On Serendipity and Reflection …

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Truth be told, I really didn't want to work at Serendipity.

To me, it looked like failure as I took a step away from a successful photography business. To make it even more interesting, I wasn't the first choice for hiring. (I was told this much later.) But more than four years ago, I started my journey at a place called Serendipity. Fitting, if you know the definition of serendipity: an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident or luck that takes the form of finding valuable or pleasant things that are not looked for.

As I began my job here, I told myself it would be a short stint to earn a little side income and get my life back on track. Chance—or God, in my belief system—would have something else up His sleeve. I had a lot to learn for a greater benefit. It hasn't always been easy working here, but it has shaped who I am today, in so many ways. With every new job there are things to learn not only about work, but also about life and oneself.

If I were to offer advice involving what I've learned specifically and what I will carry with me, it would be:

1. Take a backseat, for a while.
I went from running my own business to a part-time accounting coordinator position. I was overqualified. I was full of headstrong drive. I was used to making decisions and running the show. I had practical knowledge—or so I thought. However, my value to Serendipity was undefined, undetermined, and unknown. They didn't know me; I didn't know them. I had to sit back and take in my surroundings, get to know the culture of the office, and understand the business. Through this particular season, I often recalled some advice from a past school principal, Chuck Pasma. He was new to our children's school, but seasoned in his position. As he stepped into our school, he was making his career descent, entering the last years before his retirement. One time I approached him asking about why a policy hadn't been changed under his watch. He responded with, "I've learned in life and my career that I need to sit back and watch for about a year before I make any changes. I need to respect the community, the policies, and the people. I need to learn what makes them tick, what's important to them, and what are their hot buttons. You cannot speak into a problem and offer a solution if you don't understand the why behind it."

2. You don't need your bucket filled by someone else.
Of course, it's always nice. Serendipity is an office filled with many independent, self-reliant people. I have always been a person who looks for the pat on the back. When that wasn't forthcoming here, I went through a stage of frustration and even bitterness. Working through those feelings, I realized that it was my fault. I was working for the wrong reasons. I should be working to better myself and to offer the best I have to the team, regardless of what I may or may not get in return.

3. Don't be married to your opinions or ideas. It's a team effort.
Here's a direct quote from my first annual review, "Stephanie is very protective of her ideas and the work she produces. Her responses can appear as if she is trying to justify her work, results, etc. To grow in this area, be open to feedback, suggestions, and recommendations offered by management. Always remember that feedback is directed at a specific outcome or behavior and not at the person." I have learned that I am only one small part of the team, so my suggestions and ideas are only a small part of the solution or project outcome. I cannot work off my own talent. We need a team to come up with the best solutions.

4. Admit when you made a mistake.
I am not a perfect person, so why would I try to be? That only causes unneeded stress to you and everyone around. When you have made a mistake, or even if you contributed to the problem, just take responsibility. It can defuse most situations. Do you like to work with a know-it-all who is never wrong and never makes mistakes? Neither do I.

5. Always be open to learning new things.
The thing I love the most about Serendipity has been the variety of tasks I have learned. It's a small office, and this requires you to wear many hats. Through this experience, I discovered that I love to learn new things. I love challenges. I love to be stretched. And I am capable.

6. Choose your reaction wisely.
Things happen. Feelings fly. Drama ensues. It's life. You are faced with a choice: Will you join in and allow your feelings to fly and drama to ensue on your end, or not? You cannot control the circumstances. You can only control your reaction to those circumstances. Learn to defuse your feelings and step back to make the wise choices, not the reactionary ones.

7. It typically isn't about you.
When struggling with a co-worker, I try to err on the side of reminding myself that I never know what they are bringing into the office. We all carry outside stressors into our job, sometimes unconsciously. Be reminded that your co-worker's attitude problem or overreaction isn't probably about you.

8. Stay true to whom you are.
When I started this job, I was learning whom I really was—so I battled many temptations: The temptation to perform to get noticed and succeed. Am I worth something? The temptation of getting involved in the office drama so I wasn't on the receiving end of it. How do I find acceptance? I have learned that my value, my worth, and my acceptance have nothing to do with my job or my performance. It's much deeper than that. This realization has made me shed a lot of expectations I carried for myself and freed me up to just be me.

9. Take a deep breath and walk away.
This one is for Courtney. When the stress level escalates, just remember it will be okay. Take a deep breath and walk away.

10. Peanut Butter M&Ms (and maybe some wine) solve any problem.
Sometimes people need a little joy in their lives to kick-start a good attitude, hit the reset button, or just bring a smile to their face. At Serendipity, that's translated into Peanut Butter M&Ms and wine.

So, Serendipity is a fitting word, as I look back. I discovered a lot of things I wasn't looking for, nor was I intending to find. Life is always more interesting when you look back. It can be a beautiful view.

I stayed longer than I thought I wanted. Yet now, in some odd way, it feels like I'm leaving earlier than I want to. However, in the same way someone guided me to Serendipity over four years ago, I know someone is guiding me to leave for now. Thank you to everyone who has been part of the team in shaping me, refining me, and bringing joy to me. Thank you to Kasie who took a chance on hiring me, settling for second best. It's been a wonderful part of my story and much-needed experience to sharpen me for the next step in my journey. To those who welcome me into their community at my new job, I look forward to finding serendipitous things through you.

And please know, Peanut Butter M&Ms are a must on tough days—or good ones, too!

Written by: Stephanie TeSlaa is the soon-departing operations director for Serendipity Media. To say she will be missed is an understatement.


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