What’s the worst performance feedback you’ve ever received? During my first annual review for my first job out of college, my manager called me a brat. In writing.
In her defense, my manager was 23 years old and had zero management experience or training. In my defense, she also said a lot of really great stuff about me, which of course I’ve forgotten because it was 12 years ago and who could possibly remember the positive after it’s just been obliterated by a brat bomb? I do think the adjective reliable was in there somewhere though.
It was not a career highlight. Fortunately, it wasn’t career limiting either. At least not for me.
The following Monday I got called into an unplanned meeting with her boss and her boss’s boss. Oh, and there was a boss from headquarters on the phone, too. I worked in a 30-person office where the conference room was the break room with the door closed. But I swear walking to that meeting was like crossing the Sahara, complete with dry mouth, flushed cheeks and sweat.
During that meeting they informed me that they were moving my manager into a lateral role and promoting me into her old job. Don’t worry, I also didn’t see that coming at all. Since we were no longer working together, they barely mentioned our reviews. Instead, they sent us out to lunch together where we ate salads and cringed.
Do you know what I took away from that whole experience? Not a damn thing. Which is a shame, because I just went right on being a brat.
Just a Little Patience
The word brat is harsh and unprofessional. But if I’m being honest it wasn’t necessarily an unfair description of me at that time.
I was incredibly impatient in my 20s. I wanted more responsibility, more authority, more challenge, more pay. I was willing to work hard, but I wasn’t willing to wait. That restlessness made me pushy and ungrateful and yes, even a little bratty.
It would be easy to blame my impatience on entitlement, but it would be more accurate to blame it on fear. When you’re at the beginning – of your career, a relationship, a hobby, a project – you have a vision for where you want to end up, but you have no idea how long or windy the path will be, or if you’ll ever make it. What if you don’t have what it takes? What if you have what it takes but this hack who got called a brat on her performance review gets all the best opportunities? What if you run out of money or time, or if you fall ill or fall apart before you get your chance?
Patience, it seems, is a luxury of the confident.
In the last few years, I’ve finally found personal and professional stability, and with it an appreciation of the value of experience, of doing the work over and over again with intention and commitment and a sense of humor until it’s hard to catch you off guard and your answers are more than best guesses and you finally close the gap between what you dream of doing someday and what you’re capable of doing today. I’m no longer in a rush to get ahead in my career. Sure, I merchandise my results and talk about opportunities for advancement, but mostly, I just do the work.
Practice and All is Coming
Then, I started this blog and once again, I’m a beginner. Either a true beginner or rusty after a long hiatus – at meditation, writing and drawing. Every time I struggle to sit with my eyes closed for five minutes, or to find a synonym for impatience and brat, or to draw block letters that look like real block letters and not like regular letters that accidentally sat on their shadows that old restlessness and agitation sets in. The only thing that calms my nerves in an admonition by K. Pattabhi Jois, the father of modern Asthtanga Yoga: Practice and all is coming.
I love this slogan for two reasons. First, it focuses my attention on what I can control – the practice. Second, its vague promise of future glory is just credible enough to transform uncertainty into adventure.
Do you know what a Surprise Ball is? Ew. No. Not that. It’s a ball of crepe paper wrapped around small presents. See how wholesome. The trinkets are trivial at best, mediocre at worst, but there’s something really fun about unwrapping the paper and revealing the prizes.
That’s what this slogan reminds me of. It promises you something but doesn’t tell you what it is. All is coming but what is all? Is it a handstand? A six pack? An illustrious career as a celebrity yogi? A community of like-minded individuals? An appreciation for incremental changes? Stress relief?
That’s not my concern. My one and only concern is to practice and to remain open to what comes as a result of that practice.
P.S. In the spirit of humility and progress, I’m sharing a few of my very first designs from last year. Not my best work.