How Am I THAT?

All month long I’ve been looking for “the perfect idea” to write about. I’ll be honest, words are kind of alluding me lately. I’ve lost a lot of my spunk for writing after the publisher I was most excited to work with rejected my book proposal. Not giving up, just lost some spunk.

Which is normal. I needed to take a few breaths and stretch out my arms and quads for a moment before starting Round 2.

But I still felt stuck. I thought about writing a quirky humor essay on how I finally cracked and lost my sanity at work this past Monday (but the back story would take FOR-EV-ER!). Then I had the idea to write about my physical challenges I’m facing and how they are superseding my motivation to work on anything, but I’m not sure what “the lesson” there is. Don’t get hurt at work?

This morning, though, as I rode my bike to work this morning, I had an epiphany. I’m listening to BrenĂ© Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart (2 episodes of Zoo-notable to cover this beauty of a book!), and I’m not sure what activated my brain to think about my frustrations at work, but my brain went there.

I know it’s hard to imagine having frustrations when working with these two angels, but it is still a job…

VULNERABILITY DISCLAIMER! In order to really share my important lesson, I have to divulge some frustrations I sometimes experience at work. I don’t hate my co-workers. I don’t hate my job. Quite the opposite. It is COMPLETELY natural to have frustrations when you work in close quarters with others. So, while I normally frown upon “bitching about work,” in order to share my lessons and epiphany, I do have to open these floodgates just a little.

WHAT?! Working at a zoo isn’t rainbows and roses all the time?!?!

When my team works with the elephants, we have a two-person system. One person is the trainer. The other person is hosing the elephant. The trainer is giving cues/commands, and reinforcing the elephant. They are also responsible for looking the animal over, checking their feet, looking in their mouth, making sure everything is looking well. And making sure the elephant stays in position until we’re ready to move to another body part. The only thing the person hosing is supposed to do is spray water on the elephant, wash the mud away, so the trainer can get a good look at the body.

Sometimes, though, I’ve noticed when I’m the trainer, my back-up colleague, the person hosing the elephant, cuts in when the elephant doesn’t comply with my cue on the first attempt. Sometimes I sort of casually say something like, “oh put that thing away” when Mari’s trunk wanders outside the barrier between human and elephant. I know that’s not the cue, so I don’t immediately expect the trunk to move back, and I’ll be about to seriously state my request to put their trunk back when my colleague will say “TRUNK BACK!”

Actually, I usually sing to them “Put that thing back where it came from or so help me!” and if you know that reference, you are DEFINITELY my people and deserve a prize.

It’s unnerving to me, and it’s not something I appreciate because this is considered rude behavior in training. Trainers call it “training over someone.” It’s not too far off from the know-it-all talking over the student who is TRYING to answer the question the teachers asks. In a weird way, it’s also not too far off from the concept of man-splaining.

So, I don’t like being “trained over.”

I have spoken with my supervisor about the challenge, and I’m trying to get the nerve to discuss it with my co-workers, but then I had my epiphany on my bike. It’s a philosophy that my coaching mentor taught me several years ago.

When someone or something annoys you, look at yourself and ask, How am I THAT?

So I’m riding my bike and trying to figure out how I’m like my co-workers when they train over me. And I’m arguing with myself this whole time. I’m not like that! I would NEVER train over someone working with an animal! That’s rude.

But, one part of my subconscious prodded– How ARE you like that?

It took a moment, then I figured it out. It’s not an EXACT parallel, but something I’ve decided to work on this year is active listening, that is, listening to understand, not listening to respond. Why is this my big goal for the year? Because, while I don’t train over people, or even talk over people, I THINK over other people all the time. I am constantly thinking of what I should say in response to someone’s comment, or what I can say to sound super clever and cool, or how to choose my words carefully so I don’t offend anyone. I’m constantly THINKING so much when people are talking that I rarely LISTEN.

I mean, fennec foxes are MADE for listening…

And I thought that was what’s going on with the training sessions. My colleagues are observing my training not to learn, but looking for the opportunity to step in and help. Even though I feel belittled, it’s not their intention. They’re just looking to respond rather than understand, or let me figure things out for myself.

And suddenly, when I realized I do the same thing in a different situation, my patience, empathy, and acceptance toward my coworkers improved dramatically.

How am I THAT?

I had another perfect example later in the day. My coworker was playing with the elephants after the keeper chat, finding them some extra browse (grass or leaves), drumming on the ground, getting the hose out again after putting it away. This was a long time after the guests from our keeper talk had left and all questions had been answered. There was a lot to do in the back to get ready for the evening– enrichment, cleaning, prepping the food. I wanted to leave, but my colleague kept finding new ways to stay and interact with the elephants.

I sighed, then immediately asked, How am I like that?

The answer came pretty quickly. Oh, sweet PJ, you procrastinate ALL THE TIME when you don’t want to work on your book, or the podcast, or write a blog, or ANYTHING related to your writing work. At home, you are the procrastination QUEEN!

Well, shit. Brain was on point.

Hi, yes, I am EXACTLY like that…

Now, I think this is a fun game. How am I THAT?

Is there someone or something that is annoying or frustrating you? What is it IN YOU that is like that?

And here’s the kicker– EVERYONE has something in them. The question isn’t AM I like that? It’s HOW am I like that?

If you can’t find what it is in you, dig a little deeper.

As I talked this over with Chris this evening, he mentioned two really interesting and important benefits to this practice of asking myself, How am I THAT?

  1. My empathy increases. When I see myself in others, I immediately connect with them at a new level. I understand them better. I understand myself better. It helps me feel compassion and common humanity with my coworkers, family, friends, and community.
  2. It pushes me to be better! I’m annoyed by this behavior from my coworkers, so I should do what I can to NOT do the same. If procrastination in others annoys me, well, I better get off my ass and quit procrastinating in my own way (Seriously, this is why you’re reading a blog post from me, instead of me watching the latest episode of The Daily Show– it really works!).

How am I like THAT? Make it a game, and let it change your life! Connect with each other in a healthier, positive way. Doing better today, tomorrow, and forever.

2 Responses

  1. Excellent sharing from you ! I wonder all the time about how you are doing and , I learned that you are still that great communicator that I Was so BLESSED to meet in person here in Birch Bay Wash.

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