The word “system” has two suggested definitions. Firstly, it refers to a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done – an organized scheme or method. Secondly, it refers to a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
In my previous article, which I’ll link to at the bottom of this one, I recommended doing a “systems check” on your culture – the filter through which you view the world – as it tends to clog up over time with less useful opinions, viewpoints and coping mechanisms that aren’t necessarily still serving you. Without an intentional clean-out once in a while, our personal or team culture can become diluted, sluggish, or derailed entirely.
Today, I’d like to consider the second definition of “system” – a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.
Each one of us is part of a system. In fact, each one of us represents a cog in a wider system – be that in our immediate family, our extended or chosen (marital or relational) families, our friendship and social circles, our professional lives and our communities. The chances are good that, whether you give yourself much credit or not, you are an integral cog in each. How you “move” affects the other cogs around you as well as the outcomes of the whole.
I know it’s easy to discredit exactly how much we contribute to the systems we belong to, but here’s the thing: you are contributing to each system you are a part of, whether you recognise it or not. You are contributing whether that contribution is intentional, positive or proactive…..or not. However it is that you show up is your contribution. And it’s a choice.
How you choose to function as a cog affects those around you and contributes to the aggregate output of the system as a whole. You are a necessary part of the whole. You are necessary for the whole to be complete. Therefore your contribution is essential – fundamental to the best operation of each separate system that you belong to.
Now, I realise that our opinions of where we fit into the various systems we’re a part of and how much our contribution affects others may be varied. There may be days or even periods of time when you may not feel like much of a contribution. We all have those times, and that’s one of the main reasons we stick together – because nobody is 100% “on” all the time and we have each other’s backs when someone needs support. You may feel that even though you’re part of several systems at home, at work and socially, you are still separate from the others in that system and your operations don’t affect each other. I can assure you that’s not the case. The laws of physics and energy don’t allow you to act anywhere but in a vacuum without your actions (or lack of them) creating ripples that touch others around you in some way.
You may even question whether your contribution is really that important, or whether there are certain systems within which you can be fairly easily replaced.
Whilst yes, it’s certainly possible to swap out one cog for another in most systems, it’s not possible to do so without at least reworking the teeth of the surrounding cogs too – especially if those cogs have been working together as a system for an extended period of time. What I’m trying to say is that each of us leaves our mark. Each of us brings something slightly unique to the space we take up in the systems we belong to – something that no one else has or can bring. How do I know this? Because there isn’t another you, or me on the entire planet. There’s not a single other cog that has your exact combination of upbringing, life experience, values, beliefs, and perspectives. What you do and how you do it is completely unique to you.
There may be someone else as qualified as you – but they will deliver those qualifications differently. There may be someone you view as being more experienced than you, and yet they still won’t come with the exact foresight that you have, and there will be things you see that they can’t see.
It is imperative that we realise that we’re each part of a greater system and that the way we choose to operate affects the others within that system. It’s important that we take responsibility not only for how we function ourselves (whether we are healthy mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and therefore able to deliver a positive contribution), but also that we take responsibility for calling the others in our system together to check in and see how we’re affecting each other.
When we make space for discussion of what exactly we each bring, we’re more able to appreciate where and how we’re a vital part of that system and where we need to support each other. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. When we point out and appreciate the strengths of others, it allows them to see how they contribute and rise. When we volunteer our own weaknesses whilst still retaining responsibility for them, we allow others to know how their strengths can cover us.
Sometimes replacing a cog is necessary for renewal. There cannot be growth without change, and occasionally that means that for better or worse, a cog may no longer fit the system, or the system may require something new.
As I’ve pointed out, when we’ve been in a system for a while, our unique contribution will have affected those around us. When there is movement, even when that movement is only the desire to create a slightly different result, it may require a little reworking of the cogs directly in contact with the change – with you.
Don’t underestimate what it is you bring to the multiple systems you’re a part of, or the ripples you create over time. Take responsibility for reconsidering exactly what it is you’re contributing and how that may be impacting those around you. Think about that on all the different levels – your home system; your social system; your professional system and your community system. If you’re concerned about your contribution and would like to clean it up, you’ll find the link to my previous “Systems Check” article below. If you’re feeling positive about your contribution, try and identify what it is that you uniquely bring, and make sure you’re making the best of what you have. If you’re not sure what that is, start a conversation with the others in your system about what they uniquely bring (strengths), so that they can let you know what yours look like too.
Link to previous “Systems Check!” article.
by Christen Killick
September 19th, 2022