to deliver world-class keynotes and training to companies and organizations on leadership and grit.
After serving for a decade in the armed services, Polson earned her MBA at the Tuck School at Dartmouth. She went on to lead outstanding teams in the corporate world at Guidant Corporation (later Boston Scientific) and Microsoft Corporation.
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Phillip K. Naithram: All right. Shannon Hoffman, Paulson. Thank you so much for joining us here at the DC local leader’s podcast.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Philip. It’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me on.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah, I’m, I’m really excited to have this conversation with you. And I was telling you a little bit off air. That one I’ve just finished your book.
And I don’t know if this was your plan when you were writing this book, but I’ve already started quoting you with my friends. I was talking to someone earlier today and I used your line that you have to face into the wind and use the resistance to help you rise. And I love that. That’s I didn’t know that that that’s how helicopters take off the
Shannon Huffman Polson: Any aircraft really, actually. So that’s the, that’s the fun thing it gets to apply to anything that you might fly in, anything that you might want to do. So, yeah, it’s a, it’s ubiquitous, but it’s my favorite line. Yeah.
Phillip K. Naithram: And it’s so, and it’s such a, you know, it’s so synonymous with, like you said, with everything that we do around mindset, sometimes doing the opposite of what we think we should do is actually how we become successful and achieve the things that we want to achieve.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yes. I can tell that you’ve thought about this once or twice.
Phillip K. Naithram: It’s, it’s, you know, it’s everything I take cold showers every morning, normally like an hour into the conversations when I start talking about my cold showers, but I suffer on purpose and I don’t even think it’s worth suffering.
I’m training the brain. I’m training the body to hit, to withstand, to build grit. Like your blank, the grit factor that there’s gonna come a moment throughout every day that I have to do something that I don’t necessarily want to do, but I have to do it anyway, or it may not feel like the best idea. You know what, at four 30 in the morning, when I wake up, the best idea seems at least at a minimum, a room temperature.
But, you know, eat the frog, do the hard thing. First thing in the morning and act
Shannon Huffman Polson: as winter comes on, right. It’s really hard. As winter comes on, I’m having a harder time with that. I’ve just started to try to integrate that into the routine. And, uh, as the freezing temperatures are descending, it’s becoming much less interesting, especially
Phillip K. Naithram: where you are in the Pacific Northwest, because your, your cold is way different from our cold here on the east coast.
Shannon Huffman Polson: That’s very true. Very true. Although you get pretty chilly there too. I think, I
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah, it is. It is a harder practice to keep up in the winter, for sure. For sure. So yeah, I mentioned the grit factor. You’re the author of the grid factor, you know, I, I just, I, I can’t tell you how much I really appreciate you writing that book.
I don’t know if that was your intent when you wrote it, but I needed to hear that and what I love the most about. Was that it was not just a personal account of the actual actions that you took throughout your career and your life and the things you learn to build grit. You interviewed other women specifically that were in the military, and you were able to, just to, to find what they did their own personal practices, which sometimes may have been different for yours.
And it’s this collection of actual, tangible action items that you can take that any person can take to build grit in their own lives.
Shannon Huffman Polson: I mean, it’s been such an honor to be able to shepherd this book out into the world because so many incredible leaders shared their stories and their lessons learned.
So candidly and so generously, it’s something that women leaders actually do less of than men do, uh, for, for various reasons. Pretty well-researched at this point, but it is a really important thing. And, and you know, what I wanted were leaders that had faced what, what is called the double crucible, right?
And that’s a term that was coined by a Stanford law professor, really happy to face the challenges of the job, the rigors of the job, which were significant, you know, flying in combat, leading the logistics teams across Iraq, during the war and, and various other folks. I mean, there’s generals from across the services.
Aviators from World War II to the present. As you know, one of the first women army Rangers, who’s in DC with you right now, commanding the old guard, a combat rescue swimmer from, uh, the coast guard and many more and you know, 2 0 1, each of them has had to face the challenges of a job. That’s incredibly demanding for anybody, anybody.
From any background and any gender. And then on top of that also oftentimes working in an environment where they were sometimes not welcome and sometimes actually, uh, hastily opposed. And so that really is what we call the double crucible. So, if there’s anybody that can tell us about grit it’s leaders who have faced this double crucible, and it truly is an honor to, uh, to be able to take those lessons in stories and to shepherd those out into the world.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah. So, I’d like to kind of just get a little bit more insight into you. I know you covered a lot of it in the book, you know, I know I do kind of want to touch on your parents and what that did for you and how that, that changed your life. But why, why the army, what was it about the. That interests you, do you come from a military background?
Did you grow up with that? Or why did you identify the army out of any branch of the military?
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and, uh, my dad had been drafted out of law school for Vietnam. So, he was an army JAG attorney, but they sent him to Alaska instead of Vietnam at the last minute.
