Just call me blameless

Not sure how long I’ll be able to maintain this blogging in the morning thing. It’s hard for a non-morning person, it really is. But I’m doing it. Here I am. Typing away.

The topic du jour is dealing with conflict. You know, because not dealing with it doesn’t resolve anything. I got to thinking about this after having a run-in at work with a co-worker, K, who got upset with me for not following up with a task that she had passed onto me via email a few days before.

I had followed up with the other person she had addressed the email to, and he had said that the task was a waste of time. That’s where I left it. Because I had tasks of my own that weren’t a waste of time. Besides, it wasn’t something that I had been assigned – it was *her* task. Then she was absent for a day, and when she came back, nothing had happened and the deadline for getting the information to our colleague in head office had passed.

Now, turns out it wasn’t such a big deal, the whole missing the deadline thing, as we had more time to complete the task than initially told. But that’s not the point. K got upset and admonished me for not acting on her request. I indicated that I had, in fact, done what she had asked for – I had followed up with the person she’d asked me to follow up with, and that he had not given me enough information to proceed further.

What I didn’t say is that it was not my fault that she wasn’t there yesterday to address this task before the deadline. I really wanted to say that though; I really wanted it to be not my fault. But, in the end, it’s probably good I didn’t say that to her –  it would only have made matter worse. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t quite true.

As I think critically about it, it occurs to me that my modus operandi, my way of doing things, is to make sure that I am blameless – at all costs. It hadn’t occurred to me before that that’s my approach to life. It wasn’t a conscious need – this need to be innocent at all costs – until yesterday.

It’s easy enough to understand why I might feel this way. As a child I was constantly berated, called bad, lazy, made to feel stupid. I know none of these words are actually applicable to me. I work hard, I’m considered highly intelligent by the friends I care about, and my partner M – who I trust more than I trusted my mother – says I am a good person. I have no reason to doubt her.

And yet the fear, that those early descriptors are true, persists like an incurable disease, just beneath the surface.

I’ve long known that at work I act more out of fear than inspiration. It’s probably both my strength and my weakness. I naturally try to eliminate all risk either by tackling the matter at hand early, all by myself (because the voice in my head says: “trust no one”), or by simply coming up with ways to avoid the task completely.

And now I get it: my underlying objective. The key is to make sure that I am not to blame! It’s the only way, in my subconscious mind, to prove to myself that what I fear is true (i.e. that I am damned) is not in fact the case. It’s a pretty good strategy if what you  care about is your own innocence.

But if what you want is to make a good impression at work, to grow into a leader that solves problems effectively and is trustworthy, well, then if falls flat.

So here’s the challenge I put to myself: stop avoiding. If you run into an obstacle, make sure you bring other people’s attention to it. Not so that you can run away and hide, but so that you can actually address the matter.

I do not think K is entirely blameless in all of this. She thrives on making other people feel a sense of urgency when it comes to her tasks. But that too is something that needs addressing head on. Not in an angry tone, but by simply pointing out what it is I am working on at the moment, so that together we can rejig my schedule to focus on what matters most.

My task for the rest of this week, the one I put to myself, is to stop trying to be blameless, and instead commit to acting as best I can to resolve issues.

And where I fail, if I fail, to remind myself, that this does not make me stupid. Or lazy. Or bad. That I do not need to be blameless to be a good person. I can just be human.

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