Despite the fact that she rarely liked Alex’s answers, Michelle often found herself in her office when she was upset. It was a bumpy time. We’ve all had them. Demands become too high. We get unreasonable, impossible requests and, no matter what we do, a big price will be paid in one way or another.
Both of them knew there was no way such a large project could ever be properly built in the four weeks given to them. A good team could easily spend that much time in the planning stage, where most of the savings in time and money happen. Now everything would be compressed and patience would be commensurately short.
Michelle was freaking. Her mind raced with the impossibility of it all. Over and over she discussed those painful realities with herself and anyone else who would listen. One wondered how much she might have gotten done during all the worrying, but that was water under the bridge. Now she was sitting in Alex’s office crying.
“This is gonna be a disaster.”
“It may not be as good as it might have been, but even then–who knows? Maybe the rush exposes some advantage…?”
Michelle rolled her eyes. “Stop with the crazy optimism. Why does everything always have to be rosy, or good with you? Why can’t you just let this suck?”
Alex comes out from behind her desk and sits next to Michelle, orienting herself toward her. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t intend to let you stop you from feeling your own legitimate feelings. I did think this sucked.” Alex takes a moment and composes herself. “We knew when she gave us this assignment it was crazy. It put everyone under enormous pressure.”
“For no good reason.”
“Maybe. Her job is to capitalise on opportunity, not create the most ideal administration situation possible. We’ve all benefitted from projects she’s brought into the company with that attitude, so we can’t turn on her when that same quality isn’t convenient for us personally. That feels selfish to me. Like we’ll take but we won’t give. She has to work around our strength and weaknesses combinations too.”
“But how do you handle it?”
“You used the word ‘pressure.’ The most rigid people in life snap and break more often than anyone. They’re too incapable of responding to a lot of the unexpected twists and turns that are part of life. They suffer a lot. I’m more of a fluid person. I like to stay flexible. That’s why I said I did feel what you feel, not that I do feel it now. When we got this assignment I felt an earthquake.”
Michelle feels better with that connection. “So you truly thought it was bad too?”
“You’re not alone. I knew right away it would create an unpleasant effect. I meditated on what would happen and I realised that I could stay flexible for a time, but that eventually our compressed schedule would mean we would reach the point where the the pressure increased too much and it would have to turn to a gas–our beautiful whole would have to be split apart–atomized–into a divided whole.”
“And that’s what’s happening now?” asked Michelle.
“Yes. We still manage to occupy the same space, we’re still all 100% busy, but now we’re more diffused in our impact. I knew by now most of us would be bouncing from emergency to emergency. I guessed that would kick in about a week beforehand and so I reminded myself that I could stay calm in all of that, and then I did my work and waited.”
“That’s it?” Michelle’s disappointed. “Before, you knew you could concentrate and get things done, and then you knew you’d be spread too thin and that shit wouldn’t get done, and so you just waited for the shit to hit the fan? That’s your secret?”
“Kind of, yeah.” Alex was sorry she couldn’t give it to her in a way where it seemed more valuable. “I’m bouncing just like you, so I’ve been eating and sleeping really carefully so my health holds up. And if I start to feel anxious I just check in and remind myself that I knew it would be like this, and to just drop the smallest stuff and handle the emergencies.”
“So you’re telling me you just accept failure?”
Alex seems half offended by the idea. “No. I accept that, considering the limitations we’re under, this is the very best job that could be done. I never do work I’m not proud to do.”
“What if it bombs though?”
“I never do work I’m not proud to do.”
Michelle just sits with that for a long while. “So then, according to you I should just go back to my office and get as much of the most important stuff done as is reasonably possible?”
Alex is very sincere when she says it. “What else could you do?”
Michelle realises she has a point. As she rises to leave, we can see she’s lost in meditation about her own understanding.
“Have a great day Michelle.”
“Yeah, thanks Alex. I’ll think about what you said and maybe I’ll try it.”
“I think you already have.” Michelle looks at her confused. Alex continues, “Only I did it back when the assignment got handed out and you’re doing it now. I just selfishly prefer to do my freaking out and meditating when it’s calm. Try it next time. Maybe you’ll like it too.”
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.