So, I was an army brat for all of about a year. And I don’t remember much about, but do remember that my dad was very proud of his service and proud of the opportunity to serve and the idea of service, which was very much something that was part of our family culture and a family identity. So, when I went to school down in the other corner of the country, in North Carolina, at duke, I was looking at different ways to help pay for college and.
I had never even considered the military. To be honest, I was proud of my dad who was proud of his service, but really, we weren’t a military family really to speak of. And I visited each of the different desks for the ROTC, uh, air force, the Navy, I guess the Marines were probably. Separate I’m guessing.
And the army and the army were the only one that would let me be a liberal arts major. And I knew that I wanted to study in the liberal arts and not be an engineer. And so that honestly was the way that I picked the army. I wish I could say it was a more. Significant process in some other way, but, but at the same time, I guess what you study is, is, is important.
So, I started ROTC and I really connected with it. I connected with the concept of service. I loved my fellow cadets. The cadre were outstanding and really it was this connection. And as you know, in the grit factor, we talk about commit, learn and launch, right? And, and part of that commit phase is connecting to purpose.
And this was for me. Some of the first opportunity that I had to really feel connected to a purpose bigger than myself.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah. Did you play sports when you were younger also? Is that part of your growing?
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yeah, so I was a, I played piano. I was on the debate team. I was debate team president for a while and, uh, and I was a swimmer primarily.
I also ran track and did some cross-country skiing, but primarily I was a that’s interesting.
Phillip K. Naithram: So, you did the individual sports? I, you know, I asked because out of everyone, when I talk to. There’s some sort of discipline in their youth to either not just from their parents, but whether it’s swimming track or some sort of team sports or playing an instrument.
You’re like the fourth person that also played an instrument where, and especially that it’s the piano because it’s, um, bass, clef and trouble clef with two separate hands. Uh, and then maybe that had nothing to do with anything, but I’m starting to see that there are some parallels between having that in your youth and. Leadership as an adult.
Shannon Huffman Polson: I mean, I do think there’s something to that and it’s, it’s something that, uh, actually Angela Duckworth talks about in her book on kids and grit is really the ability to stay with something for a while, right. And to learn the discipline that comes with staying with something for a while, at least through a season, if not through many years.
And I’m a big proponent of, of keeping kids and keep ourselves engaged in a way. Sustained because it’s only then that you start to get to different levels of, of understanding. So, yeah. No, I think that absolutely. Yeah.
Phillip K. Naithram: Now how did you know that when you were, so let’s talk about the grit factor, um, because you know, Angela Duckworth, her book is grit and yours is the grit factor.
Did you read her book before? And did that inspire you at all? Or were you because this is your second book, right? We’re already planning this.
Shannon Huffman Polson: This is my second book. Yeah, yeah, no. Before I, I, I really was, had an initially a very different idea for the book and that maybe something that I do later on, uh, with another, another writing project.
But, um, but it came out when a young Lieutenant reached out to me and asked if I would be her mentor as she went down to Fort Rucker, as she began the same process of becoming an aviation leader and, you know, my opportunity. Had been a number of years before I was one of the first women to fly the Apache helicopter.
Um, I served on three different continents and then I transitioned through my MBA at the tuck school at Dartmouth and had spent time in the corporate world as well. And so, by the time this young Lieutenant reached out to me, I was past that corporate career. Even I’d left the corporate career to write my first book, which is called north of hope.
It’s a much more personal journey, but there’s certainly lots of grit in that as well. And then. When she reached out, I thought, gosh, yes, I’d love to be able to help her. But, you know, I have only my own experience to draw from all of our experiences necessarily are limited to our own lens. So how can I expand the information that I’m able to provide to her?
How can I scale the information and the opportunity and the lessons that I’m offering to this young leader? And if I do that work, which will be significant, then how do I scale the people to whom that’s available? And that was really the Genesis of what became the grit factor. I started calling it the grip project.
Initially I was interviewing these incredible leaders. I like to say that if we were interviewing all male leaders, nobody would even notice. So, I initially had hoped that we wouldn’t even talk about the fact that they were so, women leaders, but they were again, That face, this double crucible. And that was what the critical piece of this was.
They were often in the Vanguard of their fields. Um, they’re across the generations, across the specialties and the services, various age ranges as well. I ended up with a lot of senior officers initially, and then I really made an effort to come back and include some junior officers because that’s a lot more tactical in some cases than.
Well, in most cases then when some people get to a senior level, which is more political, um, so we really had this range of experience. And then I went back and did the research and said, Hey, what’s, what’s common in these stories. What’s common in these lessons learned despite their, their widely diverse experiences.
And that really started to break out into what I call the grit triad. Which is really identifying that grit is not this discreet thing that we pull off the shelf right at mile 23 of the marathon. Although I like to say it’s very useful for that as well, but it’s really part of the fabric of who it is that we are and commit, learn, and launch are the three legs of this grit trial.
