sweatpants – a lesson from the vault

We’ve all had that moment… You just wish you could go back and re-do that ONE thing. (Ok so we’ve probably had MANY of those moments.. I know I have). But what I mean is that it’s a kind of cross between an “Oh Crap” and an “A-ha”… I’ll explain.

I was the ripe old age of about 20, I was a full time University student and had a job that a friend had gotten me teaching art classes to seniors. She was a few years older and many years wiser and on that particular day she probably regretted getting me that job. It wasn’t my abilities as an art teacher, but my very obvious lack in judgement that day. I, for some reason (who really knows) had chosen to wear sweatpants to work. Yes, sweatpants… I’ll admit that the real “yoga” pant that you can get away with many places, had not really come into fashion yet, and I was wearing RED sweatpants, I believe with some sort of Canadian emblem on them. Maybe I had just gotten them and liked them, maybe I felt they were festive for Canada Day that week, maybe I had come straight from the library… For whatever reason, I had chosen that sort of attire to teach seniors in a very high-end quality retirement home, I will never really know.  A serious lack in judgement.

But as soon as I saw her, I knew I had screwed up.  She walked up to me and very kindly and firmly told me that what I was wearing was really not appropriate for my job. That was my moment. First of all I was mortified. I am a people pleaser by nature and hearing this was rather crushing. Secondly I had let down a very close friend, one who had taken a chance on me and one who had vouched for not only my abilities, but my person.  My moment wasn’t only “oh crap”, but “a-ha” because of what she did.  As I said, she was a very very close friend. The strength that it takes to have to reprimand an employee who you have a very good friendship with is very very difficult.  To do it without being over emotional, to not have it ruin the friendship, by not flexing your managerial muscle in a demeaning way takes wisdom, love and a lot of … guts.  She could have not said a word, held it in or as a grudge. It probably would have eventually ruined not only our working relationship but also our friendship. Not because I just wore them one day, but because I probably would have figured it wasn’t a big deal and worn them again.

I’m not sure I’ve ever shared this story before, and I don’t know if she even remembers it.  But I’ll never forget that lesson. I know I’ve blundered professionally many times since then, some I’m probably unaware of and others I’d probably rather be, but this has always remained in my mind. I believe I can take these principles and apply them to all my future situations.

  1. Be that kind of boss. Be straight with people, even when it might hurt. If you do it with love and kindness and you have shown them genuine care in your relationship, most likely the truth will have a shorter sting and relationships will be stronger.
  2. Be better than you think you can be.  I don’t want to be status quo. I know that not everything works out perfectly, I know there will be things that I can’t perform on 100% all the time. However I can always make sure that I’m giving whatever I have to whatever is needed of me. I want to be a good steward of my work, the time that I’m paid to work and the project that will bear my name.
  3. Follow your gut. I know that I knew somewhere in me that I shouldn’t wear those that day. But I did anyways. If you know something to be wrong or feel unsure, take that moment to reassess. It’s worth it and the time not wasted undoing it later.
  4. Take correction. There’s just not a whole lot more about this one to say, then to just take it. Even if you have to sit on it before you engage it, but take it.
  5. Review. These are the lessons we learn. This one wasn’t really that painful in the big scheme of things. A quiet word in the corner with a friend that might have pinched my pride at the time, but saved my bacon in life. These are important lessons to review in our lives, no matter how small. Their impact can be great.

Right now I feel like there’s a little corner being turned in my professional life, and once again I’m reminded of the lessons I need to remember going into new situations. I want to keep close to my heart all that I’ve been taught. I’m ok with making mistakes, but I’d like them to be new, something else to learn and not old ones all over again. I’m praying for wisdom and peace and that I’ll be teachable to all the new things that might come my way.

And no sweatpants…

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