Retirement is called the “gift”. It allows us to reflect on what we have learned in life and what is important. By now most of us have become comfortable in our own skin and are less concerned about what others think of us. I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson from a great teacher. Here is that story.
I had a boss who was notorious for berating us during presentations, the larger the audience, the nastier the behavior.
One of my colleagues was making a presentation to a large group. Our boss interrupted her repeatedly with derogatory comments, heckling her.
Despite our boss’s attempts to intimidate and embarrass her, she remained calm and patiently asked for clarification. I watched her in astonishment, this boss brought everyone to tears, male and female, she humiliated her team for sport.
After the presentation, I went over to console my colleague.
But she didn’t feel humiliated at all.
She asked me, “Do you think that the other people in the room thought I was stupid or that our boss was mean?”
“Obviously, that she was mean.” I responded.
“But what about all the criticism,” I continued. “You worked so hard on that presentation; you even took notes when she spewed her vitriol.”
“Of course,” she replied. “Our boss wasn’t pleased, so I needed to change the presentation.”
“But your presentation was good,” I replied.
“I was satisfied with it,” she said.
“But didn’t the criticisms, hurt?” I was determined to find some weakness here.
“Oh no,” she replied. “Both praise and criticism are about the person giving it. Her criticism or praise for that matter was about her, not my work.”
“Let me give you an example,” she continued. “What if someone told you that they love your hair. It doesn’t mean that you have good hair. It means that you have hair that that person values. There is no objective measure of hair…just perceptions. The same goes with criticism. If that person didn’t like your hair, it is because she doesn’t like that kind of hair. It has nothing to do with your hair.”
In that moment, I felt liberated. Until then, I yearned for praise and dreaded criticism.
Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate and am very grateful for praise. If someone likes what I do, it feels good, and if they don’t like it, it doesn’t feel good. But I understand that it is about them, not me.
Still, sometimes it is hard…
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.