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  • Working Daughters, Practice Expedition Behavior with Your Teams

 November 17

by Karen Purze

Last week, I went to an event where people shared leadership lessons derived from their interests outside of work. One speaker talked about her work leading expeditions for NOLS, an outdoor wilderness education program. She talked about “expedition behavior”, a NOLS term which describes a set of behaviors that help a team get along and perform well under pressure. A successful expedition depends on good logistics, but it also depends on the ability of a group to get along, solve challenges, and respond as the environment changes. If you’re caring for a sick family member, you’re headed for unfamiliar wilderness on the worst kind of journey. 

In a previous post, I encouraged you to talk to your employers if you’ve got family responsibilities that might interfere with work. In this one, I talk about expedition behavior and the benefits of talking with your “team” (the people you depend on, and who depend on you.) 

If you’re a working daughter, talking with your team has two purposes:

  1. acknowledge your interdependence
  2. make explicit agreements about how you’ll support each other.

This is how my family used expedition behaviors to stay together and (mostly) get along through five years of intermittent crises and chronic illness:

#1: Treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Start here. Treating others with dignity and respect is a good baseline for any conversation.

#2: Serve the mission and goals of the group.

Do families even have missions and goals? I know we didn’t. But throughout my dad’s cancer treatment, we did discuss his goals. Like where he’d want to live if he couldn’t stay home (never got a good answer to this one). Or under what circumstances would he want to stop treatment (only if the doctor said so.) Eventually, how he wanted to die (at home.) In our case, the mission and goals of the group were dictated by the wishes and needs of the “patient.” I don’t mean to imply that this somehow came naturally to us, or that we were perfectly harmonious. Sometimes we got to an agreement only after an argument, and sometimes we only got a bit of the information wanted. But we didn’t stop talking, and we kept the needs of our parents in the center. That helped us all.

#3: Be as concerned for others as you are for yourself.

It was easy for me to be concerned about my parents. They were sick and needed my help. What I didn’t always realize was how my stress was affecting others, or how everything was affecting me. Notice this says be as concerned for others as you are for yourself. It doesn’t say be more concerned for others. It also doesn’t stay be concerned for others instead of yourself.  Expedition behavior includes a heavy emphasis on taking care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself in the backcountry, you could get injured and place others in jeopardy. Think about that. The same applies to us here in the “frontcountry”.

#4: Support leadership and growth in everyone.

I remember one particular conversation with my older brother after dad was in and out of the hospital several times in a summer. I was frazzled. As my brother asked me — not for the first time — how he could help, there was an urgency in his voice I hadn’t heard before. “Karen, I want to help.” Something about the way he said it made me finally realize that my brother needed to help. He needed to be close to my dad, too. He also wanted to help me. By trying to do everything myself, I was blocking him. So I let him take over certain things. Sometimes you might want to keep responsibilities because it’s easier for you than explaining (or trusting) someone else. Good expedition behavior would be to take the extra time to train someone or let someone else do something (even if you could do it faster.)

#5: Do your share and stay organized.

You may be thinking how nice it sounds to have someone force you to let them help when you might not have the support from family that you want or need. I know some families out there get pulled apart, not together when there’s a crisis. Even in families that work well together, there may be times when someone is doing more than their fair share. One thing that can help is to be specific about roles and responsibilities. I felt I was doing everything until my brother asked to help. Then he became the CFO (chief facilities officer), responsible for all maintenance and repair activities (with a healthy side of doctor appointments.) Huge relief.

As for staying organized, you know what I think about that. 🙂

#6: Respect the cultures you contact.

I was at a restaurant last week and the couple next to me were video chatting with their kid. They were saying goodnight and smooching and loudly proclaiming their love through their phone. They were less than two feet away, so it was hard to miss the start of their conversation after the call. “I’m seeing 21 patients tomorrow, then I have the blah blah something something presentation,” the husband said. Ooof. Think about that next time you’re waiting for a doctor. Healthcare professionals work in an alternate universe. Insist on respect for yourself and your time by all means, but acknowledge there are some pretty intense challenges built into their days. Respect.

#7: Be kind and open-hearted.

Open-heartedness is about expressing yourself. If someone you love is hurting or sick, emotions will run high. When something bothers you, don’t keep it to yourself until you explode. Let it out…kindly.

#8: Help others, but don’t routinely do their work.

My husband was surprised the first time he came to my parents’ house for a holiday and made the mistake of getting off the couch. A chorus of “While you’re up….” erupted, and next thing he knew he was balancing six drinks as he made his way back to the living room. So, getting a drink “while you’re up” is normal and expected. But helping others can go too far. Like if you’re routinely “fetching and getting” for someone who needs the exercise and balance practice of doing it for themselves isn’t going to give them the strength they need to maintain independence. It may be uncomfortable to say “no” at times, but there’s a high price to pay if you don’t find a way.

#9: Model integrity by being honest and accountable.

I have power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney for my mom, which means I’m often asked to make decisions and act on her behalf in medical, financial, and legal matters. I make an effort to keep my brothers in the loop by sending occasional emails to let them know what I’m doing and give them a chance to ask questions. I don’t technically have to do this, but it’s good expedition behavior…and it gives them the context they need to give me good advice.

#10: Admit and correct your mistakes.

“It was an ACCIDENT,” my son told me yesterday when I asked him why his brother was crying. He thinks if something is an accident, he’s not obligated to apologize. “He made me do it” is another fan favorite with the little people around my house these days. They’re still learning to admit mistakes. Once they get the hang of that, we’ll teach them to take the extra step of correcting their mistakes. Because that’s the step that starts the healing.

So, working daughters, time for you to talk to your team. You’re all in the same boat, after all!

About the author

Karen Purze is the author of Life In Motion: A Guide for Gathering Life’s Vital Details, a workbook to help people get their affairs in order. She is currently working on a memoir about her caregiving experience. Sign up for the Life in Motion Guide newsletter to be the first to hear more!

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