Still Angrily Impatient…But Not Always

A bunch of years ago, when I first started working on changing, or better, working on the whole me, a friend described me as angrily impatient. That’s still true. It’s something that has both caused me grief and served me. Probably more of the former than the latter.

For about 10 years, I was a photojournalist. During that era of my life, my opinion is it definitely caused me more grief, than helped. My last job in this capacity was in Cedar Rapids, IA. I can recall four distinct times being angrily impatient was not in my best interest. In the first, I had just started my job. I received an assignment to photograph some kids at a local event. It was in an auditorium. I remember getting there, and kids, being kids, it was difficult to get the attention of those I was supposed photograph. I really didn’t want to shoot this. Out comes Mr. AI, and in a manner not conducive to working with kids or persons in general, I did what I thought was necessary to get the picture done and out of there. When I returned to the paper, I was called into the managing editor’s office. He’d already had several parents call about “the rude photographer.” Strike one.

Another time Mr. AI showed up was a portrait I’d been assigned  of some guy who’d been responsible for updating a local theater. When I was working with the fellow, he kept wanting to ‘direct’ the photo. After several minutes of this, I finally said something to him akin to, “I’m the professional here. We’ll do it my way, understood?” Another phone call to the editor, another lecture. Clearly, Mr. AI wasn’t earning anyone’s welcome and causing me many more problems then he was solving. Strike Two.

The last time in Cedar Rapids this happened was the straw that broke the editor’s back. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining pretty hard and in those days, maybe still, Iowa used Astroturf on their field. Funny thing about Astroturf and rain, they don’t play well together. In fact, there’s usually a pretty good lake that forms on the field. As a sideline photographer, I knew I was supposed to get on my knees to shoot, but with a field that wet, it would have been like jumping in a pool. An Iowa state trooper came by and ‘ordered’ me down on the field. Maybe I squatted, maybe I didn’t, I really don’t remember. What I do remember was standing, not kneeling. Up comes this state trooper, grabs my jacket, starts pulling me down with a “I said get down!” command. As you might imagine this went over like a lead balloon. Not only did I not go down, I told this guy if he put his hands on me again I’d file assault charges. A pretty good shouting match ensued. Unfortunately for me, the assistant sports director of the university is witnessing the whole thing. Not only did I get called in to the editor’s office, I was fired. Strike Three, you’re out! I remember him saying, “Donny, when I hired you I told you I would stand by you. I have. For three, long years. I just can’t anymore.” There was no begging forgiveness or another chance. It was to be the end of my career as a newspaper photographer. There’s almost never a day since I haven’t wished I knew then what I know now. I might still be shooting. It was one one of the most painful lessons ever. To this day, I don’t photograph much of anything. There’s still a stigma about what was lost. Maybe some day.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes. Many years later, I was in a situation with a K-12 school official. This guy, a former principal, and clearly someone used to getting his way, approached me on a project we were working together on. He asked me a question about an area of the project I was not responsible for. When I answered his question with that information, he began screaming at me. I mean screaming. In olden days, I might have strapped on my six-guns and invited him out to the street at high noon. This time, I stopped, caught me breath, and asked myself what this guy really needed. I knew his boss could be a real handful, he was likely under a lot of pressure from her. So, what did I do? I told him he was correct and asked him what I needed to do to make his life easier. The change was almost immediate. His anger deflated, we finished up what needed to be done with success. No one died. No one got fired.

While I’m nowhere near as angrily impatient as I was back in Iowa, I’m reminded how true it still is when I think about my relationship with my friend, Bruce. He is one of the most loving, caring men I know. He learns, he says, by asking questions – lots of questions. And that’s where I become angrily impatient with him. I can always feel the onset. It’s like I want to strangle him, never would of course, but the urge is there. I ask myself, “Who else in my life asked a lot of questions? How did I feel about it? Why does it make me angry – and is it really anger or my old friends fear & sadness? Another question might be, “Who didn’t ask me questions?” Right now, that seems to be the more relevant question. The answer would be Dad. He wanted me to be the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Another answer might be Mom. At the times Dad was raging, why wasn’t she asking him the questions of why he was taking his frustrations out on me.

With Bruce, I think it’s about how I’m processing his questions. Seems like (to me) he’s asking variations of the same questions repeatedly, so my frustration is, “He’s not getting it. Either figure it out, or stop with the questions!” It might also be that there’s a part of me which doesn’t want to allow somebody (Bruce) to get to know me that intimately. Because? Because if he does, he won’t like what he finds out about me; therefore, he won’t like me.

There’s a ring of truth to all of the above. Not enough question from Mom & Dad. Not wanting someone to know something about me which might cause them to dislike me. Nothing I can do about the former. For the latter, I want to be willing to accept whatever the outcome is. If someone doesn’t like me because of something they learn (I’m not a criminal, after all) that really isn’t my problem. It’s theirs. All I can do is be myself, warts and all. That’s either acceptable to someone else, or not, based on their own preconceptions. I don’t have to change the parts of me I like, only the parts I want to change.

I imagine, I’ll carry angrily impatient the rest of my life. How I choose to deal with it, well, that’s How Am I Changing?

 

First, Do No Harm….

