Today was a long day, and I am surprised to find myself writing a blog post. I didn’t get home from work until after 9:30. It was a draining day, and on top of that, I haven’t been feeling well. All I wanted to do was sit down and relax for a while before going to bed, but the words were brewing and bubbling up inside of me, so here I am, writing again.
As I sat here quietly trying to unwind, my head was replaying moments from my busy day. It was a strange day that seemed to take place like scenes from a play. Scene I: a morning phone call. Scene II: a quiet, contemplative drive to work. Scene III: a meeting with mega-rich hoteliers. On and on, my day went from one scene to the next. The only player that was constant was me. I walked out on the stage never knowing what I was going to get. Everyone else seemed to know their lines, but not me. Maybe I was feeling a bit scattered because I didn’t feel well. I felt like I was a step behind. I felt uncertain and unsure.
As I sat here tonight replaying the scenes, I thought about the interactions I had today with such a wide variety of people. My work day ended by giving a presentation to a large group of business owners and residents at a public meeting. Each scene of my day had a different tone, and I thought about that as I sat on the couch trying to relax. Moments can go well, or they can be fraught with difficulty. It can go either way. So much is dependent on the people involved. Kindness seems to be the key element. The addition or the lack of kindness can tip a situation in one direction or the other.
I had dreaded my late morning meeting with the hoteliers. They are international business owners. I knew why we were meeting. They wanted a financial incentive for a project, and I had to tell them that it was not going to be possible. The funds were not available. I expected an angry reaction or disappointment. Our words were carefully chosen as we broached the subject. I expected push back, even anger, but there was none. They listened to what we had to say, and we listened in return. There was mutual respect, transparency, and honesty. Instead of the confrontational meeting I had expected, their kindness and understanding opened a new line of discussion. We explored other options and alternatives to arrive at a solution to the gap in the agreement. The ball is still in play, and everyone walked away feeling a sense of teamwork. I left the morning meeting feeling proud and optimistic that the project would move forward.
Within moments of leaving the morning meeting, I checked my email. I scanned through the list on my phone as I sat in my car. Boom! As I read one, all my feelings of well-being drained away. I read an email with an accusatory tone. I felt my defenses rise up even though I had done nothing wrong. I felt required to explain my actions. I felt the need to apologize, and I’m not sure why. I had done nothing wrong. While the words themselves were not necessarily accusatory, it was the harsh black and white, emotionless email in front of me that hurt the most. If there was a concern or a question about my actions, I wanted to be able to speak to a HUMAN BEING. I couldn’t explain anything while I was sitting there in my car looking at the words on the screen of my phone. At that moment, I hated technology. I hated that my good mood had so quickly evaporated. I hated that I was accessible by text, phone call, or email at that moment.
Back at the office, more scenes played out. I am blessed to work with some of the best people I have ever known. They knew I wasn’t feeling well. While I had no desire to be babied or treated any differently, it felt good to feel their genuine concern. Their kindness was welcomed, treasured, and appreciated. They knew I was scrambling to finalize the presentation,and they helped me out. One person even offered to give the presentation for me tonight. I didn’t accept the offer, but I was touched by the gesture.
Later, I met a friend for a drink before the public meeting. What should have been a relaxing time of catching up turned into something else. I can’t quite put my finger on what, though. It was uncomfortable and strained. I could not be myself. In fact, I felt that I had to be BETTER than myself. I felt that just being me was not good enough, not acceptable, not really even likable. Mind you, this is a person I like and care about very much. I wonder why, because I realized today that I have to try fairly hard to feel accepted by this person.
The public meeting went very well. The room was packed. My co-workers were wonderful. They sent supportive smiles my way as I spoke. The woman next to me patted my back when I sat back down. The response from the audience was wonderful. During the question and answer session, I was proud to be up front with this group of dedicated and intelligent people.
As I sat here tonight going over the day in my mind, I wondered why I continue to put myself out there for the people in my life who don’t contribute much, if anything, to my mental and emotional well-being. I wondered why I would voluntarily subject myself to any associations with those people who make me feel unwanted or unworthy of their kindness.
Step by step, I am beginning to see that the problem is ME. No, it’s not that I deserve to be treated badly by anyone. No one does! The problem is that I sit there and take it. Being nice does not mean being a punching bag for the people who think nothing of being a jerk.
Being nice or kind does not mean that I am not allowed to be assertive. Being nice or kind does not give others permission to lack those same qualities. It’s not my job to over-compensate for what others lack. Instead of being offended and hurt by the email I received, instead of picking up the phone and feeling guilty for something that I did not do, I should have fired back an unemotional email. Tit for tat. Instead of sitting there with my friend feeling inferior and under-appreciated, I should have gotten up and excused myself. Certainly, I could have remembered someplace that I needed to be or something I had forgotten to do. Tit for tat. Well, I’m learning. I am not required to be nice to people who are not nice to me! I know what I’ll do next time. My eyes are open, and I am beginning to love and value ME enough not to let the emotional vampires in the world feast on me.
As a physician, I’ve found that the biggest energy drain on my patients is relationships. Some relationships are positive and mood elevating. Others can suck optimism and serenity right out of you. I call these draining people “emotional vampires.” They do more than drain your physical energy. The malignant ones can make you believe you’re unworthy and unlovable. To protect your energy it’s important to combat draining people. – Judith Orloff, MD