A few years ago, a young woman called me, devastated. She had been fired from her job. She had nowhere to turn and was seeking advice. What could I tell her but the same old, tired phrases “Everything happens for a reason” or “You will see, it will be for the better.” She was hurt, confused, depressed, penitent, sorrowful, and scared. But mostly, she was humble. That was actually the word she used. Humble.
How many of us use that word when describing ourselves or our work? I know that I often feel overwhelmed and under-qualified to pump out the work that is required to stay afloat in business these days, but each day I do, and each day I strive for that evasive perfection – like that White Stag in Narnia. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of its tail as it runs into the brush. I often feel I will never ride upon its fair back or gaze into its soft brown eyes – the eyes of success. But that is only my version of success.
The young woman had been a supervisor overseeing forty customer service representatives in a call center. She had been recently promoted to the position, having successfully navigated interviews and applications that lined her promotional process. Promoted just two weeks ago, it was her responsibility to take over “escalated calls” and “intense exchanges of communication” both written and over the phone. Her downfall? She accidentally sent an internal email to a customer. That’s it.
No foul language was used, no derogatory terms, just a few details about her personal findings in an “escalated incident.” When she discovered her mistake, she immediately went to her supervisor and revealed what had happened. She was escorted to her desk where she packed her scant belongings and was removed from the premises. Due to an unbendable rule, she was terminated immediately.
How many of us carelessly hit the send button every day? How many of us have said careless words that derailed someone’s work or caused more labor? The mistake can be simple, but its impact can be distressing and life-changing, as in this young woman’s case. No, she did not commit an egregious error or threaten a life, she simply broke a strict rule.
Check your verbiage. Adjust your stance. Clear your throat. Kick the dust off your shoes. Pop your knuckles. Whatever you need to do to weigh in and stay humble. True humility is not self-effacing – it is recognizing your small place in a huge world that can easily go on without you, and yet aware that you could not possibly go on without it.
Send – a simple word, a simple action with implications beyond culpability that transcend uncomplicated duty.
Whew. Say that five times fast.