Years ago, when I started making the shift to shaping a career rather than just holding a job, circumstance brought me into dream team, and a dream opportunity, that I never would have imagined just 2 months prior. We were charged with delivering a critical project that absolutely had to be a success.
To make sure that happened, we were brought together under the leadership of a very senior member of management, renowned for his astute eye and no-nonsense manner.
I was warned by coworkers that he would be difficult to work with. That he was intimidating. That he had a sharp tongue. I look back on those days and you know what I think?
Best. Manager. Ever.
He was demanding and exacting. But if you paid attention, you could see he usually had a twinkle in his eye as if he found some personal amusement in the circumstances around him. He is quite likely the most organized person I’ve ever met, and I just wish that was one thing I could have picked up from him during the time we worked together. But despite all his efficiency and productivity, this was one man who was not found anywhere near the office after hours or on the weekend.
Weekends were his time to spend with his family, and he was usually found doing something adventurous like boating and fishing. Work hard, play hard.
I struggled with that. I could work hard and I could play hard, but I struggled too find work life balance. I was wound too tight, and I obsessed over work projects until they were done, and done perfectly. Team that OCD with the passionate arrogance of youth, and the unfortunate reality that a woman in IT has to work twice as hard as a male peer to have a chance at being taken seriously, and you could say I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
Just the opposite of my boss (except maybe for the OCD bit).
He was sharp and fast talking flattery didn’t fool him at all. Those who didn’t like it and played dirty poli-tricks? Dismissed – dealt with expeditiously and calmly.
I think I admired that the most about him, and I wanted to learn. How did he do it??
I felt like I was always up against the “boys club” and I knew my emotional responses made me easier to dismiss, despite any truth my words held. It was dysfunctional, but I didn’t know how to fix it. I knew I needed to get thicker skin and learn to ignore some of the unfair situations I encountered, even if for my own peace of mind. And I knew you couldn’t question my work.
But fine work coupled with emotional responses, makes for a manager’s understudy – never a manager.
I wasn’t about to settle for that.
I asked my boss about it one day after an incident played out in our office and he had to intervene.
As I steamed about the absurdity of the situation, I asked him how he could deal with a situation like that without getting angry. He smiled wisely at me and told me that one day I’d understand, and that time would bring me patience.
Ha! I seriously doubted that.
I was very much aware that I had a quick temper. But Right was Right! Or so I justified my behavior to myself.
He told me he used to be just like me at my age, just as quick tempered.
Hmmm… Yeah riiiiight.
Almost 10 years later and I laugh to myself. Observing these young ‘uns of 20 and 21 fresh in the world of work. No longer children, but still learning so much about life. Good and kind people, but walking around with these chips on their shoulders….
Was that me?
Is that what people saw looking at me? All this energy and not a clue where I was going?
It’s funny how time brings perspective.
These days I find myself on the other side of the table, giving work relationship advice. I smile at the outrage at disrespect or injustice – real or perceived – and try to provide a calmer perspective and teach lessons how to deal effectively (and calmly) with challenges encountered and transforming dysfunctional relationships in the workplace.
As I look at these kids, there’s one question I ask myself over and over.
Why is it that we spend so much time Waiting to be Wronged?
What is it within us that makes us so quick to react when life doesn’t go exactly as we expect it to? What makes us believe that the person across from us wants to deliberately frustrate us?
And it’s not just the kids. I see it so often in people who should be older and wiser, and should be setting the example for the younger ones coming up.
What are we teaching the next generation?
Sure, there are some miserable folks out there who get some kind of satisfaction in stealing other people’s joy. In most cases it’s less about that, than it is about communication gone wrong. But even in cases where we are being deliberately provoked, are we already standing waiting for our buttons to be pushed?
I still have a ways to go to make my buttons less easily pushed. But I’m getting there. And this past year has gone a long way in giving me perspective and teaching me to truly value my happiness and the relationships that bring me happiness.
Life is short. I’ve made a choice to focus more on building my peace of mind, rather than pacing, waiting to sound the alarm at the next person coming too close to my boundaries…