They correspond very much to owning our own past, to being deeply engaged in the present. And then to looking towards the future with that grounded-ness in the past and that engagement in the present and looking towards the future with audacity, with authenticity and with adaptability
Phillip K. Naithram: Audacity, right at the end of, of the grid factor, you really just hammer home that word.
And describe exactly what you meant by it and who had it, the audacity to do the things that we do. And I think, you know, it breaks through that imposter syndrome that we can all feel anyone that’s an entrepreneur or trying something new, can all that feeling of impending doom or who do I think I am, um, which I think in my own experience.
And, and I think I talk about this with a lot of people, is that it can kind of boil down to a core feeling of not enough. And, but what you suggest throughout that entire book, and it’s great that you get there at the end. Is that there are actual practices that anyone, no matter who you are, it can build grit.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yes, yes, yes, exactly. And that was the other important piece of this, right. Is to not just share the stories, but to put them into a framework that made sense for all of us to give the offer the background research as well. So, the stories lead into the research because the neurosis. Pretty clear that we take in information in the form of story, right?
So, we’ve got to approach it through story. We look at the research and then we come away with the tactical takeaways and the tactical applications. And that’s something that I do also with corporate clients. I have several learning journeys that I will take them through, where we really drill deep into those tactical takeaways, even blow out parts of the book, even, even farther because that’s.
When it’s all about is, is really making that your own and taking that into your own life and your own leadership. Yeah.
Phillip K. Naithram: I mean, you had, you had practical examples of walking the floor, right. Walking the manufacturing floor. And, but how you learn that through, uh, you know, your storytelling of, I don’t want to just tell the whole book.
I want people to make sure that they get it, but it was great because, you know, it was a hot day. It made EV it made all the sense in the world for them to just work in their t-shirts, take their uniforms off and here comes the command and they say, put that back on. That’s not how we do things. Um, and they, they were so disconnected from the team that they were supposed to be leading.
Shannon Huffman Polson: you know, I just, I, I just told that story last week, I was actually visiting a manufacturing plant. I gave a keynote address to, uh, to a large, uh, biomedical, um, manufacturing company. And I was just telling that story of, of how we learn from the bad leaders also, right? I mean, our, our local leaders are actually up to our battalion commander, had permitted us in Fort hood, Texas to, to work in accordance with the Fort hood standards, which was to drop the BDU top.
Cause it was 120 degrees on the heat index or something like that. And it was that, that, uh, Colonel the regimental commander that came in in his air-conditioned suburban with the, uh, command Sergeant major of the regiment. Came out for about three minutes and put everything back on. I mean, they were so disconnected.
Right. And, and I love that you brought that up. I haven’t actually talked about that in a podcast yet, but we do learn as much from the bad leadership as we do from the good, and that was an example of bad leadership.
Phillip K. Naithram: Sometimes it’s, it’s what not to do. That’s why I think that’s another reason why mentorship is so powerful and that, you know, that was another thing that you covered.
That none of these people that have made it into a leadership position and have built this grit and resiliency in their own mind in their career have done it alone. They’ve had more than one mentor because no one person fills all our gaps. That’s right. You know, I, I think that’s such an important point, right?
Shannon Huffman Polson: Is, is this is, and when people ask me, what do you, what do you tell young leaders now are, or people that are going through a. Transitioned into a new position, no matter how senior they are and what are the things that they need to do. And I’m like, well, you’ve got to reconnect to the commit phase, right?
That’s owning your own story. That’s drilling down the core purpose, but you got to also know that you don’t do it alone. You can’t do it alone. None of us can do this alone. And so really being thoughtful and strategic about how it is that you build your own personal team, which as you know, involves also being on other people’s teams, uh, this is important.
And, you know, it’s very hard. It’s a, it’s not something that I had in the military, but it is an example of something that every senior leader who made it all the way up in their careers did have, and either found or, or was given. Uh, but I love also that you bring out the point that we have to have more than one mentor and more than one person on the team, because it’s just like, I like to say your spouse can’t fill all of your needs, right.
They’re not supposed to, that’s a big mistake, big mistake. We have other friends and other social connections for that two and one. Do it for you or one colleague can’t do it for you. You’ve got to have a team that has different strengths. That can be people that you can go to when you have questions and concerns, or just need some guidance.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah. We all need a board of director for our own lives, you know, and especially when it, when it comes to. When it comes to the spouse or the significant other, they didn’t sign up for that. They didn’t sign up to be your financial advisor and your therapist. And like, no, they signed up to be your significant other.
And that was it. And we owe it to ourselves and to them to take care of us. With our peer group and to seek that out because you know that human connection, we need that. I think that you pointed to that in your book, and I’d really like to hear, like how you do that in your own life too. Like, you know, do you have a small circle peer group of people that you meet on a regular basis?
