One of the challenges of a blog challenge, blogfest, or writing prompt is to write about something that doesn’t immediately inspire you. This should be easy for someone who spent the largest part of their career, to date, as a technical writer, but that part of my career is in the past, and some part of me rebels. “This is not a work for hire, you dolt – why are you doing this to yourself?!” The cure, I’ve found, is to dive into the water and do a bit of research to find some intriguing little hook. It’s not always there, and I know from past experience I can dive down the rabbit hole of Google or a lovely old library full of dried out, dusty books that smell like history unfolding, and get lost for hours. I could go off on a thousand tangents, when there’s no paycheck riding on it. In this case, I have a deadline: noon today.
I finally settled on this – the second of three prompts for today:
“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”
– The Lion King
You see, the first prompt was problematic; I’ve already told the Pygmy Story.
The third inspired – I have a beautiful photo like that of my husband and my daughter, but it feels too intimate to share on the blog, and I’m not inclined to blog about a stranger’s sweet moments of fatherly bonding.
The problem with number two is that there is nothing about my past that I’m inclined to run from. There’s little there that’s left a lasting hurt, at least in terms of things I’d run from or learn from. Lessons – we all have them, though I have met people who are more inclined to wallow in the problems than to run from them or learn from their past, and I find that annoying. You see, there’s that third option – don’t run, don’t learn, just wallow in quicksand till you’re stuck, and suffocate. At least have the good grace to run off and join a circus. Live an interesting life.
Which leads me to my other problem with prompt #2: Unlike so very many people, I don’t find quotations particularly compelling, 95% of the time. I make exceptions, now and then. Mere platitudes don’t speak to me, and I’ve been known to return fortune cookies–to insist on more interesting and relevant ones. Ever since reading the joke about the fortune that says, “Help! I’m trapped in a fortune cookie factory!” I’ve even toyed with the idea of going into the fortune cookie business, just to keep diners at Chinese restaurants from dying of boredom between dessert and the check.
I decided to look for more context for the quotation. It has been so many years since I watched The Lion King, with my children, but I figured there had to be more to that scene – something more memorable than “learn from the past.” I found this clip, on YouTube:
I have been fortunate, in my career, to work for good managers. One of them mentored me through a period of being in over my head in a job for which I had none of the requisite skills beyond an aptitude for learning new things quickly. Twice, I made silly little mistakes that could have had major repercussions. I was sure that I’d be fired, and sure I deserved to be. I went to his office and confessed what I’d done before even having time to compose a dignified letter of resignation.
He looked at me for a long moment, then quietly asked, “Can you back your ass out of it?”
I was 20, or so, and wholly unprepared for a manager, especially one who had always struck me as a gentleman, to ask me such a blunt question. (Umm umm umm um…He said “ass”!) I struggled not to look too shocked and not to laugh. “Yes, Sir, I already have.”
“Good. Did you learn something from it?”
I had learned from my mistakes, both times this happened: The first time, I learned to be more careful and not just function on autopilot. I had known what I needed to do, but skipped a step out of carelessness. The second time, I learned that some of my coworkers thought it was safe to joke with me when telling me to do things – they had assumed I knew more than I did, like not to “delete anything from the drive that hasn’t been used in the last ten minutes” just because they ordered me to do it. (That coworker came with me to the manager’s office, prepared to take full responsibility. In hindsight, had anyone been fired that day, it would have been the guy with the professional experience to know better.)
“Yes, I did.”
“All right, then. Are you ever going to do this again?”
“No, Sir.” I’d be far too humiliated to make the same bone-headed mistakes in question; decades later, I wouldn’t make those exact same mistakes, again. I’m glad he didn’t say, “Are you ever going to screw up this royally again?” because I’d have been lying to promise I wouldn’t.
“Great. Now get back to work. The matter is closed.” We never spoke of it again.
I wish that more managers handled issues this way. Be kind, be a mentor, and offer absolution for mistakes that are instantly regretted and fixable. I think that, more than anything, cements employee loyalty because it builds trust and allows people the freedom to learn, to try things that may be outside their comfort zone, and lets them work without unreasonable fear of being whacked over the head by some monkey in a suit carrying a big stick.