By Ingrid Sapona
One of the things I appreciate most about getting older is
that every now and then evidence emerges that confirms something I thought or
felt, but that I had no way of proving when it first happened. Interestingly, when
the definitive proof surfaces, it usually comes out of nowhere. Given that
there’s often a long time between the incident and the confirmation, it’s not
that the end result ever changes. But, the confirmation is valuable because it
gives me ever more reason to trust my intuition and instinct.
The things it’s happened about often relate to gut instincts
or readings I’ve made of others’ behaviours or their reactions in specific
situations. They’re often situations where I was left wondering whether I’ve
misread something or misunderstood another person’s intention.
The incidents I’m referring to have all ended up being
minor, in the scheme of life. (Another great thing about aging, of course, is
the perspective that allows one to realize this…) But, at the time they
happened, they didn’t feel so minor. Indeed, it’s precisely because they were
incidents that I ruminated over for some time that, when the proof appears, even
though lots of time may have passed, I connect the dots and I’m finally able to
put my mind at rest.
I realize this sounds a bit vague, so maybe an example would
help. One situation related to not being hired by a firm I had interned with.
It was a yearlong, paid internship – one of about two dozen that this firm had.
Because there was nothing negative in the feedback I had been given all year, I
was disappointed when I wasn’t hired on.
Though I tried to take it in stride, my mentor’s reaction
when I asked if he’d be a reference contributed to my second-guessing. He
seemed surprised by my request. Now, on top of feeling that I had misread the
feedback I had gotten throughout the year, I wondered if I had completely
misread my relationship with my mentor. Did he not feel comfortable as a
reference? The prospect of my misinterpreting so many relationships was more troubling
than not getting the job offer.
Then, when he asked me to take a seat and he shut the door
and asked me why I didn’t want to stay at the firm, I was really confused. I
explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to stay, it was that I hadn’t been
offered a job. Embarrassed, he said he was so sure I would be hired, he never
checked the list to see who had been offered positions. So, it seemed I wasn’t
the only one who had been wrong about the likelihood the firm would have me
back. Anyway, the fact he offered to help me in my job hunt and was more than
happy to be a reference, at least helped me feel I hadn’t misread his reaction
Months later, after I had moved on, I had lunch with my
mentor and he shared with me some curious comments he found in my HR file. One
comment was something like, “well, she wasn’t as self-possessed or know-it-all as
we thought she’d be”. Clearly, there were negative preconceptions about me –
hurdles I didn’t even know were in my way. My mentor found the source of the
innuendo: an HR admin person who somehow felt threatened by me and, before the
internship started, had told folks that because of my education and experience,
I had a big ego. (He also told me that the admin person had since been let go.)
As I said, by the time I got this information, there was nothing I could do with
it, but it was satisfying to get proof that I hadn’t misinterpreted the
feedback I got, I just didn’t know all that I was up against.
Anyway, that story is ancient history but it, and other situations
where my instinct was proved right, came to mind this week because of the news
story involving Dr. Heimlich – yes, the namesake of the Heimlich Manoeuvre. He’s
96 and is in an assisted living residence in Cincinnati. Last week a woman sitting
at his table at dinner started choking. Dr. Heimlich sprang into action and
administered several Heimlich Manoeuvre upward thrusts until the meat she was
choking on popped out. While that may not seem particularly newsworthy or
surprising – given that he invented the technique in 1974 – what is surprising
is that this was the first time he ever did it in a real, life-or-death
Given all the evidence over the past 40 years about the
hundreds of people who have used his method and saved someone’s life, I’m sure Dr.
Heimlich didn’t have any nagging doubts about the efficacy of the technique.
But even so, I can’t help but think that last week’s incident was a cosmic gift
to him: first hand confirmation of the value of his life’s work!