And just talk about even the business of being a speaker, being a writer, like I’m sure you can’t love it all the time. Like I have. You know, part of my personal journey, like I’ve gotten sober and, in that process, it’s, you know, it’s this wonderful, beautiful disastrous process that I have people that I got together for coffee to literally complain and moan about the people that were trying to help us and how much we hate it. This guy wants me to go to work every day on time. What’s this. Yeah, he wants me to like good for you, by the way.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Can I just think, congratulations seriously. That is a long and a hard journey. I know for many people and, and, uh, and many are just starting it or having a hard time with COVID, especially with that. And Congratulations
Phillip K. Naithram: you know, a part of the Genesis of this podcast and really finding the way, you know, a lot of us suffer in silence with a lot of things like mental health and, you know, the transitioning military folks with what, you know, you kind of brought that up too. And it’s, it’s this blessing that I now have where I’m uniquely qualified to help in a way that I couldn’t have planned for.
There’s no major that says make a mess of your life for a decade and a half, and then turn, turn around. You know, hopefully if you survive, you know, and it’s the thing I have and what I identified with you, like it really, your book has helped a lot because it’s knowing your story, identifying your story and that we all have one, it may not have been the one you wanted
Shannon Huffman Polson: and you know exactly right. No, I mean, that’s the thing that’s so important about this owning your own story piece, is it, it doesn’t mean own being a victim, right. And in fact, means that you are given this raw material of a life and some of it, you may. For some of it, you may be blessed to have some of it. You may have earned some of it.
You really don’t want, or maybe you made a mistake in the past or lived in a way that you don’t want to bring forward. And the beauty of owning your own story is taking that raw material and shaping it in the direction that you want to go. And I like to fact, think about this as the way that you write a book, right?
You can’t put everything into the book. A lot of stuff gets left out. That’s really good stuff because you’ve got to have a narrative arc. You have the way that a story moves and flows and, and somewhat in the same way in your own life, you choose what to take forward. Doesn’t mean you don’t own it, that you don’t acknowledge it, but you do choose what you’re going to take forward and how it is that you’re going to craft that life.
And there’s some very interesting studies that were done on actually a number of women, general officers. And those who were successful in their careers made it the general and continued to, to succeed in the high rank were those who were able to own their own stories. And part of that was looking at obstacles as opportunities really reframing the way that they understood the things that they were facing and the challenges that were ahead.
And so, it’s such a powerful thing and it’s not easy work. It’s, it’s ongoing work. It’s something that we have to revisit again and again. Unbelievably empowering at the end of the day. And it really does allow you to show up and contribute in the way that you’re most meant to contribute in the world.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah.
You know, I, so I ask everybody that’s been on the show and this is the perfect time to talk about it. This one question in particular, and it is that of a jumping off point. And I think because I’ve read your book, I may know what you might say, but it’s a jumping off point. It’s a moment in time where you can no longer continue doing what you’re doing, but you may be uncertain of what to do next.
And a lot of people. You know, many have described it as a period in their life where at the time they hated it, it was emotionally painful. It was physically painful or both. And it, you know, they would have said, this is the worst. I can’t believe this is happening, but now looking back, they’re incredibly grateful for that opportunity and that, that time period, because without it.
They wouldn’t be who they are or have the relationships that they have, or be able to contribute the way that they do or the career that they have, the, whatever that they have, the thing that is going on in their life now, who they are is not who they would have been without that experience. What was that for you?
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yeah,
I do think I’ve had a couple; I’ve had a little bit of a zigzag of a path in a way that I’m grateful for. Now, looking back again, owning your own story. Right. Um, the first was the decision to leave the military at the end of my commitment. So, I had served for eight years, active duty, a couple of years in the guard as well.
10 years in total. And, uh, and, and it’s a hard thing to leave a place that you’ve been for a while. And especially the military is so insular. Right? And there’s this sort of assumption that when you perform well, when you’re a lifer, you’re going to stay in forever. And, uh, and it wasn’t doing it for me. I realized I didn’t love it.
I w I didn’t. I went on actually leave while I was in Korea for a month, went down to Australia. I went to China. Um, so I took my monthly leave on vacation, uh, by myself in Asia. And I came back. And I felt completely and totally just crushed by the Quonset huts and barracks. And I was like, you know what, I don’t, I don’t love this.
I don’t, I, and you’ve got to love it to do that, that kind of work. And, uh, and so I made the decision at that point that I would be leaving the military and there were a number of other factors as well. Um, but when I left, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I did the Ben So, Franklin list. I looked at law school.
I looked at Definity school and I looked at business school and, um, Okay. I figured I needed to be more academic to be a lawyer. Also, there are way too many lawyers in my family, um, that, uh, I wasn’t a good enough person to go to divinity school, which I understand now is sort of a funny thing from other folks who have gone that route.
