It’s been a while; I appreciate your patience.
Since I got back home a little more than a week ago, life has resumed its “normal” rhythm, but obviously, my emotional state has been fluctuating. So, in this entry, I will jot down a few somewhat random personal reflections as a transition back into my original agenda, which now feels like it was set half-a-lifetime ago!
I am deeply grateful for many people in and features of my life, not the least of all being my freedom to do as I please and design. Yet, I can also see how a more rigid structure might provide better boundaries, say if I were holding a full time job with an organization where I would have to plunge right back in the work. This reminds me of a bygone time when I was working for a Fortune 500 company; how I was out for three days recovering from a traumatic extraction of my wisdom teeth (three). I slept through the majority of those three days, aided occasionally by pain-killing medicine. Then, in my sleepy state, I received a call from my big boss asking about a project I was handling. So, I had to go in to take care of it. I managed to do the shortish drive and take care of the work, but later – when I was more lucid – I wasn’t sure the task was that urgent at the time. You see, I was only a trainee still, with two immediate supervisors who knew my work and schedule. I wonder if they couldn’t have just picked up my stuff and taken care of it…if they had known the “urgency.”
This example left an indelible impression on me. It isn’t that I think I needed more sympathy and understanding – though that would have been nice – it’s the tone of my big boss, checking on me and making sure that I wasn’t “pretending,” that was disturbing. If he were distantly removed from my work, didn’t know me well, wasn’t just down the hall from my office, and hadn’t taken lunch with me and other colleagues at least once or twice a week, I could have understood his suspicion. I think that was my very first encounter with cold side of management, and because I have worked with several warm-hearted and considerate managers before, I knew this boss didn’t have to behave that way.
So, why did he let his suspicion overtake his otherwise pretty positive assessment of me? Part of this has to do with the assumption of the “agency theory” I discussed in my first entry, (The Beginning…And: Bad management theories lead to bad organizational practices) in which employees should be regarded as selfish beings who would shirk, cheat, or put in the least amount of efforts whenever they can get away with it. Another part is a profound lack of “emotional intelligence” that some, or perhaps most, managers exhibit. Emotional intelligence is a fascinating concept that deserves a whole entry and then some, which isn’t what this entry is about. I will highlight just a couple of points that resonate with me the most.
First of all, E.I. isn’t something new. Philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, all have discussed the general issue, though not necessarily with this particular term. But grasping emotions, self-awareness, self-knowledge, infusing intelligence into life…are all part of attaining some form of wisdom. It’s just that the 20th-21st century technology has driven us to equate this concept with brain function. What we now know is that the emotional component of our brains can, and will at times, hijack our intellect and values, without our awareness. So when we are under stress, or think/feel we are under stress, we can behave in ways that may lead to destroying the fragile trust built in relationships, or making decisions that are inconsistent with our values. In the wake of these past few weeks of my life being turned upside down, this knowledge is particularly poignant. That’s why members of the workforce need adequate time and space to work through their personal stress.
The second important aspect of this E.I. concept is that one’s emotional system is not easily nor quickly changed. It usually requires at least one year, through steady awareness, experience, and relationships for permanent change to take place. So, just because we happen to read an earth-shattering passage, experience a moment of Aha in a workshop, or have some other epiphany, we still are not likely to be transformed. At least one year! To change our emotional state! That’s a bit of a shock to me. Actually, I am still processing this. I have always felt that as far as basic emotions go, there is an inherent durability to them, especially compared to technologies. Emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, loneliness, etc. are as old as human beings. The field of psychology has helped provide us with a new set of more nuanced concepts to verbalize how we feel, but we still sometimes feel slighted by the limited choices our languages can offer.
I remember that the many doubts I felt when I was going through my dissertation phase were later shown to be much more deeply rooted in long-ago experiences than the usual graduate experience of choosing a topic, writing a proposal, gathering data, analyzing and writing up what became, in my case, 400-page document. I went through a workshop; I had my Aha! moment, and my epiphany…all in one long weekend. Had I just basked in that moment and never shared with anyone or done something about it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my PhD. Instead, I announced to an informal academic group to which I belonged, that I was going to defend my proposal in 3 months. In listening to my journey and discovery, everyone rallied behind me. I didn’t quite meet the 3-month mark; I was late by one month, and it was a small historical performance. Organizations are all about relationships, so it was the organization of my dissertation; both academic and social relationships helped make my degree possible. Perhaps I do get the meaning of how long it takes for emotional change to occur.
Now, since I can afford the time, I am taking my time to process mom’s death, but less the death than processing the meaning her life, and the evolution of our relationship. I don’t yet know what I will uncover and discover, but I am looking forward to her continuing teaching and guidance.
As for the episode of my wisdom teeth removal, what could my big boss have done differently that would have made him a better manager? At least one possible way was for him to have said this first, “It must have been an awful experience for you to be out for three days! What happened?” Then, he might hear my slurred words through my chipmunk mouth and realized immediately I wasn’t quite ready to resume working yet. Or, he might think I was on drugs, and he definitely had to see me in person to assess. On the fifth hand, he could be a true leader-manager by saying, “is there anything we can do to help you?”
Stay engaged and increase your emotional intelligence. Till the next time,
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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