I haven’t talked much about my few years in corporate. And please note that it wasn’t awful, I can assure you. It was actually an incredibly rich, rewarding, and educational experience, and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I dive more into the merit of my job and what I gained there, but how I also came to the conclusion that it wasn’t my ideal professional path in my upcoming book. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt about the merit of asking for help (in any job, career, or relationship, for that matter, too):
Asking for help is something I haven’t done too much of in my lifetime, though I'm working on doing it more. Back in my days at corporate, it was the farthest thing from my mind when it came to strategizing how to get everything done. I thought that asking for help portrayed weakness, or that I couldn’t handle the workload, or that it would somehow communicate the idea that I didn’t know everything already (cause obviously that would be a crazy thought).
However, there’s nothing like a large list of tasks to go through that are all categorized as “important” AND “urgent” to make you do crazy things like subsist on almonds from your desk drawer for meals on end, because you forgot to bring a lunch and you don’t have time to go get anything, or even starting to drink coffee everyday to stay awake when I’ve never liked the taste (that actually happened in May of 2011 for me, but didn’t last longer than a few months after which my workload lessened and I realized I still didn’t like the taste. But I digress…), or heaven forbid…ask for help:
It was the Fall of 2010…
I was almost at my breaking point. After a few too many consecutive weeks and weekends straight of working, I was completely stressed and drained of all energy (not a good combination). I could hardly talk about it, too, given that as soon as I would start to explain how close I was to crumbling, on would come the water works. And the last thing I wanted to do right then was cry in front of everyone and make them think I couldn’t handle the work. But I knew I couldn’t sustain that pace anymore and also maintain my sanity.
So I after everyone had left one evening, I went into my boss’ office to finally talk it out with him. “Stuart, I’m struggling…a lot. I’m prepping for this event and there is so much to do, on top of finishing designing the catalogue, and all our sales materials, too…I honestly don’t know how I can get it all done (cue: tears starting to squeeze out of my eyes. Push em back, push em back, Mol, keep it together!).”
Now, I respected (and to this day still respect) my boss very much, and in that moment I looked to him to somehow make my load lighter, or at least give me encouragement that somehow it would be ok, and I would survive.
He paused for a moment, looked at me and in essence replied, “I know. We’re all working more than we’d like to, but this is the nature of a small business. I don’t know what else to tell you other than it’s hard on all of us, and we just have to keep working. Just take it one item at a time, 'cause you can't do a whole list at once.”
I nodded, and wiped away the few tears that had made their way down my cheek. That was it, though. He couldn’t make my work go away, and he certainly wasn’t clocking out any earlier than I was. “Welcome to the real world” was probably what he should’ve said (though it probably only would’ve made me cry harder). As much as I looked up to him, he couldn’t carry my load for me. Only I could.
That’s when I really realized for the first time that this wasn’t supposed to be, nor would it be easy. Maybe I wasn’t so much clocking in for work each morning any more, but rather, I’d be clocking in for battle. And although I didn’t get the “help” I thought I needed in that moment, the actual practice of communicating my needs, and feeling supported regardless of the outcome, was much more valuable than I had initially expected.
Although my load hadn’t gotten lighter and nothing had changed externally by having that conversation, my view on my work, my company, and my co-workers did change that evening. I started to view my co-workers as teammates in the push towards a common goal, and wherever we could, we had each other’s backs. We were trench mates in the war of sales and profits. And like they say, there’s nothing like adversity to foster solidarity.