This is a vital part of the Hippocratic Oath as I understand it. How does that apply to an IT trainer/consultant? It seems to be a lesson I’ve only just recently taken to heart.

One of my shortcomings, has been for a very long time, this angrily, impatient guy who has the ability to lash out at the most inappropriate times. For instance, I might be working with a client. Someone who’s actually paying me. One of two things might unleash this Mr. Hyde. The first might be the project is not going well. I’m having difficulty completing the task I’ve been hired to do. The client, or someone else present, asks a simple question, such as “How’s it going?” Rather than simply say, “Not so well,” or “I’m facing a bit of a challenge here,” that person is likely to get a snippy answer or, in many cases, even worse, a look saying, “Get away from me now! Leave me alone!” The second scenario might be the client asking me a few questions about other things they need done, and I haven’t completed the first one yet. Same likely response. The end result is not good. I can immediately tell I’ve insulted someone or at the very least hurt their feelings. Neither of which is how I really want to be seen. I’ve been working on this for at least 10 years. Getting better, but still don’t have it whipped.

How does the title of this blog come into play? Well, a couple of days ago it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I don’t usually go to the synagogue on this day. I choose to do something else which I believe will be valuable to both me and the persons around me. For the last couple of years, I’ve met with my friend Bruce. He’s a very wise man; I think it’s important to have wise women and men in my life.

We were talking about ways in which my Mr. Hyde has a tendency to show up. Bruce, is also a Warrior, that is he’s done the New Warrior Training, and we’ve spent quite a bit of time together in that forum. Bruce asked me where in that part of my life I’m best. I knew he meant times when I’ve facilitated another person through a process to help them heal an event from their life which may be kicking them in the head after many years. We often refer to this as Carpet Work, because it’s usually done on a carpet. The carpet is just a symbol of a safe place to do the work. I really believe one of my heavenly gifts is to act as a facilitator of this work.

Bruce went on to say, when I’m ‘on the carpet’, no matter what’s happening, I maintain the ability to guide the person I’m working with through their work. I don’t get flustered if it’s not going the way I ‘think’ it should. I don’t get flustered if someone else in the area starts asking me a bunch of questions or is making a bunch of suggestions. My goal, in this moment, is to help this person get resolution on whatever they happen to be working on. Most importantly, I work very hard to do no harm.

The next question Bruce asked me, a feather could have knocked me down. “What’s keeping you from bringing that guy, the one on the carpet, to the rest of your life, especially your work?” I almost started to cry.

“I’m afraid in my work, when I’m getting paid, someone will see me as incompetent if it’s not going well. I’m afraid I’ll be ridiculed.” For the other scenario I’ve mentioned, someone asking me a lot of questions, that’s about my challenges around multi-tasking. I’m usually not very good at it. Solving one problem at a time works best for me. So, when someone is asking me a lot of other questions, my concentration on the current problem becomes diminished. Again, I think I’ll appear incompetent if I don’t get each problem solved in the order begun.

My wise friend continued. “When Mr. Hyde wants to come out, become the guy on the carpet. Step back. Ask yourself, “What would he do?” Would he get angry or belittling?” I knew the answer was no. It was an ah-ha moment. Now, if only I could put it into practice. And, I did, the very next day.

I was working with a client. A fellow I’ve worked with many times before. He asks a lot of questions while I’m working. And, this particular job was one I hadn’t really done before. I’d also done something I don’t usually do: I’d quoted him a flat rate for the project.

While I was working, he started asking questions. First, do no harm; that’s all I wanted to remember. Sometimes, I would stop what I was doing and ask him if he wanted me to stop the first problem to deal with the newer problem his question propagated. He  always said, “No, let’s solve this other one first.” Sometimes I would stop after he stopped and I’d tell him I hadn’t really heard what he said because I had been concentrating on the first problem. Would he mind repeating what he’d said. He did. Do no harm. It was working.

Finally, we got to a place in the project where I was about to do some physical work with his laptop. I was going to replace his hard drive. For a lot of folks who do what I do, that’s no big deal. For me, I hadn’t really done it before on this computer model. I was nervous.

I’d watched a good video on the subject. I’d made notes. I started. Much of what the video showed was spot on. Some of it had some minor detail differences. But, when I got down to taking the old hard drive out, there was, for me, a big difference. The video had said there might be some tape on the hard drive cable. Just peel it away the video said.  It turned out, the cable, what they call a ribbon cable (very, very thin and easy to break) was  actually attached to the top of the hard drive with an adhesive. Whatever happens, do no harm. At worst, I’d have to buy the guy a new cable. It all worked out beautifully. I stayed calm. Replaced the drive. Put everything back together. Started the computer up. At first, it choked. I thought from the clues the computer was giving I might have not seated the memory chips correctly. Re-seated them. Perfect! And, even when the guy came in and said, “How’s it going?” I said to myself, do no harm. And, I didn’t.

At the end of that day. I felt great. Mr. Hyde stayed at home. The client had asked me how much he owed. I told him I’d quoted him a flat rate but it had taken twice as long. I was good with whatever amount he felt was fair. He paid the full amount! (He’s really one of the nicest clients I have.)

How Am I Changing?: When I don’t allow the fear to ‘control’ me, life is good. I’m blessed and so is everyone around me.