Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where's my Spoon?

Where's my spoon? And other questions about change

Sandy Cameli (EdD), Educational Specialist • Hawaii Dept. of Education

Expectations can be motivating and exciting when moving forward; however, they also can be discouraging, if assumptions outweigh possibilities. How does a capable professional, with abundant resources, talents and experiences step into a new leadership role only to find his/her transition to be ineffective, unsuccessful - even clunky? Why is a previous rhythm, pace or momentum not aligning with a new flow? Why are rituals and routines for leading adults so different than leading students? When does it start to feel like a difference is being made, as opposed to just spinning one's wheels? And, where are the <damn> spoons???  (this last question will make sense shortly :)  

A colleague's missing spoon story illustrates the point about expectations and new beginnings...

A beloved grandmother moved into a beautiful new home to enjoy her retirement years. Prior to the move she helped design the layout, picked out paint and carpet colors, found the perfect fabric for curtains, and placed stakes in the ground for her vegetable garden. There were citrus trees lining the backyard, rose bushes dotting the entryway, and stretches of sidewalk in the neighborhood to take her evening stroll. The bus stopped two doors down from her front yard, and the 14-minute ride took her to the library, market and bank on any given day. She was thrilled to begin this new chapter in her life, and excited to celebrate a housewarming by preparing a special meal for her children and grandkids.

On the morning of Grandma's great feast, the eldest daughter stopped by to offer help, only to find her mother frazzled, frustrated and on the verge of tears. When asked what happened or what was wrong, her mother simply paced around the kitchen - now in disarray - muttering about a missing spoon. Her daughter rifled through some drawers and held up a plastic scoop, "Here's one", only to be met by a firm shake of her mother's head, and the slamming of more drawers. This continued a few more moments until the exhausted matriarch sat down at the table, looking defeated & exacerbated, and began to cry. Panicked, her daughter rushed over and pleaded, "Mom, what's wrong?"
The grandmother shared that her expectations for this new environment, new home and new life were not what she envisioned, and she worried she had made a huge mistake. The postman mis-delivered her mail to a neighbor, the ATM declined her new debit card, and she forgot which bus stop to get off at when returning from the market. The breaking point came when she couldn't find her favorite wooden spoon - cracked, stained & having seen better days - but the very one she used for years to cook for her family. The new utensils and appliances were certainly adequate and could do the job, but they were not familiar nor did they offer reassurance for the seasoned chef. She simply had not found the rhythm, rituals or routines that worked for her in this new environment - thus contributing to the unsettling moment.

Crisis was averted when the cherished spoon was finally located, tears had been dried by red, calico towels, the fragrance of homemade delicacies filled the air, and laughter and stories provided music to the family's ears during Grandma's inaugural Sunday dinner in her new home.  

The message above was never about a spoon or even the right utensil; nor was it about the new setting or change in lifestyle, but rather how the expectations of what one thinks should be and what actually are can derail even the most centered of individuals. Leadership is a professional as well as personal journey; one filled with continual expectations. How an individual prepares for these new experiences or surroundings is as essential as adapting to the unexpected. 

Pack a favorite spoon for the journey -
but be prepared to stir with whatever utensil is provided!



  1. Yes! So true! Our expectations are often overrun with the realities of the new situation and all the complexities that come with it. Lean IN everyone! Embrace the change and remind yourself how much better the reality is and how much you are going to grow! Mahalo Sandy! -Danielle

  2. OMG Sandy! You totally captured my journey this year... It appears I am not alone after all. Thank you for your insight and your leadership!

  3. OMG Sandy, you totally hit the nail on the head. This was exactly how I felt all year. It turns out I am not alone in my strife. Thank you for your insight and for giving me the words to capture how I felt and what specifically I can reflect on further.

  4. Love the analogy! We embark on a journey at the beginning of each school year and must be adaptable with our new batch of students. However, through experience and perseverance we soon realize at the end who learned the most �� Congratulations to all of our TLA participants and I'm excited to hear your stories next week! Now...where's my chopsticks? Lol