February 14 – Giving people permission to make me feel inferior

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

This hasn’t been the best of weeks for me at work. An assignment I had to get people aligned on a decision didn’t go as planned. The answer that the team came up with was rejected, and that resulted in a lot of extra “help” coming my way from management and other stakeholders. Ultimately we were able to reconvene and correct the problem, and now we have buy in from all interested parties.

As the week wore on, I began feeling like I personally failed, not just that the group had failed. I internalized both the rejection of the outcome, and all of the lecturing that came with the help that was sent our way. The fact is that although I was coordinating the effort, I was only one of 18 people who were responsible and accountable for the outcome.

When we had the second meeting yesterday, I felt the burn of the criticism of the original decision. I even took exception to some of the statements about the failure of the process to reach the decision. I had made it personal, I had made it about me. And, in that moment, I felt inferior to my peers. Last night, with the new decision in the rear-view mirror, I had time to reflect. I realized that I was no more the reason for the failure in the first decision than I was the reason for the success the second time. I was one of a team of peers who had worked hard each time, but had a better answer the second time around.

As I read the quote this morning I realize that I gave a lot of people permission to make me feel inferior. I gave them permission to make me feel as though I personally failed, rather than seeing things objectively and knowing that it was a team effort.

My mind and heart can be very cruel to me sometimes. I once read a book about the 7 biggest mistakes that really smart people make. One of them was that they pump themselves up too much, and another was that they are their own worst critic; the two together forming a dual edged sword. I am not sure in my case that I ever pump myself up too much (my guilt-ridden Catholic upbringing tends to keep that in check), but I know that I am my own worst critic more often than not. (By the way, I read that book because it interested me, not because I thought myself to be a really smart person)

This morning at work I will be summarizing the outcomes from yesterday’s decision and publishing them back to the team and stakeholders. After that the process will complete for now, but it will come back up in a few months. I had considered stepping down from the process and letting someone else be the coordinator. Instead I am going to grasp the lessons learned from this experience and apply them to the next opportunity.

One thing I have learned in my life is that what another person thinks of me – good, bad or indifferent – is on my mind far more than it is on theirs. I frequently find myself worrying over a person’s opinion of me, even though that person isn’t giving it a thought in the world. That is wasted energy. With Mrs. Roosevelt’s  quote in mind, I am going to remind myself, at least for today, that if I have given my level best, then whether someone else like’s the outcomes is a matter of objectivity, not about opinion of me as a person. Or, as my boss put it “don’t take this so personal, Bob!”

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