Friday, July 04, 2008

rising above it

A few years ago, back in what seems another lifetime, I had a co-worker who was driving me crazy. He was incredibly insecure and often sought to make himself look good at others' expense. He was also lazy and very willing to let others slog away at the grunt work, grabbing the tasks for himself that would gain recognition from the leadership of our organization.

I started to obsess about the unfairness of this. I wanted something to be done. And I began to vent my spleen to anyone who would listen. Even when relaxing after an intense project, I found myself returning to this subject like a dog worrying a bone.

One friend in particular would listen sympathetically but he also seemed kind of amused. And he would, after listening patiently, gently try and get me to move on. He was very supportive and encouraging but he hinted that perhaps I should stop putting so much energy into being angry.

I remember thinking at the time that this guy just didn't understand the seriousness of the situation.

I have a different perspective now.

This particular friend is a cancer survivor and perhaps that's what led him to understand what I now see more clearly. It is much healthier (and better in the long run) to focus on what really matters and to save our anger for situations when we can actually hope to create real change.

I have recently become somewhat reluctantly involved (and only peripherally) in a situation where it seems that a group of people, for whom I have great respect, have lost sight of a common goal. They have become bogged down in a morass of pettiness and are choosing to express some legitimate frustrations in ways that are destructive. And some individuals are being badly hurt in the process.

I can't help thinking that life is way too short for this.

I think, in situations like this it is crucial that keep ourselves focused on what's important. I always try and ask myself what my goals are and whether my actions will move me towards it. And if I am acting out of anger or frustration then I am likely only contributing to the problem, not to solving it.

Anger and confrontation certainly have their place but they are not ends in and of themselves. We need to ask, yet again, what organization we want to build, be honest about the things that aren't working and take concrete measures to fix those things.

And we need to treat one another with a little more compassion.


Anonymous said...

As a detail-oriented person, this is something I struggle with constantly, knowing what is petty and what is important -- and I often fail, getting myself all bound up in things which, if I would only step back for a second, or for a month or two, I would see were really too small for the amount of emotion I was expending on them.

Sometimes I toy with the idea of a bumper sticker (or something) that says, "Life is short, so just do it my way." Really, it would just be so much simpler if people would take this advice to heart, because then I wouldn't have to sweat the small stuff, and then we could get on with the important things. ;)

Anonymous said...

I really get pissed off when I hear about situations such as the one you describe.

deb said...

i often scoffed when I heard that people mellow with old(er) age. I think I finally get it though... it's not just the aging process that change us, it our experiences along the way. It's exactly what you write about...seeing the big picture, and letting the rest, the petty differences or problems slip away. It certainly can be a struggle for us overly-analytical types but, at least for me, the rewards are incomparable: more peace, energy and gratitude for all the good things. Thanks for the reminder.

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

Letting go of anger and treating others with compassion are gifts I try to give myself whenever I am able.

lahdeedah said...

I have a giant scratch on my car as a reminder to just let it go. My daughter and I were at the mall, and a car that did not have the right of way gunned for the open spot I was headed for. My hypersensitive sense of fairness kicked in, and I cut the guy off. When I got to the empty space, I realized it was a handicapped spot. My daughter and I laughed. Then we let it go.

When we came out of the mall, we realized our friend had found another space, like us, but that he'd taken the opportunity before walking into the mall to key my car right down to the metal, from the front end to the back end.

I won't get it fixed because the car is old, but also because that scratch reminds me every morning as I put the keys in the ignition about the importance of letting things go.

Terrific post.


Allie said...

Ah...the problem of work nemeses....I have had the experience of trying things again from my new perspective. Wish I could report in that I managed to be impenetrable to the stresses they created.

I returned to work after my treatment having made it to NED and holding (at least for now) on hormonal therapy. In my absence another employee who is very like the person you describe was moved into a leadership position that had considerable influence on my work. No surprise - none of their influence was good, healthy or fair.

While the powers above her have stepped in to manage this oppressive and stressful situation I'm in the process of leaving. Why? - life's too short to be stuck absorbing and trying to stay healthy in the face of someone else's damage and destructive behavior. I have no wish to destroy my nemisis, I'd like her to live in peace and be fulfilled in ways that make sense to her AND I also wish to be fulfilled and engaged in my life - without being slowed down or blocked by unnecessary obstacles.

My life has become a precious commodity - Its my job to steward my life in ways that are rich, productive, and engage my talents fully.

I could have taken the stance of not letting it matter - except I was doing work below my skill level, working too hard and long at stuff which would not have been acknowledged, and ultimately I would have had little influence on those things for which my expertise and experience have prepared me to be influential about. I understood that staying would mean not being a good steward for myself and perhaps for others.

So I think the cancer journey moves me two ways - to fight harder for what matters to me (even if it means taking a risk I might never have taken before) and also to let go faster of what doesn't matter (money and many other irritations and stresses get included here). I have no interest in a self-righteous fight destined to bring my nemesis down. Its maybe feeling ever stronger about the difference between when I "hold" and when I "fold".

And its also about not expecting others to make it right for me. I must get on with my own good life without damaging other lives along the way. So I'm just going to step around the blockage to my own life and get on with things elsewhere. My nemisis has her own journey - I can leave it/her in peace and with lots of excitement toward the life I'm crafting to take its place. Its not running away....its running toward. So I guess cancer has taught me to run a bit more.

I even sometimes now wonder about my nemesis as a gift....

Cheers, and hoping the blahs continue to lift for you Laurie. Wishing you patience for this - balance does return.


Lovebabz said...

Oh dear I know this all too well as a former politician and public servant. All you can do is hold onto what you believe and walk in your own truth.

Sometimes you have to step back and catch your breath. Don't be a part of the problem. Do you want to be right? or happy?

I fo one am not spending my time trying to convince folks they are on the wrong path. You never win in that. It is not your call to make about what is group petty. All you can do is handle your own pettiness and not add it to the collective.

Handle you. Move YOU forward.