Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality, has shaped my thinking and actions for nearly a decade. One of the most impactful images from the book is what Dr. Cloud calls The Wake.
The wake created by our character is much like the wake created by a boat. By simply watching a boat’s wake, we can learn a lot about the purpose of the boat (a ship, a bass boat, canoe). We can also glean a bit about the captain (on course or just paddling around; intentional and on track, or maybe asleep at the wheel).
The Wake has come to mind many times over the years. I have watched friends build such a strong and positive wake that their former employers and clients would hire them back in a heartbeat, and would say so publically. Others have plowed through in a way that causes people to dread seeing them coming.
Many of us have no clue about the condition of our wake, whether it’s bad or good. I honestly believe that if we knew, or even thought for a second about the concept of having a wake, we would likely choose to improve in a number of areas.
Dr. Cloud notices two sides of the wake we leave behind us – tasks and relationships. For the stormwater professional, the task side of the wake may reflect a career of “compliance,” checking boxes, barely getting by, and doing it by the book. It could even reveal a tendency to fudge for the benefit of ourselves or our clients.
It may signal a one-sided thinking and approach to the work, but could also reflect a view of ecological and economic development as being complementary and interdependent. It could show a true interest in protecting water quality and helping clients to find the value in effectiveness and commitment.
The relationship side of our wake as a stormwater professional should reflect consideration and empathy, collaboration and perspective. It should demonstrate a professional brand of getting better every day and helping others to do the same. People in our wake may root for us and help us to achieve our goals. Or they may see us coming and run in the other direction. We may never understand why they are so cynical and suspicious.
The cool thing about our personal wake is that we get to decide what is looks like. We get to form its shape. That’s also the scary thing about our wake – we are on the hook. we can’t blame our circumstances or anyone else for our wake.
A few questions to consider:
– are your best clients people you respect?
– do your past coworkers miss you? Really?
– do you/did you accomplish big things at your current/past job?
– are you making a difference? Really?
– are others finding ways to get you on the team?
– was your going away party thrown before or after you left the building?
Our wake related to our technical work certainly matters. But more importantly, if we aren’t mindful of how we treat people, our wake can leave behind a trail that no one would want to follow, not even ourselves.
It’s not only fun and inspiring to look backwards sometimes, studying our wake can also help us to navigate our future.