On being … confirmation

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 to me.

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 situation.

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!  

© 2016 Ingrid Sapona


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