Nadine, the vice president of engineering for an early-stage startup, was talking with her friend Sam, also a senior engineering leader at another small software company. They had worked together early in their career and became fast friends.
“I’ve been feeling pretty depressed these last few days,” Nadine told Sam. Nadine slumped in her chair, far from the energetic and vibrant stance Sam usually saw Nadine take.
“What’s going on?” Sam queried.
“I just feel I’m not moving forward. I mean, I keep thinking I’m making progress. Yet, I keep running into the same problems over and over again. Problems I thought I had solved.” Nadine buried her head in her hands.
“That’s rough,” Sam responded. “Why don’t you tell me about an example.”
“Ok,” Nadine responded despondently.
You may worry you’re backsliding
“You remember how angry I used to sound? How people kept thinking I was mad at them?” Nadine asked.
“I do,” Sam confirmed. “That almost got you fired a few times, as I recall.”
“Yeah,” Nadine agreed wryly. “I’ve been working with a voice coach to help me modulate my voice away from those tones. And my assistant, Jordan, has been helping me notice when I might come across that way. I pretty much have it licked.”
As Nadine spoke, Sam noticed her moving out of her slump into her typical forward lean.
And then, Sam saw Nadine slump again.
“At least, I thought I did. Jordan happened to be in my office while I was talking on the phone with my partner today. After I hung up, Jordan asked me whether everything was ok. Apparently, I sounded pretty angry.”
“Were you angry?” Sam inquired.
“Not at all,” Nadine replied. “That, though, got me reflecting over other recent conversations. My niece and nephew, the server at lunch yesterday, even the librarian—I’m using my angry voice all over the place.”
“And at work?” Sam asked. “Are you using it there, too?”
“No,” Nadine answered. “Not at work. Thank goodness.”
“So, maybe you’re aware of it in other places because you’ve put in so much effort to change it at work?”
“I’d like to think so,” Nadine said. “But I’m afraid that’s just wishful thinking.”
You doubt you’ve learned the lesson
“That’s one example,” Sam said. “How about another? Something not work-related,” Sam prompted.
“Yeah, ok,” Nadine replied. “I know just the one. This one’s about how verbose I can be when trying to explain something I don’t quite understand. That used to crop up all the time in my romantic relationships. All those attempts at explaining how I was feeling.”
“I remember being on the receiving end of a few of those myself,” Sam said. “It’s been so long since you’ve done that, I’d almost forgotten. You eventually figured out it was a lack of self-confidence, I remember you telling me?”
“That’s right,” Nadine said. “Different triggers with different people, depending on their role. Just being aware of that made a big difference. And then, working on the reasons I lacked confidence removed the power those triggers had over me.”
Again, Sam watched Nadine’s stance grow more erect and energetic as Nadine related her growth on this issue. And then, Sam again watched Nadine slump back down into her chair.
“The last few weeks, though, I’ve been noticing myself doing that with my friends. Specifically, the ones with whom I discuss spiritual stuff. All that verbosity is muddling things up again.”
“So, did you use to be concise with them, and suddenly you’re verbose again?” Sam asked. “Or have you always been verbose with them and simply noticing it now?”
Nadine sat up a bit straighter as she thought this over. “It’s always been there,” she answered.
“So, again, you’re not backsliding then,” Sam noted. “You’re becoming aware of it somewhere you hadn’t been.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Nadine agreed slowly.
Sam saw Nadine sit up a bit more.
You’re practicing the lesson in new circumstances
“I feel for you,” Sam told Nadine. “And, I’m right there with you. All the time, I notice myself doing something I thought I had taken care of.”
“I’ve observed, though,” Sam continued, “that this always occurs in a new area of my life.”
“Just like I’m doing,” Nadine noted.
“Exactly,” Sam agreed. “And, here’s another thing I’ve noticed: I tend to start working on things as they affect me directly. Then the issue moves out to the people close to me. Then, out to people less close to me. Then, finally, out to random people I meet at the store and whatever.”
“So, you’re learning the lesson, and integrating the knowledge, across that spectrum of people over time,” Nadine restated. “You get it figured out with one set of people. Then, you might tweak it a bit as you resolve it with the next set of people. And so on.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “And, you seem to be doing this as well.”
Sam noticed Nadine was practically bouncing in her chair now. This was the Nadine Sam was used to seeing.
You truly are learning
“You started by saying you’ve been feeling depressed,” Sam remembered. “How are you feeling now?”
“I’m feeling a lot better,” Nadine responded. “Now I recognize I really am learning these lessons. And, that they’re staying learned. What I feared was backsliding is only learning them in new arenas.”
“That’s right,” Sam agreed. “You look like you’re feeling better. I’m glad your insides match your outsides.”
Nadine smiled. “I always enjoy our chats. And, I always learn something. Thank you for helping me see what is really going on.”
Sam smiled in return. “You’re most welcome.”