And then at the end of the day, that the operational experience that I had and the leadership experience that I had when Brooke, uh, very well as a translation into business school. And so that was the route that I chose. Um, but I’m just going to bring up the second kind of jumping off point, because I think it’s significant is.
In some regards, I have always known that I wanted to write. I’ve always known that I wanted to be involved with people in the way that I am now and both writing and speaking and, and helping to develop programs for grit and resilience. And, and it’s, I have found the place that I need to be right now, but.
When I left the military and went into business school, uh, I was in some ways continuing that same path, right. I was sort of, I was leaving the military, which was a known quantity, but I was moving into something that was sort of the same and that it wasn’t moving in the direction that I would.
Ultimately to be, but I couldn’t have owned it at that point in my development, I don’t think. And so, I’m grateful for business school. I’m grateful for the time I had in the corporate world with amazing people, incredible learning, incredible experiences and opportunities to contribute. But then I left the business world and, and, you know, it took a family tragedy that really was the spark to make that happen.
Um, although it took me three years to do it. Afterwards, but to really start to, to do the discernment and to really interrogate where it was that I thought that I should be in life, how it was that I should contribute and, um, and leaving, I was leaving Microsoft, you know, then that several years later, Was also hard.
I mean, in each case I had senior people come to me and say, what’s wrong. How do we get you to stay? And, uh, and I’m, I’m honored that, that that would have happened. But at the same time, it’s a hard thing to leave. You have to really want it. And, uh, there’s some significant. Bumps to, to, uh, some hurdles that you have to make in order to make those transitions.
So, I’m grateful now for, uh, for having done both of those things, but in each case, I wasn’t quite sure which way I was going to go. And, and it took some time to
Phillip K. Naithram: you talk about this in your book, when you were looking to get either going to business school or staying in the military, they were losing captains at that time because you were, as you said, you were.
The first female, Apache helicopter pilots. And they offered you something that you didn’t even think, like, I guess you just kind of asked for something well beyond what you thought that they would give you and they were willing to give it to you to keep you, you know, but it, but that time period, it seems like you had a lot going on, you know, and then with the loss of your parents, you know, and the way that that happened.
Right. So abruptly, you know, were you also married at this time? Like what’s your home life, like now just to be able to make a decision. Or the multiple decisions that you have with all of those things going on. I think that’s just a powerful story that we can do a lot more than we think. And you had a, you had a process for doing that.
Like you found a way to do that effectively, that I think we could all learn from and replicate when we’re in those moment.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Yeah, well, to be Frank, I mean, I am not sure. I’m not sure I’d give myself credit for having a process. I think I muddled my way through, but, um, my first jumping off point from the military into business school was I was not married.
I was single and, and that was very much a decision that I made on my own. And, uh, and didn’t have my parents. My father certainly supported me at that point and, and thought it was a great idea. And, and he wanted me to go onto graduate school anyway, so that all synced up well, The family expectations and the support.
Uh, but, um, but no, I was, I was single at that point. And then the second jumping off point, leaving Microsoft at that point, I was married. And, uh, and so I did have my spouse, my, my husband, as a support in that process for sure. Which, which I will say made that, that decision in that transition easy. Because I didn’t have to know exactly what the next job was going to be or exactly how things were going to work out.
And so that was a helpful thing to be able to move in that direction without that security. Um, so yeah, I don’t know if I would give myself credit for having a, uh, a really thoughtful way of having looked through it except to say, Hey. Is this, does this feel true to who I am? And I realized I was embarrassed and this is silly because Microsoft is a great company.
And I loved again, I have very good friends still from Microsoft that I am so grateful for having had a chance to, to work with at the time. And then who continued to be very good friends today, uh, and also a feeling of contribution, but I found myself increasingly. Embarrassed to admit that I was working there and I was like, why am I embarrassed?
I mean, this is a great job. It’s a great career. And I realized it was because I knew that I wasn’t being completely true to the direction where I was supposed to be and the direction, I should have been heading in the way that I could be contributing in the world. And so. I think those were those nudges, those kind of internal, uh, this recognition of these, these internal messages that said, hey, you’re, you know, you’re supposed to be doing something else.
You might not know exactly what it is, but it’s time to go out and figure out what that is. Because again, the family tragedy, I think, helped to highlight that for me. But life is short. I mean, sometimes much shorter than, than we expect. Right. And I think it’s important too, to find that way that you’re meant to be in the world and to live up to, I like to say it’s the way that we can best contribute, right?
Because at the end of the day, we want to contribute our absolute best in the short time that.
Phillip K. Naithram: I mean, and you know, that gives us that feeling of fulfillment that I think we’re all looking for. Anyway, I’m a big believer that, you know, psychology and physiology are interrelated. So, I would, when I’m going through moments like what you just described, I’m feeling it both in my body and in my mind, like for me sometimes.
