Planting a seed

There’s this old Jewish story about a carob tree, I can’t recall where it comes from but it goes something like this:

A wise man was walking along the road and saw a poor man planting a carob tree. The wise man asks, “Why are you planting that tree? It will take 70 years to bear fruit. Do you think you will live another 70 years to eat the fruit of the tree?” The poor man answers, “maybe not. But, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”

I’ve recently realized that so often in my work I am like the man planting the tree.

A small moment or routine part of my day, to a student in my office, may be huge. Like the man planting the carob tree, I often do not see the fruits of my labor. I often meet with students only once and do not know if they use the advice or information I give them. I can only hope that the students reflect and are able to see their own growth. I simply plant seeds, provide a watering can and sometimes sunlight.

There are people with whom I’ve spent just a few moments who have made the largest impact on me. They planted a seed. Where I am today, my professional path is largely due to the words and actions of other people. Most of those moments were, at the time, small and seemingly inconsequential. Only when I look back can I connect the dots and see the many people who have shaped my path – each adding a drop of water or a ray of sunlight.

My students and my mentors have helped me realize that you never truly know when your words or actions might make an impact on someone else. A little encouragement, acceptance or praise, small actions that seem insignificant may alter the course of someone’s life.

It’s hard to remember on those days when I have eight back-to-back meetings but I’m certain someone is going to benefit from the fruit, enjoy the shade and swing from the branches of my work.

Moving forward after irrational moments

If I had to pick my own spirit animal, this week I’d choose a deer. Imagine driving at dusk, a deer runs into the road and in front of your car, it freezes. I am that deer in headlights. Or at least, I was this week. In the fight or flight response I prefer freeze. My freeze is automatic and non-conscious.

At work this week I was the target of someone’s anger.  I know this certainly isn’t something unique to me yet, it’s important that I respond as, in the moment, I froze.

The only way to describe this individual’s action is an adult temper tantrum. It was irrational, uncontrollable rage.  I have worked with children and know how to handle a child throwing a temper tantrum but when someone in your workplace behaves irrationally – I’m unsure what to do.

Being the subject of someone’s anger in the workplace is belittling and can easily deflate ones self-esteem and sense of self-worth. It creates an unhealthy environment where you cannot express yourself without fear—where you cannot speak up or defend yourself without consequence.

Immediately after being yelled at, I cried (and called my dad). Despite him and others in whom I sought solace reminding me I have worth, I spent the rest of the workday feeling worthless.

Upon a few days reflection I’ve come to realize a few things:

Despite being the kind of person who often thinks that bad things occur to bad people, I’ve realized I did not deserve this treatment. Treating others without respect is not a reflection on the person being disrespected. Treating someone disrespectfully does not enable someone to gain respect but sometimes, it does enable brief control over another person. Power and control are what this person was trying to gain through my fear. Nothing more.

Temper tantrums (in this case, adult temper tantrums) are a performance of anger, power and control.  Think of a child throwing a tantrum – while yes, they may actually be hurt or upset that they did not get their way; much of their tantrum is an act.  This performance is intended to gain control (of the parent, in most cases)—to make them behave a certain way, to make them do what the child wants. In this instance, the person’s performance of anger was intended to gain control (over me or the situation) because they felt that their power had been violated or taken away.

I am moving forward and resisting my own feelings of worthlessness. I’ve decided to 1) let myself feel hurt. I have a right to my feelings and it’s totally okay and normal to experience them however they come. I’m working to get over that by 2) reflecting with others who I trust. Talking about my feelings is important. And 3) responding (through this post) in order to process and understand my experience.