Thursday, February 05, 2009

Killed by Kindess

I took an oral exam during my second year of graduate study. It was my first of such experiences, but I decided I knew the material reasonably well. I’d be fine.

The class had been team taught – and not all that impressively – and four members of the team sat in the sunny classroom atop the hospital. I stood before them, shifting awkwardly and wondering what to do with my hands while I waited to write something on the white board with blue marker.

I frowned when the smallest one – a man who looked remarkably like a turtle – continued to interrupt my responses. It was as if he could sense when I felt comfortable and insisted upon foiling my plan to discuss easy topics at length. He jabbed questions at me, not glancing at his paperwork as he smirked and allowed me a couple of syllables before randomly changing directions.

It isn’t particularly difficult to make me angry and I began to scowl at turtle-man. I bit off answers to his questions and didn’t care when I was unable to answer some of them. If he was disappointed in me, I could quite easily magnify those negative feelings tenfold and shoot them right back between his beady eyes.

The bubble of anger grew to include another professor in the room when he laughed and said, “Come on, Katie. You really should know that.”

How dare he laugh at me, I seethed, and carry my disdain to this very moment. It continued that way – the two of them peppering me with questions and insults that I countered as best I could – until the youngest man in the room spoke.

“Stop,” he said simply while looking firmly at turtle-man. When the reptilian creature turned in surprise, my hero continued. “You asked her a question. Let her have a chance to answer it.”

I stood silently as I looked at him before gulping against the lump in my throat and blinking back tears. That moment of kindness shifted the event into focus and I realized it was awful. I felt pathetic. People were being mean to me – people I had liked and trusted – and it at once became too much to bear.

My voice became soft, heated rage replaced by slow sadness, and I haltingly answered the remaining questions while my gaze remained on the podium I'd shifted to hide behind. I caused turtle-man to stumble when I hit him with my shoulder while fleeing the room immediately after being dismissed. I hurried to the nearest bathroom, gasping for air around wracking sobs as I grasped desperately for control.

We have a situation at work that involves a good number of people. It’s pretty bad and very meaningful. And I’m responsible – not for the mess we’re in, but for managing our way out of it.

I have seethed at nearly everyone involved, calling them incompetent, irresponsible, disrespectful and any number of bad words in creative order. (Not out loud.) If you don’t do your job and try to hide that fact to save face, it makes my task even harder. Considering that pressure makes me even more tense than usual, I’m growing increasingly moody.

But I was handling it. I sent a message to the most powerful man in the building today. I explained the situation, gave credit to people who had been helpful, and apologized for not managing the situation as well as I could have. (Because I did make a bad judgment call. For which I’ve apologized and tried to correct multiple times to many people in more than one country.) The powerful man thanked me and the teams I mentioned, reminded us of the priority and encouraged us to work faster. Since that’s fair, I nodded in acceptance.

“Good message, Katie,” an email arrived while I was on a conference call an hour ago. “Do you have 10 minutes to talk tomorrow?” So I gasped for air as I muted the line and let myself weep, remembering his expression of concern when I left a meeting after an uncharacteristic comment that nobody had any time and somebody had to do it.

I interviewed with him. I told him I could do this.

I truly don’t know if I was right.


Anonymous said...

hi, i missed you! i have been out of circulation for a while but am glad to be back. i am sorry you are going through this challenge, but i have faith that you are up to it. i really do.

Anne said...

Yeah, I'm right there with you..."I interviewed with him. I told him I could do this. I truly don't know if I was right."

Psych Post Doc said...

We all make the wrong call sometimes, as long as you own up to it and do what you can to make it right things work out.

He must have believed you when you said you could do it, or they wouldn't have given you the job. If he believed you, why can't you?

Jenn, PhD said...

Part of learning how to do something the right way is making mistakes... as long as you learn from them, and use that experience the next time a similar situation comes up, then it's a positive experience. I really hope it works out ok (maybe it already has)! ((hugs))

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