That Time We Said “Still”

Almost a decade ago, I worked in a very rigid, structured (slightly uptight) office. I say that with a lot of love (and PTSD). That job taught me more than I could have ever learned in university.

Structured organizations are interesting – you either love them or you hate them. I was too young to know one way or the other. I just knew that my job was stressful. There were multiple levels of approval for everything I wanted to do, regardless of how big or small. My team and I were once told that our ad, laid out on a black background, needed to be 25% more black. That was a head scratcher, and not the last time I would hear something like it.

Structure. Routine. People want what they want.

One Friday at this place, my friend M had to follow up with a customer. We had been working on a time sensitive project – maybe a product launch or a promotion – I don’t remember what exactly but we needed answers. After having left a voice mail and following up with an email, she found herself following up again a few days later. Something to the effect of:

“Hi buyer,

Pleasantries go here. Blah blah blah. I still haven’t heard back regarding the (project) we had discussed. Can you please let me know how you’d like to proceed?”

The email had barely left her outbox, when we got called into the manager’s office. We’re thinking, ok we need to tell him what plan B might be. A million thoughts went through your head when a manager asked to see you in their office at this place, one of which was, very often…am I losing my job today?

As we stood in the doorway of his office, email still on his desktop, he turned over and said “why would you say STILL in this email?”. Well, because we are, in fact, still waiting to hear back! And so began a 15 minute lecture about why “still” should have never been used.

M & I joked about it for years after. But fast forward a decade later, I get his point. It could have been made more clearly, or communicated differently. It could have been used as a teachable moment versus a moment of discipline. But I get it.

Here’s a little Seinfeld to help:

Did you say “Jerry I didn’t think you’d show” or “Jerry I didn’t think YOU’D show”

You see?

Same as “Hey there I’m still waiting (normal tone)” or, “I’m STILL waiting (frustrated tone)”. We already have a hard enough time dissecting verbal communication. Now eliminate tone from it completely, add in the receiving party’s emotions and state of mind that day, and you can see why someone might feel like their back is up against a wall.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this more times than I’m comfortable admitting. Sometimes people come across harsh, sometimes their intended harsh message isn’t exactly received. It’s like receiving a text message you’re not quite sure how to respond to. “Hey do you want to read this and tell me what you think?” How many of us have done that with messages that come through, trying to decipher a secret code.

Here’s the point.

You have to pick your words carefully. It sounds silly, but that’s the world we live in now. Less face to face, more finger to keyboard. I’ve said this to almost every team I’ve ever lead. Pick your words. If you’re heated, STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Try to receive the message from the other person’s perspective and see if it feels like a punch in the gut.

I once sat through litigation, where the opposing side pulled out one of my emails from a couple of years prior and questioned me over my use of “grrrr”. I am not kidding. They had a separate argument prepared over the word “subjective”. Words are no longer JUST words.

Communication is an absolute art. Most of us can do better. You have to consciously work at it. Now, before I send an email, I tend to read it at least twice. If I’m frustrated or trying to get a point across, I might get a friend to give me some honest feedback. And, because I’ve lived through it, before pressing send, a little voice in my head asks if I think what I’m saying in an email would cause another “grrr” discussion with a lawyer.

Words are precious. Take a pause before you use them. I mean it. Even face to face, they can be twisted and your intentions can be misinterpreted. And, icing on this complicated cake, you cannot take your emails back. They’re there. In the abyss. Even if you delete it, delete the deleted, and restart your computer, they are out there. Someone is printing it, showing it to their boss, complaining to YOUR boss.

OR

They read it, they acknowledge your message, they appreciate how it was communicated, you guys get along and you live to see another inbox.

You’re Not Rejected. You’re Redirected.

Someone said this to me the first time I got fired. Yup. I’ve been fired more than once. Not many people know this. Perhaps because I was ashamed to admit it (even to my parents). But, it is time for some honesty here, because I think you will find it relevant.

The first time, it was simply because the organization I was with just couldn’t proceed with the initiative I was brought on for. They had to restructure, and my division was part of that. Keep in mind, I had never had a bad performance review in my career. Everyone knew me for being a hard worker and passionate. I mean, every single box of a good employee checklist had been checked off as far as I could tell. So I was immediately confused. Why wouldn’t you give me something else to do in the company, as an example? Why wouldn’t you involve me in the conversation? SO. MANY. WHY’S.

So much so, that when my boss sat me down to tell me what was going on, I couldn’t help but laugh. (That’s a normal reaction, right?) I just didn’t get it. Laughter turned into tears shortly after, followed almost immediately by an unshakable feeling of being lost. I had dedicated years of my life to building my career. It truly was my identity. And without a job, I genuinly could not figure out who I was. Added to that, was the sheer panic around the lost source of income. I was lucky that I was living with a friend at the time. But I had recently purchased a house and I couldn’t help but think about failed mortgage payments, then trying to find a rental property, and then oh my goodness who is even going to want to hire me. aaaah! Adulting – nobody told me it would be this way.

The frustrating, and beautiful thing, about all of this, was that I was forced to slow down, and think about what I wanted to do. It actually is a beautiful thing if you can get past all the why’s. For a limited period of time, someone pays you to do nothing else but to figure out what you want to do. Where it became frustrating for me, was that I had no sense of identity or self.

The whole process of getting fired ended up triggering a self discovery journey for me, that to this day continues. I picked up a few books. Ego is the Enemy was a great reminder for me, that my frustration (and let’s be honest, anger) really stemmed from my ego being bruised. It wasn’t “why did you fire me”. Maybe it was more “How dare you fire me after everything I’ve done”. Like I said…it is time to be honest.

