I tell people it was a period of “tremendous growth”. It was just over two years of a job that was at the least difficult, at most deflating and depressing. I had a lot of lessons to learn and many opportunities to learn them. I also had support from family and friends, which made those 2+ years bearable. Believe me, bearable is just like it sounds, barely making it through each workday.
You know the kind of job I’m talking about, when it’s a fight in your head and your body to get out of bed, dreading walking into the office. I struggled not only with learning a job totally out of my realm of experience and interest, but with learning to function in difficult circumstances, i.e. a supervisor who didn’t like me and found fault with nearly everything I did.
She could be cruel and said some awful things. But, she is a visionary, she is smart and driven and I had a lot to learn from her. There were some terrific people in the office and the project was valuable, successful, and rewarding. I’m glad I stuck it out.
I wrote a story about the experience about 14 months into it, using an analogy about being stuck behind a semi on a two-lane highway. To summarize, I knew I was driving too close to it and causing an already questionable driver to behave more erratically. I knew I needed to back off, slow down, and take inventory of the situation. Every time I was on a highway with our two sons and ended up behind a truck (or two), one of them would remind me:
Mommy! It’s just like your analogy!
Keeping that analogy fresh was a big part of my success in learning, growing, and being patient enough to wait for the right move, to wait for a good and safe opportunity to pass the truck.
In a nutshell, here are a few of the lessons I learned*:
- Your contribution may not be necessary or may not add value to the discussion. Stop. Think. Listen. Then decide how or if to weigh in with your thoughts or suggestions.
- Trust is good, but take the time to know a person before you share. Trust your instincts! If you observe characteristics about a person, incorporate those observations into your overall level of trust and figure out with what you can trust each person in the environment.
- Related to #2, be careful where you dump (especially if you live in a small town), and DO NOT DUMP at work. The person you want to dump about may be right around the corner and it’s disrespectful to talk like that — and you will not like yourself afterward. As bad as it is, it can be worse when you know you’ve earned some of the scorn. Sometimes you need to share frustrations at work, be careful not to become “The Destroyer”.
- Sometimes you have to play the game. Don’t antagonize, especially if it won’t bring you closer to your goal. Always think of your ultimate goal for the relationship and your job. I once hit “send” on an email I knew I shouldn’t have sent. It took me about five minutes to feel the consequences and to know how sophomoric I was for sabotaging my own day. That’s where I developed the 24 Hour Rule.
- Be aware that your position in the project may not be what you want it to be, find out what’s expected for your role and focus! Do your job with all of your skills and energy, and learn what you must to do your job well. Remember that it’s not forever and that you must “find the nugget” before you can leave.
- When faced with a difficult situation, reflect on how you would want to perceive it from 20 years in the future. Did you handle it well, with grace, dignity and compassion?**
- Sometimes people are just mean.***
The situation you are experiencing will offer great life lessons if you let it, and those lessons may not be just your own. Our sons may have learned some lessons, too, about perseverance, how to support those you love, and that sometimes you have to play the game when you don’t have the luxury of walking away.
* “learned” — Maybe not completely, I’m still practicing all of these lessons. I find that I continue to fall into traps here and there, but on the whole, I must have learned something because I was released from the situation.
** #6 — one of the most important and useful lessons I learned in those two years. Thanks to Marcia Polas, I walked out of a situation that could have been devastating, with a smile on my face and feeling confident and relieved.
*** #7 — a quote from my older son when I was trying to explain that mean behavior doesn’t necessarily equal mean person, sometimes people are upset about other things and they take it out on you. This was his response… when he was 10.
Sarah Elkins is a professional coach and consultant, helping people and businesses improve their communication through the art of storytelling. She’s also the President of Elkins Consulting, the company making a splash with small, face-to-face, affordable interactive conferences called No Longer Virtual.
Listen to my enthusiasm while talking to Chris Spurvey about our upcoming conference:
Originally published at medium.com