I hope you like time travel, because today we take a little detour to the land of “been there” at the time of “done that”.
It’s 2006 and I am a few months into my first job. I am 22 and I have more responsibilities than I should. I am overworked, underpaid and sleep deprived, I smoke too much, swear like a sailor and mostly consume junk food.
Also, for a series of circumstances that we will *maybe* talk about another time, I am constantly angry. Cherry on the cake, I am extremely self-confident. Yep, like an asshole.
So that’s a problem, right? Well, yes. And no. That is indeed a problem, but it’s not the problem. The problem is that I have no idea. If you ask me, I am a sweetheart, and a terribly misunderstood victim of the circumstances. There are a few ways to explain this phenomenon as well, and we will get there too someday, but for now, take me at face value. I’m the worst kind of asshole, the sulking type.
One sunny morning I am at the reception, trying to put out the latest fire, and I am ranting very loudly about the stupid fuckers who didn’t do their jobs, thus forcing me to sacrifice myself on the altar of the missed deadline. Incidentally, the above mentioned fuckers are the company’s major client.
In the middle of my big scene, a colleague – true lady and badass developer, and she was both, before it was mainstream – appears in front of me, very calm, and proceeds to inform me, with unimaginable grace, that a representative of our major client is sitting with her in a meeting room, from where they could clearly hear me say “stupid fuckers”.
Pause. Take a deep breath and imagine the moment. Yeah, you can laugh.
I have royally fucked up.
Apparently, I’m not perfect.
What’s worse, other humans know I fucked up. Royally.
Earth, stop spinning! This is a catastrophe!
I think this is how it started for the dinosaurs. Someone pointed out to a Perfectsaur that it had fucked up and a couple millions years later…boom! Extinction.
Back in the present, I can smile upon my younger sillier self, but back then it took me days to come to terms with what had happened. It was awful. I really had no self-awareness.
How I wasn’t fired, it remains a mystery to this date. Even in perspective, it was pretty bad. So why didn’t she report me to my boss, who would have most certainly – and gladly – skinned me alive Ramsay-Bolton-style?
I don’t know. Maybe because she was an incredibly empathetic person. Maybe because she believed me when I told her I would never, ever, do that again. Maybe because the client didn’t complain (why not, is another mystery, probably a lot of people are just better than we give them credit for). Maybe it doesn’t matter.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this, aside from amusing you with my humiliation (you are welcome, by the way).
Here’s where I’m going: yelling at assholes is pointless. Hating them, pointless. Punishing them, pointless. Really.
That day a process started. A slow, painful process that ultimately made me a slightly better person.
As lame as it may sound to some of us, empathy works much better most of the times. I know those of us who grew up in the ’90s recall the “Yippee-ki-yay, Motherfucker” philosophy, and still think it’s the best policy, but truly, it’s not.
People who look irreparably lost to us, whose behaviour we attribute to a rotten character or evil intentions and whatnot, and who we think we can never get along with or forgive, might be just like I was for a long time. Unaware, confused, scarred.
That lady got to me that day and then again (yes, because I fucked up more than once, you know, she was amazing but couldn’t pull one-off miracles).
She is probably the first person I ever truly apologized to (and meant it).
She is the only person who ever convinced me to swallow my pride and apologize to someone else (though I was right. Probably. At least 54% right, ok?).
She is the only person who dared tell me that my make-up was perfect for an off-Broadway show but maybe a tad too much for a Wednesday morning.
If I am a decent person today, she certainly deserves one of my thank you notes. For giving me neither the stick nor the carrot. Just the truth, with a smile, without judgement.
I never got a chance to tell her any of this. She passed before I could even process any of this.
But I retained her lessons. Go easy with the eyeshadow, and be kind. Even to assholes. And to yourself.