You know, even before doing this full-time it always felt like I was pretending to be something else, even though I was good at it and I can do it. It felt like a uniform I put on to go do another thing. What are things that folks can look at if they feel like they might be where you are? What were you identifying that?
Like, I don’t think this is it.
Shannon Huffman Polson: That’s a great question. I, um, I agree with you there is that there is a physiological response in some of these cases. I remember, I remember. It was several years later drive. And again, I want to just say it’s a fabulous company, right. And working for the right person in, in, in any company is, is a really fantastic experience.
So, uh, but for me at that time, well, I remember driving back toward the campus once to meet a friend for lunch. And this was after I had left, but not too long after. And I felt this tightening in my chest and I was like, wow, that is a straw. Physical response to like returning to a place where I think I may be pushed a little bit too long on like, hey, I, I know I can do this.
I’m doing this well; I’m getting great feedback. And, and you know, all of us learn to adapt and to perform in a, in any circumstance. Right? I mean, you know, and all of the people you interview and the people listening here, we can all do a job and do it well. Right. If you need to do something, you do it and you do it well, you can even own it and realize those, those places of purpose that are those lights.
That make it work. Um, and sometimes we have to do that by the way, to, to pay the bills or to do something else. But, um, but yeah, there was this tightening in my chest. I remember going back onto campus that day. And, uh, and I think that those are the types of physiological things. Just sort of feeling almost kind of this feeling trapped.
Right. And I, and again, I’ll go back to the army example. Maybe that’s a better one, but coming back from that month of leave, coming back onto this base, seeing these Quonset huts that are all. The exact same, they’re all tan colored barrel as like, this is just smothering. I mean, there’s, there was no, and I realized too, and this, I talk a lot about paths to purpose, uh, with the corporate groups.
And in fact, I’ve just led another large corporate group through this leadership journey called paths for purpose. And it really blows out chapter two of the grit factor, right? Where we’re, we’re going deep on purpose and the grip factor. I go, we just blow it out in this learning journey and it’s amazing, but I really think that there is this.
Yeah, you’ve got to find that purpose that you can connect to. And I realized later that there were parts of that purpose that I had never honored. And part of it was not thinking I could make a living at it. Right. Like, um, the, the idea of being a creator of being creative, uh, not thinking that that was something that, that fits except as a little hobby.
And once you have kids and a husband and a mortgage, like you don’t have time for those little hobbies. And so how do you. Integrate that into your life and your work and your contribution because, uh, and that was a big hurdle to get over. I was brought up to be very practical by, by very practical Midwestern parents.
Right. And, uh, there wasn’t a lot of room for that.
Phillip K. Naithram: What did you have to do to get over that hurdle?
Shannon Huffman Polson: I have to work on that hurdle every single day. Philip, I will say like one of the things I’ve done and I, it’s one of the exercises that I have in paths to purpose. That’s not in the grip factor. So, here’s a little, give me is actually creating a shield for you.
With three to four different aspects that you’re going to honor each day. And part of the way that I’m starting to look at this and starting to honor this just coming out of this COVID time when I was homeschooling my kids, as well as, you know, launching a book and going virtual with my keynotes that I do to, to audiences around the world.
Um, that was a really tough 18 months. I will say. Now the kids are back in school and I’m like, okay, now I need to really look at this, look at these four different areas. How am I honoring that every single day and, you know, time blocking is a great way to do that. In fact, I don’t know another way to do it besides time blocking.
So just say, hey, these three hours of the day or creative time, that’s when I do things. To the, you know, working on the new book or working on something else that is in the creative space. And then this other time is the time that I do the administrative tasks or I take calls or I have business development meetings, or I put together a deck for a client or something.
So, so the time blocking is really helping me in, in honoring that space by setting it aside and. That’s it’s hard to do. It’s a constant struggle. Cause it’s, it’s in me, you know, this, this reaction, it’s like, oh, you can’t make a living at that. That’s not, that’s not something practical. And I have to fight that every single day.
Phillip K. Naithram: You know, what’s interesting is like that, you know, you’re, you’re talking about building that grit and that resiliency against our mind that, you know, I used to call it the enemy within. Right. But now I’ve made friends with it because I don’t think. I don’t think it’s that we need to, to silence the enemy within, we gotta give him space to say whatever he’s got to say, and then he’s going to go away.
Right? This idea of, we talk about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. And you’re talking about that, that feeling is going to be there, but here’s the steps I’m going to take and do it anyway. And I think that’s what being comfortable with that feeling because you’re doing something that’s against the norm.
The norm is to go get a job for a company that already exists. Don’t make waves, do pretty well, live a good life. And then. To not do what you’re doing. And, um, but you know, those that do, I think there’s a lesson there that, that we’ve, you know, we get to, we can create a lot more out of our lives and find more fulfillment it’s within our it’s in a lot more of our control than we may believe.
