“There is a mean-spiritedness to this place,” a coworker told me on Friday.
I could only stare at her, speechless. In the nearly two months I have worked for Worth Publishers, I have seen I’ve seen coworkers do each other’s jobs to be helpful and supervisors provide time off without question. People have taken time to teach me and to laugh with me, to forgive my mistakes graciously and encourage my successes unstintingly. The doors are always open and the walls are thin. I’ve overheard casual conversations and business meetings, one woman swearing at her computer when it crashed and and another calling a plumber for her mother. I’ve overheard nothing to hint at pervasive mean-spiritedness.
I don’t write this to complain about a coworker or to rant about how much I love my workplace, but to point out the practical relevance of a cliché that we all know but seldom consider: life is 99% attitude.
I walked into that building on the first day terrified—but also excited, eager, and anticipatory. However, I walked in without expectations. I knew the company owed me nothing. Grateful to even be making an hourly wage as an intern, I planned to perform my duties as well as I could and ask no favours.
It turns out I didn’t have to ask; supervisors and coworkers handed out favours like free lollies at the bank from the moment I stepped in the door—but if they hadn’t, if they’d been cool and demanding and cut me no slack, I would not have been disappointed. I certainly wouldn’t have called them mean-spirited. I hoped for the best, but expecting nothing beyond civility, and thus I left no room for disappointment, only pleasant surprises.
I don’t know this woman. All I know of her is contained in brief “good morning”s, the blur of motion when she walks past, her voice coming through walls or over cubicle partitions when she’s on the phone or in someone’s office. She may not be as demanding as I perceive, expecting to be given what she sees as her dues, with no patience for anyone who falls short. It’s not my place to criticise. Perhaps she is due much more than I know, and her standards are high because she believes people capable high levels of growth and success. I don’t know.
What I do know is she is constantly dissatisfied with the people around her, and I am constantly encouraged by the people around me, and I don’t think the people around us are different—I think our attitudes are.
I’m not saying, “Set your sights low so you can never be disappointed.” I’m saying, “Don’t assume people owe you anything.” Usually they don’t.
Life isn’t about paying and collecting debts, playing some abstract King of the Mountain. It’s about give and take. It’s about bringing doughnuts to the office or about doing a half hour of work for someone who’s swamped in deadlines. It’s about smiling and saying, “Good morning!” and actually listening to that girl across the hallway tell her saga of miscommunication with her realtor. It’s about about accepting with gratefulness and forgiving with grace and, in the end, realising that loving people is more important than running people.
My office is imperfect. If I searched for mean-spiritedness, I might find it.
But I don’t search.