Structure. It’s a word that evokes different emotions. Some people hear the word and relax. (After all, how could you get through life without structure?) Some try to deny its existence or necessity. (Those people need to relax!) We learn so many of life’s habits when we are growing up. I, personally, wasn’t raised with much structure and thought the idea sounded fantastic. So, when I was 18, I joined the military and got a crash course in it. The good news is, even if you didn’t learn it young, you can learn it now. There are some great benefits to embracing structure.
Where does it come from? Structure is something we internalize from outside of ourselves, usually in our formative years. We see structure modeled and when we are around it enough, or the lack thereof, we internalize what we see (or don’t see) and make it a part of us. This is also how we go back and learn it if we want more of it.
Some of the benefits? Structure is like an operating system. It’s the framework that provides order to our endeavors or projects. It tells other things how to run or work. Structure makes expectations clearer and brings some accountability. At work, you know who is in charge, what needs to get done, and what happens if those things don’t get done. America is built on a structure of democracy. If you are in a relationship, your relationship has a structure: these things fly and those things don’t.
What happens if you hate structure? You don’t like people telling you what to do, how to do it, or when it needs to be done. Chances are you may not have had a lot of accountability growing up, or it was oppressive. Maybe you had to adapt when you were young, and you told yourself the first chance you could, you were going to do it your own way.
In the Navy, my roommate always got the highest marks on our room inspections. Her clothes were always folded just the right way; her bed had perfect hospital corners, quarter bouncing on top; no piles anywhere. Me: it was a struggle and an effort to do, but I squeaked by each time and barely passed. When she got married, her husband called me about a month into their marriage. Did I know how messy she was? After all, he had seen our room in the dorm and it had always been clean and neat, no piles anywhere. What had happened? Turns out, she adapted to the structure of the military. It helped her to succeed in that particular environment. Some of my friends still fold their clothes that way 25 years later. They didn’t get the memo that the room inspections have stopped. I got the memo.
Structure can and does look different to different people. Maybe you have structure in one area but not in another. I have more of it at work than I do at home. I’m self-employed, and I could never just play hooky and go to a movie in the middle of a workday. Why? I have an internal structure of a workday inside me. That’s why some people don’t work from home, because they need the structure of going to an office and showing up at a certain time. I run with a running group for the structure. Otherwise, I turn off my alarm and go back to bed. Weight Watchers works, not only because of the connection with other people, but because it offers people a structure.
For some people, doing it their own way works. I have very successful friends who plan their day in 15- minute increments, and some who think that’s crazy; others look at their day in 4-hour segments; others just focus on the 3 things that need to get done that day. Is one wrong and the other right? Which one works for you? Answer that in light of what you are trying to achieve. Think about your life and you probably have a structure of some sort.
It’s tomato season. Ever notice that if you want your plants to grow, you have to follow the structure of life: tomatoes need sunlight, water, good soil and something to keep the insects away. Stick to that structure, and you get some tasty tomatoes. Ignore it and they shrivel up and die, or the worms get them. Whether you agree with or not, it’s hard to deny. Growth has a structure.
Dr Cloud and Dr Townsend talk about the Open-System Stance. It’s a structure for connection and letting new ideas in, getting on a path to growth, helping you to achieve your goals. It works because it has a framework of connection with safe people, a system that is outside of you, new energy, new ideas, and time-tested components: Relationship, Boundaries, Reality, and Capacity. Maybe you are like me and you, too, need to lean on a structure outside of yourself to grow and succeed. GrowthSkills Foundation offers a structure of growth through its week-long intensives: Ultimate Leadership, Empower Now and The One Week Intensive (OWI). Townsend Leadership Program (TLP), Boundaries.me, Leadership University or getting a Coach or a Counselor are all structures for growth. I’d encourage you to pick one and try it out.
We each need structure in varying forms, at different times, in different areas of our lives. We need it to thrive, and sometimes just to survive. Whether you love it or hate it, structure is a framework for life and success. I invite you to embrace it.