The Day I was Yelled at in the Doctor’s Office

I had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday and arrived a half hour early, as instructed. I filled out forms, provided my insurance information and then I waited, and waited. I’ve spent plenty of time waiting for medical appointments, and typically I don’t mind this unqualified alone time. Have smartphone, will travel.

But on Wednesday I had a lot to do at work, so I was stressed to be away from the office, particularly because it meant I would be staying late, and missing time with baby in the short but oh-so-sweet window between daycare and bedtime. Being a working mom is good, most of the time, but when things interfere with that precious window of quality time, ain’t nobody happy.

After waiting nearly an hour, I went outside to make a work call, asking the staff to grab me when they were ready. So naturally, right in the midst of an intense conversation, I got summoned back in. I was trying to wrap up my call and make mental notes of what I had to do, while stepping on and off the scale and hurrying after a medical assistant.

She showed me to a room and excused herself. Not 30 seconds later she poked her head back in, and when she saw I was still on the phone, promptly shouted at me that she was trying to do her job and I had to get off the phone RIGHT NOW. I don’t do well when people yell at me (…does anyone?), and I was so taken aback, overwhelmed and just tired that she might as well have smacked me in the face.

The irony in this situation that I was also just trying to do my job.

When I shared the experience with my colleagues they asked what I did; if I yelled back. I didn’t – not my style. I was sweating and holding back tears in Introvert Hell after being publicly scolded.

I mean, sure, I had visions of telling her that the jerk store called and was running out of her, but I recognized that I was likely engaging in one of her pet peeves, that she might be having an awful day or enduring hardships I know nothing about. The office delays had nothing to do with either of us, but probably meant that she would be working late and missing time with her family, too. I decided to assume positive intent. Not to excuse her behavior – but because I was still responsible for my own.

Looking back, I wish I’d taken a minute to apologize to her and explain that we were navigating similar circumstances. We probably could have laughed about it. Hugged it out.

Maybe next time.

 

Simon Sinek on Leadership

[…] You know, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backwards. Right? So I asked myself, where do people like this come from? And my initial conclusion was that they’re just better people. That’s why they’re attracted to the military. These better people are attracted to this concept of service. But that’s completely wrong. What I learned was that it’s the environment, and if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the capacity to do these remarkable things, and more importantly, others have that capacity too.

[…] When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen.

[…] The reason we like flying Southwest Airlines is not because they necessarily hire better people. It’s because they don’t fear their leaders.

[…] You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities.

[…] The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent. If you think about what being a great parent is, what do you want? What makes a great parent? We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves. Great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunity, education, discipline when necessary, build their self-confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they could achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.

[…] If you had hard times in your family, would you ever consider laying off one of your children? We would never do it. Then why do we consider laying off people inside our organization?

[…] This is the reason so many people have such a visceral hatred, anger, at some of these banking CEOs with their disproportionate salaries and bonus structures. It’s not the numbers. It’s that they have violated the very definition of leadership. They have violated this deep-seated social contract. We know that they allowed their people to be sacrificed so they could protect their own interests, or worse, they sacrificed their people to protect their own interests. This is what so offends us, not the numbers. Would anybody be offended if we gave a $150 million bonus to Gandhi? How about a $250 million bonus to Mother Teresa? Do we have an issue with that? None at all. None at all. Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people.

[…] Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the seniormost levels of organizations who are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look afterthe person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is.

 

The happiness hangover.

Sometimes my heart gets so full that I can’t help but mope when it inevitably empties a bit. It’s the crappy feeling that shows up after a surplus of joy — a happiness hangover.

It’s what happens all to often on Sunday nights, when angst about the work week sets in. You hold off letting those thoughts in but they always resurface to put a damper on things. In college we called it “Sunday Syndrome” — something we’d lament weekly while heaped together watching Grey’s Anatomy, dreading the week’s classes and homework.

The past week was full of so many special moments for me with my family. I feel so full from our time together, and so empty with them gone.

It hit me last night while we sat around a fire in the backyard after dinner, drinking wine and making s’mores…I took it all in…the baby asleep on my chest, perfect fall weather and a gorgeous moon. I had a momentary panic when I realized how perfect a moment I was in, and that it couldn’t last forever.

Silly to worry so preemptively when I should’ve focused on the present.

I think my current happiness hangover is compounded by the fact that maternity leave has come to an end. There are lots of fears and feelings that accompany this transition. It overwhelms me. The logical part of me knows things will all adjust and be fine, but the paranoid voice in my head is fixating on so many unknowns.

I’m returning to a familiar environment but I feel like a completely different person. Like I should be wearing a sign that lets everyone know, “PS you guys, I may look like the same girl, but I’m not! My whole life has changed!”

It’s hard to grasp the most difficult parts of this situation, because there are so many factors. Perhaps the worst part has been the anticipation?

I’ve spent all day, every day, with my daughter for nearly three months, and it’s been the hardest, most wonderful experience of my life. There were lots of days when every single minute was a struggle, and my only goal was survival. There were also moments so magically poignant and magnificent that my heart could explode with elation. I feel so fortunate to have had this time with her; it allowed us to form a remarkable connection. I’ll worry about her constantly and miss her like crazy–she seems too little to entrust to anyone else–but it’s going to be ok.

It’s time for me to revive parts of the old me and introduce them to the new me. Hopefully they get along. It’s a big leap of faith into a new chapter, and I’m ready.

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Sporks & Hold Music

There are so many occasions when things happen at work and I just have to laugh. Mostly because of the absurdity of the circumstances, but also because if anyone had told the bright-eyed college-student version of me that these things would happen, I would’ve scoffed in disbelief.

