This too shall pass

What I wished I’d known when I started my career – #5

By Marketplace Designers via

A case study:

On Sunday, my husband took our brood of children shopping for my birthday gift. I had a few luxurious hours to myself, and I showered, did my nails, put on a new summer dress (Old Navy for the win!), and napped. It was heavenly.

I woke up to noises of my family, and I went downstairs to see everyone. My husband greeted me and pointed out splatters of red on our floor, staircase rail and walls. Where was it coming from? We realized our dog had a bloody cut on her tail, the same tail she was waving all over the place because she was happy to see us.

I hurled myself at her and bandaged her up. We cleaned floors and furniture. I thought — Isn’t this always the way? It can be a fine line between thriving and surviving.

The road to acceptance

If I had to hazard a guess, I probably have said two things under duress the most in my career:

  1. “People!” in an exasperated tone
  2. “This too shall pass” in semi-relaxed, semi-resigned way

This reflects my brain’s passage from annoyance to acceptance, a road now well traveled after years of reorgs, escalations, team battles, etc.

But earlier on in my career, I freaked out about everything. I leaped on every issue with a young person’s gusto. I chased down every last stakeholder not responding to my email. Everything was an emergency! Everything was important! Everything was aggravating!

Some call it “getting old

Let’s call it “getting wise”.

I have stayed at Google for 17 years so far. If you stay that long, things are bound to get better that annoyed you! A co-worker who was rude to you? They leave! A process that wasted your time? People fix it. And re-fix it. And fix the re-fix of the fix.

I’m not suggesting I’m lazy or complacent now; I became selective. Some things truly get better on their own. Some things cannot be changed right away. Where is my effort and time most needed? Where are my talents best used?

Now when I am banging my head against the wall, I am likely to back away, regroup, and evaluate alternatives. Sometimes I’ll leave the “wall” alone entirely because if the wall doesn’t want to work with me, then I don’t need to work with the wall. Sometimes I’ll find a better way without the wall. Sometimes I’ll wait until the wall disappears for other reasons. I can be patient. I can strategize.

Repetition doesn’t spoil the prayer

Back to Sunday. A couple hours later my in-laws show up to give me a birthday gift. As I’m welcoming them, the dog also does so in her enthusiastic fashion. We’re saying niceties, and I look around me. And then I look closer. Wait, there’s red everywhere. With her joyous wagging, my dog has flung the bandage off of her tail. She’s now once again splattering blood everywhere, and I realize with a sinking heart that my in-laws nice pants (pastel blue on my mother-in-law!) are now smeared with blood. I look them in the eye and say, “I’m so sorry” before I say why.

My husband would want me to fess up here. I am a yeller. I get tired and cranky as much (or maybe more) than anyone. I’m not saying that I’m a calm, perfect person. I get fed up too.

I deep breathe a lot. Three deep breaths in and out. I re-center myself. I breathe more. I do NOT picture the karmic retribution my enemies will face. I picture mountains and beaches. Things here long before us. This too shall pass.

After so many life experiences, I now have the perspective to know that even when I’m mad, it’s temporary. Even when work is difficult, it’s temporary. Even when I’m frustrated with my children and feeling like a terrible mother for going nuts on them, it’s temporary.

Even when my dog is bleeding all over my in-laws, it’s temporary. I’m not sure what ‘young me’ would have done, but I know ‘more adult me’ cleaned up the mess, found the stain spray, and knew another peaceful moment would come. This too shall pass.

And yes, the blood came out. I got an email with the subject line “BLOOD” on Monday confirming that news. I can’t make this stuff up.

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