I was at work much later than I wanted to be today. A co-worker was having a crisis. I resented that initially, since it was Friday, we were well past closing, and I wanted to go home. I was already in the process of packing up when he came into my office, at his wit’s end on something that he was working on. This was, sadly, a familiar process to me, as he was relatively new to his position.
I turned, and he had my attention, even as I braced for the panic his whole body was resonating with. I thought back to my own initial stages in this job, how someone had always been there for me, and how I’d sworn I would be that for others. Patient, thoughtful, and trying to guide them through with the experience and intelligence I knew I had.
He spoke, frantic. “What do I do?” he asked me, as he had so many times before, on so many different things.
I had to take a breath, and marshal myself, feeling my irritation gnaw at me, wanting him to not burden me with this, to not dump this on me at the last-minute of my day, the freedom of the weekend so close. I was prepping for a speech. It’s what I do. I felt like I’d given him this speech hundreds of times. We talked mechanics, which he needed, but I got the sense he also needed a pep talk. Not from a manager who was frustrated, or a co-worker looking at his watch, but someone who’d been through the fires of learning and had survived.
“Look,” I said, trying to get him to look me in the eye, needing his attention, to feel as certain as I did about what I was saying, and how much I meant it. “It sucks that you’re in this spot. But you have to make the call. I can’t do this for you.” A pause, and I looked at him again. “I know you don’t see it now, but these files, all this crap, you get through them, you’ll be able to handle anything. You have to keep at it. You can’t dwell on the mistakes. ”
Even then, I wondered if I could well have been speaking to myself. I didn’t have his immediate burden, but the mistakes, the doubts, the uncertainty, that I know, and remember, as much as anything I ever do. They stay with me.
I left a short time later, uncertain if his burden has been lifted. Mine wasn’t, but that wasn’t something I could solve. I had no speeches for myself. I wasn’t as compelling a speaker, looking into the mirror. Maybe I wasn’t as convincing as I thought, and the same tired act worked as well on him as on me.
Or maybe learning isn’t something that happens in a moment- it’s something that happens in time, in experience, as we grow and live our lives as best we can. Maybe we have to let go in our own time and space, and not dwell on things so much. Keep at it, and eventually, it happens and we never realize it. I haven’t lived long enough to know if that’s how it usually is, yet, but sometimes, I hope so.