Writer’s Workshop: Tell us about an important life skill you’ve learnt, and a situation in which you’ve used it.
“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.” – Madeleine K. Albright
Amen, and amen. About a month or so ago I was reminded rather harshly that some hurts in life simply cannot be fixed by a savory white mocha steamed to perfection from Starbucks. Granted, it is not as though before this recent incident I unconditionally believed this to be true, but I definitely had more hope towards a life where a cup of delicious coffee and a hug from my boy could bandage most of the blunders handed to me.
But then I was verbally filleted at the office by one of the meanest women I have yet to meet inside or out of the corporate world. And therein lies the new life skill I learned that is required for anyone needing to survive in the professional world: How to HOLD MY SHIT TOGETHER at the office when my body’s natural reaction to an encounter is to punch someone in the face, tell them to eff off and then burst into tears before storming out of the building NEVER TO RETURN. None of which would allow me to continue trading my time for much needed money at my current place of employment. Alas.
So what happened, you may ask? What did I do to incur the wrath of the east coast Queen of Corporate Real Estate? Something truly atrocious, I assure you. Are you ready? It really was quite terrible… I cancelled a lunch meeting she had scheduled with Mr. Boss. But then her assistant forgot to mention this to her, and instead laid claim that I dared to rescind the meeting a mere 24-hours in advance. Gasp! Shock! Horror! Lie!
How dare I cancel a lunch meeting with HER? Did I even know who she was? Did someone like me even realize how important she was? Could I begin to fathom how inappropriate it was that she had a free lunch on her calendar with no one to fill her time? No matter whether I gave a month or a day’s notice, was I stupid? That’s right; she called me at my desk on a three-way conference call with her assistant to call me stupid. Stupid. And then she continued to shriek, squeal and yelp at me for a full ten minutes before taking a breath and demanding if I was even listening, since I hadn’t said a word.
However, I know her game. She thrives on the weaknesses and fears of others. So there was no way I was going to even engage in such a condescending tirade. It was ridiculous and inappropriate, but she is allowed to behave in that fashion because of her monetary success for the company. She makes a habit of terrorizing whoever crosses her radar. That day it just happened to be my turn among the ranks of the assistants.
And at that point, I was so appalled, taken aback and furious that I did not trust myself to speak. Without a doubt I was either going to start screaming right back at her with plenty of expletives interlaced, or I was going to cry. Neither of which was a great idea. So I was silent until she finally wound down and abruptly disconnected the line.
Now, besides the fact that my inate type-A-perfection-or-die personality basically ensures that I will, in fact, die if I do not succeed at EVERY SINGLE THING in life, I was mostly stunned by this incident because the executive flailing the abuse at me was a woman. A well-respected and successful woman who heads up the Women’s Networking Initiative for my company. A woman who campaigns for corporate equality between genders. Oh, and she happens to be the president of the entire state’s real estate board. But the truth of the matter is that she is nasty. No one likes her. And despite her public persona, polish and shine, she has done a tremendous job of promoting the antiquated stereotype that in order to be a successful professional female; you must be a bitch – which is a very sad situation indeed.
But getting back to the point, this “conversation” left my heart racing, my ears burning and my tears ducts going into overdrive. And it was only four o’clock. I had two full hours before I could run home and lick my wounds while raging against this current injustice. You might as well have told me I had to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in platform pumps and a mini skirt. I had to calm myself down, and fast, or risk turning into a sobbing, snotting hot mess at my desk.
And thus, in my desperation a new skill set was formed. I learned exactly how to to keep my professional façade securely in place even when all I wanted to do was pretend I was a four year old:
- First, chug a bottle of sparkling water or soda as fast as you can. The immediate burning sensation in your throat will distract your tear ducts long enough for you to excuse yourself to the privacy of the washroom.
- Once there, DO NOT look at yourself in the mirror. As soon as your brimming eyes meet your reflected brimming eyes, it will be all over.
- Immediately rinse your hands beneath freezing cold water, taking special care to run it over the pressure points in your wrists. Similar to Number 1, this works as an effective distraction for the hurt emotions coursing through your mind.
- Take deep, calming breaths while focusing ONLY on your breathing. Pretend you are at your yoga class where all things are tranquil.
- For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT think of your mom, your spouse, your friend, or ANYONE who loves you unconditionally and would happily join you in righteous fury as you stormed down the corridor to Mr. Boss’ office and declared, I quit, you jerks!
- Remind yourself that while this feels earth shattering, you will survive and that there are much worse things that could happen. You have not harmed anyone, no one has died and no small animals were injured.
- While you are at it, remember that the Queen of Corporate Real Estate is known for her reign of terror. The problem is her, not you.
- Say it out loud, “I am not stupid.”
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
You will be relieved to know that by implementing these tactics over and over, I was able to keep my emotions at bay long enough to get home and slam the door before crumpling into a mess of tears and rage. Thankfully my boy was at work so only poor Miss Bianca had to witness my torrent.
But you know something? Even with all of my efforts to keep myself professional, Mr. Boss still knew something was up. What gave me away? My neck. My face was clear, my voice calm, confident and professional, but the blasted skin on my neck was FLAME RED with the tears and anger that were bubbling just beneath the surface of composure.
I am still working on a set of steps to master that… But at least I never let anyone see me cry. I will not give them the satisfaction.
So I will end with words oft-quoted from the lovely Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Now, will someone please tell that to my tear ducts and the skin on my neck? Because they seem to live in a world all their own where wearing their feelings on their sleeves is a right they will not willingly give up.