Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I preened over the class feedback about 10 years ago, sitting in a plastic chair in a community college classroom and listening to the air conditioner valiantly battle the heat. Having no desire to fulfill my public speaking requirement with the students at my private university, I used a small portion of the summer after my freshman year to take a course off campus. I was pretty relaxed about the whole idea, simply wanting my B so that credits would transfer neatly.

When assigned a particular project, the first day’s presenters were horrible. So awful were their performances that I was intensely motivated to make the most super-fantastic-impressive speech ever. So I researched and rehearsed and watched gleefully as everyone was suitably awed by my minutes behind the podium. The next week saw an upswing in the class’s level of effort and a corresponding dip in my own.

With nowhere to go, I wake happily around dawn. Due at work by 7AM, I resent every single second my eyes have to be open. I’d wait until Brother would fall behind before I would complete all my chores, wanting all the credit or uninterested in any of it. When gas was expensive, I bought an SUV. I’m attracted to men I can’t have. When all is calm, I tend to get irritable and find minuscule problems over which panic. But when tension is thick and tempers are short? I am at my best – peaceful and calm, helpful and loving.

The day veered in a negative direction just after noon. Until then, the group had been busy and stressed, but coping admirably. Adam called us to meet at lunchtime so we all gathered around a table to receive instructions rather than food. We sat silently, faces blank, as he outlined the problem at hand and the changes that had been made. Not one of us commented as he explained why the past week of work – long days and a weekend of intense effort – had not been wasted, exactly. It was just not going to be used.

Instead, Adam continued after glancing at us and shrugging off our collective displeasure, we would do new work! On these new documents and presentations! Because it was…well, not better, really. But different. And it wouldn’t change again. Probably.

“We’ve done this five times already!” PrettyHair finally said, making me smile when she threw her hands in the air. We take turns being the dramatic one and I had assessed Adam’s mood and decided now was not the time to push him. She continued to speak, voicing very valid complaints and nodding when others offered their own criticism. Though I agreed with their every point – and was very frustrated and tired and unhappy myself – I began to feel badly for Adam.

He’s under tremendous pressure, I thought, and having to defend himself to his own team. The changes weren’t his idea and he was coping as best he could.

“What do we need to do?” I finally asked. When attention turned to me, I glanced around. “We need to get this done and do it well. So let’s go through the workload, agree on a sensible strategy and accomplish something.” I turned my attention to Adam again, watched him blink in surprise, and was pleased when the group remained quiet, awaiting instructions. We soon dispersed and I hadn’t been at my desk long enough to complete a single item on my list when he appeared at my door.

“Do you have a minute?” he asked when I looked up and I nodded, asking what I needed to bring before following him to his office. He motioned to the door once we were inside and I obediently closed it behind me. “I need your input on how to structure this,” he offered.

Flattered, I sat shoulder to shoulder with him as we frowned at his laptop to rearrange text and reorganize paragraphs, checking transitions and drawing diagrams to step back and understand goals. An hour later, satisfied, he went to fetch other people in the group. We worked together to convince the first person, easily won over the majority and crashed and burned at the end.

I heard my voice emerge, soothing and gentle, as I explained the theme to PrettyHair. I patted Adam’s shoulder when he tensed visibly, explaining her comment in a way that wasn’t so offensive yet still retained her point. They argued and I agreed with both of them, finding commonalities and expressing sympathy over their stress levels.

“We’re in good shape,” I chirped at one point. “We’ve learned a lot! And I think this is a strong message to send!” Preening when they both grinned at me fondly, I stood to follow PrettyHair from the room after asking Adam if there was anything else I could do.

“Thank you,” he said and I waved my hand at him. “No, really,” he insisted and I paused halfway out the door.

“It’s my pleasure,” I said, feeling inordinately affectionate toward him despite the massive amounts of work he’s created for me over the next three days.

I always cheer for the losing team. Once they start to win, my interest dissipates rapidly. So we’ll see how tomorrow goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment