This week, I had a conversation with a new friend in the business of making things. “I can’t stand stupidity. I will let people know and I am not nice. I have made people cry.”
A time portal opened and I remembered. The first time I cried at work. Really.
This is what happened:
After 6 months of taking care of the video communications for the merger, I knew how to get operations on track. It was clear to me what needed to be done.
I’d gone to the director to present my plan.
“…that’s what it’s going to take to resolve the troubles we’ve been having. I know we can get this department to world class standards.”
I’d jumped several rungs of the organization chart to meet with him. I was still pumped with the adrenaline of saying my piece in the face of this risk when he answered.
“What makes you think we would want a world-class department?”
My body responded before my mind did. My mind flashed on the long hours of work against impossible odds. Discovering what was hidden, getting the pieces in order, all the responsibility, all the blame, with the best news being silence.
If we got silence we had done well.
I’d asked this middle manager for help to resolve our recurring problems, not much at all. Probably able to be handled by petty cash.
But this director said that all my hard work meant nothing. The hours I’d spent struggling, fighting and winning when it was impossible didn’t matter.
My body responded faster than my mind. My body was crying.
He gave me a Kleenex. “Please. Don’t be embarrassed. I think it is wonderful that you have so much passion.”
I didn’t know him well. Men of a certain age have a way of turning into driftwood. Leached of color and vibrancy, all the distinct edges smoothed off. So many of the mid-level offices held these softened specimens of manhood.
Maybe it wasn’t age. Probably it was a life of constant compromise.
He said some more things. I had nothing left to say to him, not really. He essentially patted my head and said I could make another presentation to him that had some more information : “…a pro forma.”
My new friend makes things he wants to make, and he is madly in love with those things. If someone gets between him and his product, his art, they are hurting what he loves. So he fights back.
I remembered Mr. Softened Manager, and how he had made me cry. I wondered if I would inspire an anti-stupidity tirade. I’m not perfect, but I doubt it.
Even if I did get an earful for making a mistake, it wouldn’t make me cry.
It doesn’t break my heart to hear someone tell me to do better. It breaks my heart to hear I cannot.