“I’m just really disappointed that no one did anything about the noise next door to us last night. We have a young family, and this was not what we expected.” said the tired, annoyed guest.
“I get it. We have a young family too. But we just didn’t hear it here, so we didn’t know. I’m really sorry.”
It was one of my first real customer complaints, and it was from Fred*. Fred who used to be my manager when I was just starting out in the world of Human Resources. Fred who thought quite highly of me
but nowhere near as highly as he thought of himself and had expectations for me. Fred who was my manager before I changed jobs, studied for a new profession, changed jobs again, moved to Brunei, became a parent, moved back to New Zealand and changed jobs again. Basically, he was my manager a whole lifetime ago.
If he recognised me, he didn’t say anything (I guess a different hairstyle and 20+ kg will do that). But I recognised him. And seeing him reminded me of all that career history and just how much has changed. I don’t just look different, I AM different, in so very many ways. The last six years have been great and hard and eventful and transformative. When I worked with Fred, and when I saw him last, I was young and up and coming and had my life ahead of me. I was destined for big things. A family and a flexible job and managing a team are not small things, but they’re definitely not the things I imagined as a 26 year old starting a new career.
As much as I am happy with the choices I’ve made, and happy with where we’ve ended up, being reminded of the change was a very vulnerable feeling. And being reminded of the change while simultaneously being told I wasn’t doing my job very well was a very very vulnerable feeling.
I think I managed to hide my embarrassment and get on with helping other guests. But by afternoon, it was still nagging away in the back of my mind. Complaints always bother me, and it bothered me more that it was from someone I know (or knew). Then I remembered a situation where Fred had made some rather large mistakes. It wasn’t necessarily relevant to this situation, but it made me feel a little better.
And THEN I spotted a line on our park information sheet: “If you have a problem with noise, tell the management immediately. Tomorrow is too late.”
YEP. Tomorrow IS too late.
And this made me realise that this whole thing was about expectations, realistic and otherwise. It wasn’t reasonable for him to be angry at me for not solving a problem I wasn’t aware of. But it was definitely reasonable for him to be annoyed. It wasn’t reasonable of me to expect myself to get it all right every day and get no complaints, especially not seven weeks into an entirely new job and an entirely new life. It definitely isn’t reasonable to expect all expectations (mine and others’) to be reasonable.
But most of all I realised how almost every time I fall into shame, it’s rooted in expectations; either my expectations or the expectations of others (or at least what I THINK they are). As soon as I start comparing reality to expectations (reasonable or unreasonable, real or imagined) my mind starts to spiral.
I am really happy to be here, to be doing this. It’s still early days, but it feels like a good fit for me and for us. But even though it’s a good fit at 31, it’s a far cry from the expectations anyone had for me at 18, at 21, at 26. Heck, it doesn’t really meet the expectations anyone had for me at 29 or 30.
Going against expectations isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I am mostly inclined to think it’s mostly a great thing. For others. But for ME, my mind usually translates it into a bad thing. After all, I’m a “good girl”. I meet expectations. If I’m not meeting expectations, there must be something “wrong”. If my kid isn’t meeting expectations, I must be doing something “wrong”. If my life isn’t meeting expectations, I must be doing something “wrong”. (and so on and so forth)
I KNOW this is a load of tosh. I KNOW it’s just a bit of crazy-making perfectionism rearing its ugly head. But KNOWing doesn’t always make it easier. So with all of that in mind, I have a resolution for this new stage of life:
Cut the comparing and throw those expectations out the window.
I’m going to have to start with baby steps. My first inch forward is writing about it, both here and in my long-abandoned journal.
But most importantly, I’m going to start now. Today. After all, tomorrow is too late.
* Name changed to protect him or me, or maybe both.