The words of others can have a profound impact on how we perceive ourselves. There have been a few things that I can clearly recall that people have said to me that have had a profound impact on my life. Some of these things have been uplifting, affirming and encouraging and others have taken a longer time to process and have required me to really challenge my initial reaction of hurt.
I remember vividly in a job being challenged on my email responsiveness. I was working a day a week but due to my roll I received a lot of emails. I tried my best to stay on top of my emails but more often than not I would be late in replying to more generic company emails. I found it incredibly difficult to manage the other priorities in my life with the expected demands of my work, which often extended beyond my working hours. I worked hard, really hard, when I was at work and often went without lunch breaks to meet the constant tight deadlines I was presented with — but once I left work I had other priorities that consumed my time and attention. As a result, emails often slipped through the cracks. During a performance appraisal the email issue came up. Initially, I was hurt and discouraged. I honestly thought I was going far beyond my job criterion and thought it was unreasonable that I had a casual position but a full-timer’s responsibilities. There would be short periods of improvement on the email front but college/university, sport, relationships and other jobs would get busy and my email responsiveness would slowly begin to lag once again. A cycle formed where my managers would bring the email issue up again and I would be discouraged and improve for a little while. I really pushed myself in school, university and sport — performing at a high level in a number of different areas of my life that all required a lot of attention and time. I think the initial hurt stemmed from the fact that I worked really hard for the company and felt I just needed a bit of understanding and grace. There was a discrepancy between my limited schedule and their full-time schedule of trying to run a profitable company. Work was their week, but work was one day a week for me. At the time I could appreciate that my late email replies were frustrating, but I didn’t know how to change the circumstance. As hard as it was to hear and be reminded that I was not meeting par in this area of my job I am so grateful for their persistence in reminding me in this area. Since starting part-time and more recently full-time employment I have made a conscious decision to be as fast and organised with my emails as I can. I am definitely reaping the benefits of this conscious effort.
This last week I returned to work after being sick to a very busy week. I had fought and fought and got ahead on a lot of projects and then on Friday I got one of those messages that hit me to the core. I have no doubt there was no intention to discourage or harm, but I felt like I had let the team down. This is an area of particular sensitivity and I have to continually remind myself that the situation really wasn’t that big at all! At that moment I had a decision to make. I could crawl up and get upset, letting the insecurities win, or I could force myself to learn a lesson from the situation and look at ways that I could improve. What the individual brought my attention to is invaluable advice — advice that I will continue to remind myself of going into the future. But to receive it I needed to let my guard down, remove the barriers of hurt that were metaphorically deafening me to the treasure I was being given.
The words other say to us can be hard to hear sometimes. In Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy’s autobiography he drew my attention to the fact that pain accelerates learning. Feeling pain is critical and essential, even in relationships, because it heightens our awareness that something isn’t right. Like a reflex, we need to address where the pain is coming from and what we need to do to alleviate the pain. We can’t keep holding the burning coal. There are areas of my life that I am particularly sensitive to and it is my responsibility to own my responses and to work through them. I find it hard to be critiqued in these areas because they hurt, but I am discovering that this refinement, the advice others give me, is making me stronger and more resilient.
When we are faced with growth opportunities we have two options — to lean in or lean out. It is my prayer that God will continue to give us the strength to continually lean in; to train, refine and become stronger despite the pain of the process.