Last week I was asked to write an email about sporks. SPORKS! Prior to that, I had to review samples of new on-hold music for our corporate switchboard. These bizarre moments are outliers–certainly not the norm–but they’re enough to keep my ego from ever losing an edge of humility.

As much as I grumble about this kind of activity when I’m in the moment, it always grows into a positive reflection. I think it’s essential that all of us get regular doses of the awareness that we’re never too good for any task, or too important to be included in different types of work. As soon as that mentality is born, it’s really easy to become an ass, and no one likes an ass.

You can’t avoid the occasional menial task, so embrace it. Recognize that there’s a value in everything, even if it’s buried, and when it’s accompanied by obligatory deep sighs and eye rolls.

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The reincarnation of forced childhood apologies.

Sometimes I almost buy into the idea that I’m a real adult, until something completely embarrassing or humbling sets me back a few paces, and I realize there’s no leveling-off point for growing-up. It never ends. There’s always something more to learn, another skill to improve and a new way of approaching a problem. This is not my enlightened take on the journey of life…it’s just the realization that holy crap, I am a permanent work in progress; I may never get this all right.

Case in point: when things happen that give me this crappy feeling that doesn’t have a real name. This particular feeling is a combination of rage, sadness and sheepish defeat, and I’m convinced it’s the reincarnation of forced childhood apologies.

When the feeling sets in I flash back to being six years old, engaging in some sort of gladiator-like death match with my brother, until whichever parent lost the day’s coin toss would pry us apart and force us to apologize. Six-year-old me was an expert grudge holder and I often found the very idea of apologizing to be horrifying. Cue an extremely whiny rendition of, “But I’m not sorry.”

Today, I feel this way when I have to go against my natural instincts to appease a situation, usually at work. Depending on the specifics, the “right” thing to do is not what I want to do, nor how I instinctively would react, and it feels so uncomfortable to go along without making a stink.

The uncomfortable part of this used to be that I felt like I was compromising myself in the process, disregarding my morals and conceding my integrity to avoid a larger battle. But this process is a necessary evil in life, especially in working environments, and rarely has anything to do with me personally. I’ve decided to focus on the fact that the uncomfortable part is just the learning…and that even if I can’t cast the final vote on a decision or disagreement, handling it well is the real definition of being myself, regardless of the outcome.

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It’s amazing, the whole losing thing.

You know what I love about baseball? There’s always a winner and a loser. No matter how seasoned players are, how long teams have played together or how exorbitant a salary budget is, one team will categorically lose every game.

It’s amazing, the whole losing thing. Because when you become a professional athlete you’re at the top of your game. Pun intended. Yet despite decades of experience and the best coaches and trainers in the world, there will still be strikeouts, wild pitches and blooper-worthy errors.

At one time or another, every player will make a bad throw, drop a fly ball or be tagged out. And despite it all, the game continues.

Even when a team is losing by embarrassing standards. Even when conditions are terrible and the odds stacked against you.

No matter what, one team will lose every game. It’s a painfully simple lesson in perspective.

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Growing up I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded that, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” As I’ve gotten older and developed a career (note: not in major league baseball**), I think I’ve forgotten that it really is about how we play, not just who wins.

I put a ton of pressure on myself to do everything right without mistakes or revisions. Which is kind of dumb. It’s an impossible standard that makes it harder to learn and work productively. Looking back, I’ve had far greater success in the moments where I took a reasonable risk and did what instinctually felt right, than in the instances where every action was carefully planned and measured.

After watching a lot of baseball over the past few weeks I’m reminded that making mistakes isn’t just part of learning, it’s the foundation of learning. If I had to recall the biggest mistakes or worst decisions I’ve made at work, each one taught me a huge lesson. This isn’t to say it’s wise to intentionally flounder around in the interest of gaining new skills, it just means that it’s ok to screw up if your heart’s in the right place and you’re trying your best. At least, that’s my theory.

**I played one horribly bad season of softball in the fourth grade. I do not wish to discuss it.

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It’s like a free playbook for life.

Life’s funny sometimes.

Yesterday, I flipped to a radio station I never listen to and heard Carolina in My Mind by James Taylor. A half hour later, I received two tickets, out of the blue, to see the Cardinals play the Carolina Panthers this weekend. And my husband’s name is James Taylor.

This evening, there was a man outside my gym with a sign stating he was a homeless veteran looking for help. I searched my car and didn’t even have a dollar to give him, or any water or snacks. I usually keep these available for this type of situation and felt awful I had nothing to give. I spent my workout wondering how I could help more veterans. When I got home, there was a flier in the mail showing ways to support a local program that helps veterans in need.

It was a long day at work today, the kind where your basic needs (food and bathroom breaks) may not be met. I was feeling kind of blah, and entertaining all kinds of thoughts on my drive home. Am I doing what I should be? Is this the right career path? Then I checked my email, and saw a note from my internship supervisor from my senior year in college. I haven’t heard from him in years, but he had come across a piece I wrote during my internship in 2005 and wanted to share it with me. It was crazy to read something I’d written so long ago about a really memorable experience. It was exactly what I needed to shake the static out of my head. I love what I do, and that was my reality check.

Taking this particular internship was an impromptu decision that directly impacted my career path. It’s strange that seemingly inconsequential events and actions can come together to guide our course.

Things are simpler than we tend to make them, and life isn’t as intense as it sometimes seems. Lately, the more I open my mind to the signs and opportunities all around me, the more connections I find. It’s like a free playbook for life, where the more you believe it, the easier it gets.  And I dig it.

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