I read Daring Greatly. And not even half way through it, I decided to sign up for Landmark courses – begrudgingly I might add. BUT, I had free time, it was only a weekend course, and whatever path I had been on up to that point was clearly no longer servicing me and my purpose. (Without having a clue what either of those were, by the way).

When THAT was done, I found a therapist. For months, I drove an hour each way, twice a week, just so I could figure out myself, and my worth. It was painful. Everytime I was done our session, I felt exhausted. But it slowly got easier. I learned that there is never a bad time to define, or redefine yourself. You can reinvent who you are, as you choose! Isn’t that exciting?

OK. What is the point of this story exactly. I can tell you that I’m a fundamentally different person today than I was the day that I got fired. I’m still as driven (and goofy) as ever. And I do associate my worth to my professional success to a certain extent still (hey man, nobody said that would be fixed overnight), but I found my voice, and my power. And that, for sure, would have never been possible if I didn’t have the opportunity to pause, and reflect.

Here’s what I learned.

I learned that there is no shame in asking for help. I encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, seek out a therapist. Life is hectic, it has ups and downs, and challenges that on most days can be tough to handle alone. Family and friends, while amazing and supportive, might not always be objective. I found I needed someone to call me on my bullshit, tell my ego to chill, and tell me to smarten up. Every major athlete and every successful person you’ve heard of has therapy in one way shape or form. It might be just mindset coaching, but it is still an outlet to help them adjust, and adapt. There is no shame in it.

I learned that this happened FOR me, not TO me. That’s super important. My dear friend Jenna bought me a book called The Universe Has Your Back. It is beautiful, and I think you will find it fascinating. Judith, my therapist, also had similar beliefs. It simply suggests, that the Universe has an incredible way of putting you into a direction that fuels your fire and feeds your soul. The last time I was fired, I had been miserable at my job for months. MONTHS. I refused to make a change, because I thought things would get better. So when the time finally came for me to pack my bags, I knew it was because this wasn’t my path. (Clearly. Miserable sabba can be funny and all, but my goodness is she ever cranky)

What I had been resisting to do, the universe created for me. I just had to listen, and allow myself to be redirected.

I learned, oddly enough, to listen. Listen very closely to what your gut, and the unvierse, has been screaming for months. And to look back and, as Steve Jobs puts it, connect the dots. Everything that has ever sucked about my career, has propelled me into something else that I could have never achieved had I just remained stagnant and stubborn. I can tell you, having been fired multiple times, that everything does happen for a reason, if you can be open.

When I got fired, and was done crying about it, I incorporated my business. I sat with myself and thought about what I’m capable of. I talked to friends, old bosses, coaches, anyone I could get feedback from, and I made a plan. Within two months, I got my first client, who on a contract basis, paid me more than I had ever been paid full time. By the summer of the following year, I had to stop accepting new clients. My roster was completely full. I made my own hours, I went at my own pace, I got to travel, AND…I managed to pay my mortgage on time. Would ya look at that.

I know it is stressful. I know it is hard to sleep. The pressure you feel in your head and in your chest is overwhelming. Sometimes there is nothing to do but to sit and stare at a wall, or in my case, sit alone in a room and sob. I’ve been there. But I want you to repeat this to yourself everytime you get down on yourself:

You were not rejected. You are being redirected, and you just have to open yourself up to the possibility of what that new direction can be.

It didn’t happen TO you. It happened FOR you. And believe that you will look back at this in a few weeks, and you’ll see very clearly why things happened as they did.

Chin up, buttercup. You’re talented. You’re worthy. And you’ve got this!

Lipstick and Politics

A friend and I got to talking about office politics the other day. He mentioned he, like most of us, hates it. Playing that game is of no interest to him. As someone who did not get the hang of this concept until much later in my career, I completely get what he’s saying.

Go back a year ago, when at the peak of burnout hell, I walked into a MAC Cosmetics store, pointed at my face and said “THIS…needs help”. As one of the staff started assessing the situation (and believe me, it was a situation), she asked why I hadn’t considered using makeup before. My response flew out of my mouth like I had rehearsed it a million times. “I look young. I take care of my skin. I always figured I could just get away with not wearing any make up”, to which she replied “just because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should”.

Here’s why that shocked me and immediately gave me an “aha!” moment. For years I believed, it is what’s on the inside that counts. Inner beauty. Your makeup will wash off, your face will change, but your inner beauty will always shine bright. These are statements I, like many women, still believe. But the catch is, to get someone to see your inner beauty, you often need a hook. You “dress to impress”, you wear a cologne that you think will do the trick, you get a car wash, you shave, you shove your feet into 6 inch heels that are guaranteed to destroy your feet later in life. Dating politics, or, life!

It is perfectly fine to not want to participate in office politics. It is also absolutely OK to just wash your face, put on some moisturizer and walk out the door. But you must adjust your expectations based on your behaviour. You will not score a slam dunk if you’re satisfied with being a bench warmer, plain and simple. I would love to tell you that you will go far in the corporate World without playing that game, (or you will meet the man of your dreams one day standing in your dirty sweats without a hint of make up on your face), but the sad reality is, you need to step into the court. You need to dribble the ball a little before passing it on. To get into the spotlight, you have to get in the game.

The good news is, you can still do that with integrity and staying true to your values. In fact, I insist that you remind yourself of those daily. Then and only then will you be able to flawlessly balance the art of dancing around the politics, and the wonderful thing which is the true, authentic you.