The other night I was walking home from work. It was after midnight. As I passed the little park near the subway station I noticed a robust figure sitting on a bench near the fountain in the park. I couldn’t discern if it was a man or a woman. It was dark, cold, and there was a bit of distance between us.
Suddenly the bundled figure said, “Look up.”
At that moment I stopped and turned my head to the stars. The moon was just beginning to wane following a full moon the night before. I stared at its brilliance for a moment, grey smoky clouds passing over it but never covering its white light completely.
I wondered if the stars I could also see were actually stars or satellites. There were quite a few sparkling lights that were visible and it’s rare to actually see so many stars in a big city sky, even though we know that they’re there.
I had been arguing a lot with my boss that night, and over the course of those past weeks, something that has rarely happened in my life, so often found myself walking that route home feeling a bit low energy and replaying the events of the evening in my mind, wondering if it was ever going to stop.
I have often disagreed with people I have worked with, and for, but never outwardly argued with them like this, so I was having trouble understanding my newly argumentative reactions and how best to deal with and shift them.
I understood that my boss felt very strongly about how he wanted things to be done and when they weren’t done the way he wanted, he wasn’t shy about telling us. But as I finally pointed out to him in one of our increasingly ridiculous arguments, one had standing in front of other staff while in the midst of delivering food, I was getting a bit tired of the constant stream of criticism with nary a thank you or “good job”.
The focus always seemed to be on what went wrong or needed improvement as opposed to what went right. And in the catering industry there is just as much that goes right, as there is that goes wrong. And as long as the customer is happy, isn’t that all that truly matters?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that what we focus on is what we tend to attract and I’ve also come to experience firsthand that we cannot control other people, only our response to them.
I had even said this recently to some fellow co-workers at the call centre I also work at; so many of them so tired of dealing with certain types of customers. Understandably, when you are doing something day in and day out, it can become a bit of a grind. Especially when it’s not where you envisioned you would be five, ten, fifteen years ago when you first began.
And over time you can come to expect that every situation like the one before it will have the same inevitable results.
But when we think this way, isn’t this ultimately what we are going to create?
If we respond to someone in a way that suggests we are expecting a certain type of response from them, isn’t that likely to be the response we are going to get?
When someone calls in, frustrated because something they are trying to do isn’t working, rather than continue to listen to them complain, aggravating the situation by speaking to them with an impatient tone, only to later complain about having had to listen to them complaining, why not politely try to stop them mid-sentence and simply offer a solution?
“Ah yes, I’m sorry that’s happening for you. Let’s not worry about that now. Why don’t you just let me help you? That’s what I’m here for.”
It’s not always possible to calm the other person down but we can do our best to remain calm ourselves, after all, we can only control our own reactions, right?
In fact, a woman at an event the other night misplaced her phone. She was furious and felt that one of the service staff was responsible, threatening to charge the restaurant for its replacement. I explained that we were doing everything we could; other staff made suggestions as to where it could be; we even searched through the tiramisu-filled garbage.
What a yucky mess.
It was her reaction to the situation that struck me though. She was so worked up blaming staff for the missing phone and claiming, “My night is ruined and I worked so hard on this party”, to which I simply replied, “And you did a great job. I have faith it will turn up.” And it did. One of her colleagues had played a bit of a joke on her and put it in his pocket.
She promptly approached the members of the service staff and gave us each a hug, apologizing for being “such a bitch”.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the negativity of a situation; to focus only on what’s gone wrong; to criticize, complain, and jump to conclusions.
And while, at the time, the things that are happening around us – like delivering food to the wrong table, losing a phone, or dealing with a frustrated customer – seem so very important, are they?
There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence or wanting the boss or the customer to be happy, but when we get upset about all these little things, aren’t we losing sight of something?
“Look up”, that hobo-like figure on the bench said to me.
As I stared at the moon and the stars I smiled and yelled back at the wise stranger, “Thank you!” and then continued on my journey home feeling light again.
Sometimes all we need is a little reminder to look up.
“Walk outside on a clear night and just look up into the sky. You are sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Though you can only see a few thousand stars, there are hundreds of billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy alone. In fact, it is estimated that there are over a trillion stars in the Spiral Galaxy. And that galaxy would look like one star to us, if we could even see it.
You’re just standing on one little ball of dirt and spinning around one of the stars. From that perspective, do you really care what people think about your clothes or your car? Do you really need to feel embarrassed if you forget someone’s name?” – Michael A. Singer (The Untethered Soul)