Today I was reminded of a story that will always stick with me. About an eager, young rookie, and a disgruntled, seasoned worker.
When I first started in my industry I was with a company that thrived on a certain level of chaos. It was not healthy or pleasant, but I had the opportunity to meet some individuals with whom had learned certain survival skills to make a hostile work-environment more bearable. Before I tell you this story I’d like to note that I am no longer with that company or living any part of it’s culture, and I couldn’t be happier to no longer have years shaved off my life from stress.
I had recently finished a 3 month on-boarding program and was placed at a facility with a mentor; we will call him Charles. Charles was born and raised in another country and I was enjoyed many of his mannerisms and sayings that were foreign to me. I was (and still am, but now older) a professional, driven, and eager to learn every detail of my new role. If a challenge popped up, I wanted to take it on because: how else would I know what to do when it happens in the future? How can I be great at what I do if I can’t handle the tough-stuff? So, I wanted to take on all the tough-stuff I could early-on, especially while I had an experienced mentor there with me.
And the first time or two, Charles would briefly narrate, without interest, how the solution should go and then greatly distance himself from me and the situation. Unlike me, he did not want any additional stressors in his life and didn’t find the same wondrous learning-experience in these challenging, sometimes hostile situations. So here I was, signing up for problems I couldn’t necessarily solve. And there he was, watching me struggle… let me tell you, he made it obvious sometimes that he enjoyed the show.
He said something to me one day while I was asking him for help that shocked me.
“Hey Charles,” a young, greenhorn version of me said, “I have this guy screaming in the lobby about X,Y,Z and I want to make things go smoothly for him, but policy A says he’s not entitled to anything and shouldn’t be here. Is there anything I can do for him?”
“M.C.,” he said, with the same lack of concern and calmness about him, “what does a donkey know about toothpaste?”
I looked at him confused, “Is that…a riddle?”
“It is a question; what does a donkey know about toothpaste?” he repeated.
“I would say it doesn’t really care, donkey’s don’t use toothpaste, so what does it matter to them? Unless… do their owners brush their teeth? I really don’t know a lot about donkeys.” I replied.
But he just smiled, and turned away. (subtle American Pie easter-egg)
In that moment I had no idea what just happened. I went back to my infuriated customer and made up a solution that worked within the knowledge I had. Which I continued to do for our entire time together. Anytime I would approach him with a question IE:
“What do you think about this?” I’d ask.
“I don’t know, M.C., what does a donkey know about toothpaste?” would reply Charles.
What an epic way to say “Not my problem, I don’t care, %$! off.”
Haha, go ahead and try it!
Now, in no way am I speaking ill of Charles. I loved working with him at this location and years later, we would work together again (only later he would be asking me for help (and I only said it once just to be funny (he did not find it funny))). His solutions were different than my own, and if he would have told me the answers to my rookie questions, I may have imitated his understanding rather than develop my own and I wouldn’t be the professional I am today. Present day, I am a leader at another company in the same industry and while I will never, ever say that to a member of our team, there are times when I hear about an issue that is within their own role and ability to solve, or maybe something self-inflicted that they should get themselves out of…. and you know what crosses the back of my mind?
Thank you for reading, please check back in soon!
***Photo created to artist contributions at Pixabay.com***