“Kaizen,” which is the Japanese word for improvement, is a concept engrained in our firm’s culture. All staff members are given a copy of the book, The Spirit of Kaizen, to read and implement. We try to incorporate Kaizen into our weekly staff meetings, always noting we can improve office process and the client experience. Although The Spirit of Kaizen addresses topics completely unrelated to law firms – like hospitals, airlines, and even losing weight – it is relevant to ALL areas of life.
The Spirit of Kaizen encompasses more than improvement, however, and breaks down those improvements into very small steps. It touches on the psychological and physical reactions our bodies have to change. We just don’t like it! We rebel against change and often talk ourselves out of big accomplishments because it is too overwhelming for our brains to process. But when we incorporate change in very small steps, we can trick ourselves into huge changes.
A basic example is someone trying to lose weight. Telling the person to ask for half of their dinner to be placed in a doggie bag at a restaurant before they even start eating sounds like an easy task. However, it is actually a HUGE step. Start with leaving one french fry on your plate at the end of the meal. Then try leaving three french fries, or if that is too much, one and a half…and so on. Work your way up to removing half of the meal from your plate. The small change is less daunting and can help ease you into your goal.
I think about that french fry often. My husband and I have been together for 16 years. We met young – me having turned 20 days before and him turning 20 days after. He moved into my apartment as a replacement roommate so we have never lived apart. We have grown up together and evolved together. We are very comfortable in our lives as a couple with no one else for which to care (not even a pet or plant!). We do what we want, when we want. So the prospect of bringing a screaming baby into the mix was a completely overwhelming thought! We have always entertained the topic of children – with either having them or not, and talking about how we would want to parent or how we wouldn’t.
As we began to age and realize our window was gradually closing, we needed to make a decision – yes or no to parenthood. I found this decision to be completely overwhelming. How could I ever say I wanted a child? How could I ever say I didn’t want a child? My mother would often say that I really needed to just figure out what I wanted – either way – make the decision and be at peace with it.
Getting to Yes or No was too overwhelming, too big of a step. I decided I needed to Kaizen my way to motherhood – which I guess in and of itself in hindsight was a decision; but when I started this journey I was not sure “Yes to Motherhood!” was the outcome. It started with how one goes about trying to have a child. I decided that even ‘trying’ to have a child was too overwhelming. I couldn’t jump in feet first. I needed to simply leave one french fry on my plate and could not get half the meal wrapped up right away. After “not not trying” for over a year (which took some small steps to get to), I became completely okay with this concept. Our “trying” to get pregnant began to evolve over the months as far as the process and letting small changes in that process get us closer to the result we eventually realized we wanted. I remembered years ago saying that I could never see myself using an ovulation kit. This would just be too much of a commitment to saying yes to a child. Well, implementing small steps eventually led to that idea being a possibility (it may have taken years, but we got there!). We tried it and it worked! We were pregnant the next month!
At 36, I am very fortunate that it was so easy to get pregnant. I am reminded of this fact when I read my medical file which describes my pregnancy as geriatric! But people do not realize that it was not easy deciding to get to that step. Getting pregnant is just as much emotional as physical and our journey has been long, winding, and bumpy. But it led us to a beautiful place where we are expecting our first child, a baby girl this May.
I imagine I will also Kaizen my way through my child’s entire life. Thoughts like “How will I ever be able to leave my child to go back to work?!” “How will I ever sleep knowing my child is out at night and driving a car?!” “How will I ever let my child go on a date?!” I tell myself: baby [Kaizen] steps. I won’t have a teenager overnight so I will have plenty of time letting go to hopefully not be such a neurotic mess as I imagine I will be (a mess still, yes, but hopefully not a neurotic mess).
I will constantly improve how I parent through small steps. There will be set-backs and unimaginable hardships. But I will think of that french fry and try to break those overwhelming thoughts down into manageable tasks and changes. I will re-read this blog entry and think – lady, you are crazy! You have no idea…All your thoughts and plans go out the window once you actually become a parent…But I shall revel in my ignorance while it lasts a few months longer…