I mean, there’s plenty of things that are out of our control and we don’t have control over most things that we think we do, right?
Shannon Huffman Polson: Like everyone, you may decide that, hey, I want to stay in this corporate job. I can find a way to do the things that I meant to do and contribute in a meaningful way. Awesome.
Uh, for me, I just spoke to a company a couple, couple of weeks ago, and somebody came up and said, so when are you, what’s your plan to go back to corporate? You’re going to go back to corporate. Right? And I said, no, I’m not, I’m not going to go back to corporate, but I get the chance to work with corporate, with all these different companies in different industries.
And I love that. And make a difference. The grit factor makes a difference in people’s lives. I haven’t seen this again and again and again. Um, the Institute with our learning journeys makes a difference in lives and in organizations and in departments. And that’s so cool. And I don’t have to go back to corporate to do that.
I can come in and, and offer that, uh, without doing something that in some way, compromises the way that I think I’m supposed to show up. So, we all find different paths and it may be staying in that job for some people. But for me, it was definitely not. And I could feel that. You connect to that physiological with the mental, because it’s true.
I could feel it physically, that it was the wrong place to be. And, uh, and I’m really grateful now for the chance to show up and still participate in that way in, in corporate environments, for sure, but also have the space to be able to do the development that I was not allowing. Prior to that.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah. The body knows the score. Absolutely. For sure. And, and thank you. Like, I didn’t realize, I wasn’t saying that we should all be primeurs and like, I gotta re I, that was a good, I appreciate you sharing that because like, I need to remember that like yeah. Some people that are what they choose on purpose, you know, just because it wasn’t, for me, it doesn’t mean it isn’t for that.
Shannon Huffman Polson: Right. Right. And there may be aspects that are really meaningful. Or, you know, when I was leading teams at Microsoft, it was like, hey, people are my purpose. Right? Like they were my purpose in the military. They’re my purpose. Now it’s like developing my team. It’s helping them be their best selves. And that, that was pretty awesome.
I, at the time. So, I think there are, there are wonderful ways to contribute in so many different avenues and, uh, and, uh, and organizations and you just have to find the right one for you. And that will change over time potentially as well. And, and honor. Process. And that development is part of the, part of the riddle yeah.
Phillip K. Naithram: Adaptability and having that audacity to try new things. Um, so you talked about time blocking, um, what else do you do in your daily routine? Like what does that look like for you? Are you, you said you’re taking, I want to, I want to hear about these cold showers because you’re the first person I’ve interviewed that says, yeah, I do that too?
Shannon Huffman Polson: I do that too. Uh, in that I am working to do that. I do much my husband’s. It has, has been doing this now for over a year and I have just started to, um, to stick my toe into it. So, I would not say that I do it every morning. I did not this morning. Uh, but, um, but it is part of the goal. And I think in the same way, Part of this, this mental resilience it’s So, building.
Right. But it’s also theoretically it has health benefits. So, I figured that’s always a good thing, especially in a time when we’re all trying to avoid getting sick from various viruses. Um, but yeah, I, you know, I am asked a lot about. My morning routine. And I have two boys who are eight and 11 who have to get out the door in the morning.
So, I, and I’m not going to get up if I don’t sleep well. So, I don’t get up really early. And, uh, and until they’re older and possibly in college or out of that house, I don’t know that I’m going to have a real morning routine, but my goal is in the morning to do the creative work in the morning, because that’s when I think brains, my brain is best primed for that.
Um, that also involves a walk like a 20-minute walk out. We live out. Out in the woods and the mountains. And so, it’s a great place to be out in the elements. So having that outdoor time is really important. Uh, and then also making sure that I can get a workout in which again, fell completely by the wayside, during COVID and kids and work and everything else.
And so those are the goals for the, um, for the morning and. Through the noon period. And then in the afternoon is typically when, again, there’s great opportunity. I have on the board of the local library; we’re building the new library. So, we have board meetings. We have committee meetings; I have business development meetings today.
I’ll be putting a deck together for a client. That’s a proposal for a program for grit and resilience in their industry and a. Yeah. So just kind of looking at the mornings as creative and the afternoons as administrative in some ways. And it’s really a helpful way for me to kind of break things out.
Phillip K. Naithram: That’s so do you end, do you journal also, is that a part of your process? You’re already a writer. Yeah, I’m on and
Shannon Huffman Polson: off with journaling. I, um, I’ve been off lately actually, partly because I’m working on some other, writing that, um, in some ways I think fills that need to look at things in different ways. Um, but yeah, I’ve been off journaling lately, but I’ve been doing more creative projects with my kids as well, which I think also helps to fill some of that.
