“Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?!” Moment: Learning to Pivot

Posted June 13, 2018 in Latest News & Insights

By Karen Hager; Director, Science Engagement, Ontario Science Centre

In celebration of Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?! hitting shelves, we’ve invited members of The Roundtable community to share their own “did I really sign up for this?!” moments, which we’ll be sharing over the coming weeks. These are times when things have gone to sh*t (been there!), when they’ve thought that perhaps they aren’t cut out to be a leader (ditto!). One is so juicy the author even requested to remain anonymous! We hope you’ll enjoy the candour and vulnerability shown by these amazing leaders.

“PIVOT: the action in basketball of stepping with one foot while keeping the other foot at its point of contact with the floor.”

This definition has become somewhat of a mantra this past year in my world. At a time of significant change and transformation, the idea of learning to lean into a world of uncertainty and reactions, as opposed to thoughtful planning and proactivity, has lead me to frequently ask: “Did I really sign up for this?” Since my answer to that single question could be answered differently almost every single day, I’m learning the value of “pivoting”. I need to keep one foot firmly planted in our strategic vision, while allowing the other to move about to allow focus to shift as needed.

A new hire in our organization brought outstanding experience, a breadth of fresh and new ideas, a great sense of humour and just all-around “newness” to our management team. I loved this person the moment that I met them. Our portfolios sometimes overlap, which I took to mean more opportunity to move some new initiatives forward and to help get some decisions made at the highest level. The challenge that quickly became apparent was that our boss wasn’t quite sure how to manage two very strong leaders who sometimes wanted very different things. I quickly began to feel as though I was losing my agency and identity as one of our most effective leaders. People stopped asking for my opinion. I was excluded from some exciting new work and was told to “just keep going with my regular work.” I can’t recall any time in my career where I’ve felt so deflated and started to wonder if I was really cut out for this. How could all my years of leadership development and practice be reduced so quickly to a feeling of ineffectiveness and worth?  

I did some soul-searching. I talked to many leaders about this challenge. I had a very difficult conversation with a colleague who I felt was encouraging this behavior among our peers. I cried. I had a few more conversations. I did a TON of reading (most importantly, the journal Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You) and then I took a deep breath. I wrote down exactly what I was feeling and how I thought I could get out from under it. I applied a solution or action to each point. And then I closed the door of my boss’s office and spilled. It was cathartic and empowering and I felt as though my agency came rushing back.

What did I learn? I learned that the dam I had built up with uncertainty, hesitation, and silence was preventing me from moving forward. Those behaviours and thoughts are as thick as mud and no amount of ambiguity can wash them away. I had to dig deep into all that I had learned and face it head on. Without hesitation. Period.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

—Mark Twain

Want to share your own “did I REALLY sign up for this?!” moment? Email us here. Don’t have your own copy of Did I REALLY Sign Up For This?! yet? Head over here to grab one!


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