On being … a benchmark?

By Ingrid Sapona

This week I was back from vacation, all rested and relaxed and even happy to be home. But, despite all that positive energy, I soon realized I wasn’t quite ready to face the work-world.

The unwelcome jolt came in the form of a slap on the wrist from one of my favourite clients. In response to a specific question from a staff person at the company, I explained how I could help but it would be additional work that would need to be approved by the company. I made it clear that if he felt it appropriate, he could find out if the work might be approved.

Shortly after that I got a terse e-mail from the guy’s boss – someone I know well and have (or had, until this) good rapport with. In the e-mail, the guy’s boss said the additional work won’t be happening and he said I should avoid making such suggestions to staff. OUCH!

I immediately responded with an e-mailed apology and a promise that it would never happen again. As I typed my reply, the voice inside my head went into full self-recrimination mode, starting with: “You can bet it’ll never happen again because they’ll never use you again!” (Whether that’s true or not, only time will tell.)

I re-played the whole thing in my mind, questioning whether I had stepped over the line, or mishandled it. I also surveyed my motives. Had I just proposed work for the sake of earning more? No. Could I have approached it differently? I’m not sure. I wasn’t being sly at all. Nor do I think I painted an unrealistic picture about whether the organization would approve such additional work.

Eventually the internal chiding turned to the issue of whether I’m stupid for letting the e-mail get to me, not to mention the fact that my initial reaction was that of a schoolgirl whose wrists were being slapped. “Grow up,” screamed my inner voice.

That evening I relayed the story to a couple friends, and they tried to cheer me up. I did my best Scarlett O’Hara imitation about tomorrow being another day, but the turmoil swirled in my head all night. The next day, my mood was still quite glum. When another friend asked what was wrong, I said that something work-related was bothering me but that I didn’t want to talk about it because doing so would simply make me feel worse. When I also mentioned that On being… was on the horizon, my friend said I should write about the incident. I quickly dismissed the idea because I was too close to it and embarrassed by it.

After the call, I decided to employ one of my tried and true coping mechanisms: cooking, cleaning, and other tasks that make me feel productive. I tackled a lot of things that needed to be done around the house. But, when I wasn’t super focused on cleaning the floor, or washing the windows, I felt that sense of gloom and doom hovering over me. As the day wore on, the running commentary in my head was more about the fact that I was letting the incident get to me than about the incident itself.

After the housework I returned to my desk and decided to start on a small project that’s not due for a few weeks. After a while I noticed I was making some progress. Since it was pretty interesting, I decided to return to the project after dinner to reduce the chance of letting my thoughts turn back to the e-mail.

The next morning at the gym, I was thinking about the work I had to do the rest of the week and On being… came to mind. I sighed because I’d been so preoccupied for the previous 48 hours, there was no way a column idea could meander through my head. And with that thought, the idea for this column flashed into my brain – a sure sign that I had moved on!

Besides being relieved by the revelation that I was over the e-mail incident, I was also intrigued by the idea of putting a timeframe around how long it had taken me to move on. I had never thought to try to measure my bounce-back speed in concrete terms – I’ve just always gotten angry with myself for taking so long and I’ve wondered if others are much quicker than me.

The 48 hour figure got me thinking. What is it they say about the importance of setting measurable goals? Well, now I have one for bouncing back from work-related setbacks: whittling down that 48 hour benchmark.

Wish me luck!

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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