Its very different journaling is a, is an important thing, I think for a lot of people and, and should be recommended. Uh, but, um, but no, I haven’t been doing that. I do start and end the day with a prayer, which can be a meditation for people who don’t like the word prayer or. Whatever it might imply, but I do feel like book ending the day with that, which are gratitude’s and also this connection to something bigger than myself is a really important part of my life.
And, uh, and I think sets the day up well and ends the day. Well,
Phillip K. Naithram: so yeah, that was my very next question was going to be about gratitude. I look at gratitude as a verb, not a noun, like not something that I have that I, I lose, but it’s an action that’s action items. It’s things that I do. And so, I wanted to.
What that meant to you? Like, what does gratitude mean? How do you practice gratitude? You know, I am statements I’m big on those. I don’t know if that means anything to you at all, but I kind of feel like I am, or is a very important sentence in the English language or in any language, whatever you’re speaking, because whatever you put behind that is how you identify yourself.
And I’ve put a lot of things behind that. They weren’t always great. And I ended up living up to everything I put behind that statement. So, I’m very careful about
Shannon Huffman Polson: what I put that. Very thoughtful and why it’s good for you. Yeah.
Phillip K. Naithram: But what about you? Like, is this part of your thing? Like, do you, any of this? I like, how do I become more like you as
Shannon Huffman Polson: I think you’ve got yourself figured out just fine.
Um, yeah. I, I, so in the morning I would actually say that the way that I think about them is, and I love the idea of it being a verb, because I remember a long time ago hearing about relationships, right. And that love is a verb. It’s not a feeling, it’s a verb, it’s something you do. And, um, and, and, and that you may feel, but that you do.
And that is I think, part and parcel of a relationship, a working well is understanding. Love is a verb. Um, but gratitude is a verb is wonderful as well. And I, I think of the prayers that I say as connecting to God, uh, as, as thank you. Something that’s bigger than I am. Right. And thanking them for, for health and for my family and for whatever it is that I’m grateful for in the course of that day.
And, um, and that connection to something bigger than myself is, is for me really critical that it be bigger than myself. And so that’s why I consider it prayer. And, um, and I. Uh, I think it sets, I like the idea of it being active, but a prayer is an active form of thinking. Right. You’re So, saying thank you.
And, um, and even in the face of things that are really tough or that you had, uh, you didn’t, you weren’t so happy about during the course of a day or you wish hadn’t happened, or I think really reminding yourself of the things that you can be grateful for. I mean, the science is actually really clear on this and it’s funny it’s it is one of the key blocks of building grit and resilience.
Actively, uh, being thinkable. And I, it sounds like such a simple thing, but at that’s actually can be quite hard and it is a practice of something that you’ve got to do every single day. So, we do it around the dinner table and we say the prayer we’ll do it around the dinner table as we just talk about the day with our two boys.
And, uh, and then again at the beginning and the end of the day as well. So absolutely.
Phillip K. Naithram: I love that. I talk a lot about the reticular activating system and how I like want to manage that to the best of my ability. Right. And if I just can’t, even my hands and feet work, I’m grateful for that. You know, my, my elbow isn’t hurting today.
Like the simplest things like I’ve got socks, you know, just start, start small, like whatever, you know, I, I needed to write something down and I had a pen, just whatever it is, and just start building that muscle, that grit, that resiliency build those synapses. You know, it’s a compounding thing or at least no, it
Shannon Huffman Polson: absolutely is.
And you’re right. The science supports it too. If you need the science to, uh, to give you the nudge, but I don’t think we need, you don’t need that. You can just do it. And I think we can all feel, you can feel the impact of it truly. I think even after a day, uh, but it’s certainly worth the practice. And, um, the evidence is pretty clear on that too.
Phillip K. Naithram: Yeah. Well, you know what, I really appreciate you spending some time with us here for the DC local leader’s podcast. And, and I just want to thank you. Like thank you for writing this book. I don’t know if. You know, when I first started reading it, I don’t know why I felt like, cause I’m a guy and you wrote it.
And it was about, you know, women in the military. Like maybe it wasn’t for me, but it was absolutely for me. And I identified with a lot that was in there and I just really appreciate your service for doing that. Thank you for putting that book together. And putting it out because I needed it. I mean, I can only imagine everyone feels the same way.
I hope they do. But uh, now that I have you here, I can tell you, thank you. We’ll
Shannon Huffman Polson: fill up. So, I thank you for letting me know that it really, it means a lot to a writer to know that their work has resonated and it’s making a difference in people’s lives. And I am no different than that. So, thank you. And you were right it’s for every single person.
It’s not for women. It’s for women and men. And uh, however one identifies themselves. It’s about all of us building our grit and resilience and. To be our best selves. So, thank you so much for having me on and for highlighting the grit factor for your thanks for listening to DC, local leaders. We’d love to connect with you.
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