A Memorable Reminder
Many years ago, I had a wonderful opportunity ahead of me, working in a progressive and dynamic workplace, with some truly amazing individuals and many who were in various stages of their careers. I was excited to learn much, help where I could, and grow in my expertise, professionalism, and looking to my future as an executive leader.
Maybe I was naïve, or maybe I just never experienced a real Corporate America environment. Still, I learned very quickly that regardless of title, experience, or aptitude, I was merely a cog in a wheel of egos, politics, and competitions. Oh, sure, there was business to be had and education to be delivered, but the landmines of favorites, unspoken rules, and unimaginable pressure to deliver 24/7 weighed heavy in the air. With each email, you had to consider who else would receive it directly and as an invisible forward with possible commentary outside of your control and knowledge. One had to jockey to keep certain leaders happy and certain supervisors out of the know for fear of someone’s plan to screw someone over or be seen as the favorite employee of the moment.
And trust me when I say the focus and intensity changed on a dime, on a whim, and as quickly as falling in or out of favor with someone connected to someone you don’t know but knows you and how you fit into the larger puzzle. Honestly, the corporate game was more work than the actual day to day work, but I had managed to make it to the table, and I wanted to learn all I could from those who had given so many years to the business, and in my sheltered world, they were good because they had the titles. Cute, right?
Not being one who shies away from hard work or a challenge, I settled in nicely and began to do the job I was hired to do. I was fortunate to have an amazing team and built something really quite special that was authentic, honest, and enjoyable most of the days. There were certainly tough days, days that made you wonder why you choose this line of work, or any of the other self-preserving thoughts shared at times when you are less than pleasant and cheerful. But there was one day that has stayed with me ever since and serves as a reminder that I have shared with others because it made such an impact upon me.
We had a colleague in our office that was really nice, super sweet, and really tried hard to be perfect at everything she did. She put in the extra effort on everything, and nothing was ever perfect. She was locked in a perfectionist cartwheel that she just could not roundhouse her way out. So much so, she began to unravel a bit in terms of being exhausted, edgy, forgetful, all the hallmark signs of exhaustion and burnout.
One day, in particular, she experienced the last screaming match or speech about “not doing enough to help the cause,” and she just let it all go once she returned to her cube. Honestly, I don’t blame her because we have all been there and felt those same feelings somewhere in our career. As I watched her pack up her belongings for the night, I told her tomorrow would be better, and she wasn’t alone in her feelings- all the supportive feel-goods we tell each other. As she left, I said a little prayer for her and hoped she would have a better evening once she was home and had some perspective.
The next morning she arrived and headed off to her first series of meetings, and I noticed a post-it note on her desk that read “I drove today!” and was immediately intrigued with what promoted this reminder. When she returned to her desk, I had to know more, and she shared with me her latest adventure.
The day before was such a miserable day for her, she packed up her bags and left to go home. She walked eight blocks to catch the bus that eventually took her to the train station for an hour commute. Once she finished the commute, she walked the parking lot searching for her car after another miserable 12 hour day. After another hour of walking, she realized that she had driven into work but with all the emotions and feelings, had forgotten that part of her day. Basically, her car was at the office while she was far, far away, searching for it.
Within a few weeks, she decided to quit for so many reasons, and we wished her the very best. But as I passed her desk a few days after, I noticed she had left the post-it note up on her wall, and for whatever compelled me, I liberated the note and have kept it with me all these years. Why?
Because no matter what your line of work is, once it shifts to a level of sadness, anger, and emptiness of joy, it’s time to reevaluate what you are doing and why. Maybe it’s temporary and worth the stress? Or maybe, it’s just not worth the battle, and you need to make some life decisions about next moves.
Regardless, if you find yourself feeling so beat-up over your day to day efforts that you need reminders of simple efforts such as how you made it to work, it’s time to reevaluate and adjust. Most importantly, her note, which sits on my desk to this day, reminds me that work/life balance is important, and our choice of work is ours and it should have some element of your passion invested to helps those tough times. Know you always have a choice in how you design and participate in your work/life balance.