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Thought Leadership

Wisdom and The Island of Misfit Toys

Posted by Scott Butterfield on June 4, 2017 at 10:25 PM

Those of you from my generation are sure to remember the 1964 animated TV special, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”


In this classic tale, Sam the Snowman narrates the story of Rudolph, a reindeer who is born with a glowing red nose. His father – Santa’s lead reindeer, Donner – feels ashamed, and uses a special cover to hide Rudolph’s nose so that he can join in the Reindeer Games. During some horseplay, the cover on Rudolph’s nose pops off; after seeing his glowing nose, the other young bucks begin ridiculing Rudolph. Rudolph is banned from the rest of the games. Rudolph runs off into the woods and meets up with Hermey, an elf who had been forced out of his job because he was more interested in dentistry than toymaking and singing. The two bond, singing “We’re a Couple of Misfits” after they discover they each have something that makes them unique. Later, they meet a prospector named Yukon Cornelius. The trio manages to flee to the Island of Misfit Toys, an island populated by abandoned toys with idiosyncrasies. Working together, the three save the day by rescuing Christmas, Rudolph and Hermey are no longer ridiculed, and the lead elf finally allows Hermey to open a dentist’s office the week after Christmas.


Wisdom is gained through challenges


I’ve always enjoyed this tale, and I can relate to its powerful message. The morale of the story is that, despite perceived flaws or differences, we are all valuable. Some of my most meaningful work was accomplished alongside folks who, like me, might be considered inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.


Most of us aim for a positive and progressive career path. Unfortunately, that rarely occurs. Life is never as expected, and challenges are needed to facilitate our growth.


I was reminded of this fact during my recent attendance of the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, DC. The conference provides lots of opportunities to reconnect with credit union colleagues from around the country. It’s enjoyable to see people you know who are doing well and growing professionally. It’s even better to see colleagues who’ve had some sort of professional setback (unplanned job change, poor work alignment, bad boss, etc.) and overcome the challenge to shine brightly again. I look at these folks with admiration, and I know firsthand just how difficult those situations can be.


I experienced a professional setback during my 33-year career. It was a painful and challenging experience. While I would never want to go through it again, I can look back and see the wisdom gained, and how it fueled the next level of my personal and professional growth. Simply put, I’m a lot stronger and more successful today because of that experience.


Don’t feel like damaged goods!


If you’re the one going through challenges today, or still smarting from challenges that occurred in your past, don’t let these experiences make you feel like damaged goods! You’re not! I believe one day you’ll look back and be grateful for the challenges you’ve overcome. It’s these challenges that bring out and refine our strengths. You’ll gain wisdom through overcoming these challenges, and that wisdom makes you a better candidate for the right team – a team that will value your experiences and the stronger you.


The value of wisdom on a team


Some of the most amazing professionals I’ve ever worked for have had experiences that made them feel like misfit toys. Get to know them well enough to hear their stories and you’ll most likely hear that those experiences shaped their character, determination, focus, and values.


It’s been said that “knowledge” is the facts and ideas we acquire through study, research, investigation, observation, or experience. “Wisdom” is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your life. Life’s experiences give us the ability to discern, judge, and make better decisions. When I’m looking for the right people to collaborate with, I prefer wisdom over knowledge.


Why it matters


Whether we are individually working to become our very best selves or trying to build the very best team, let’s remember the Island of Misfit Toys. In ourselves and others, let’s value those life experiences that strengthen, and human uniqueness that allows people to look at things differently.

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