Day of reflection

I’m reading some great Sept. 11, 2001, tributes around the Web, and well, I don’t have a whole lot to add, being that the theme of the day is honoring heroes and I wasn’t much of one at that point in my life. But being that this is my “professional” blog, I will relate my experiences then to the ones I have now in relation to earning a living.

Sept. 11, three years ago, really did something to the mindset of the American worker. Think of how many people now work at home who used to commute to a physical office every day. Now that I am among those ranks, I do have to say that for all the horror of the tragedy we all witnessed, our world is turning in a better direction, at least insofar as work.

I guess before I blather on any further, I need to explain where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. I was sitting in a hellacious meeting. I mean, a really torturous, out-of-control, insipid and mind-numbing weekly meeting with some people I tolerated and others I absolutely abhored. As I was walking to said bonfire of the vanities, my mom called to inform me about the fall of the Twin Towers. Twin calls, actually — when she called again to report the second one, I had asked if she had just seen a repeat of the first tower being hit. She assured me that it was new footage — breaking news.

So I went to my earth-shatteringly painful meeting, only to be informed about the Pentagon hit. Then a little while into the horrific meeting, I heard about the plane crash in Somerset County, Pa.

And I didn’t, as my grandmother used to say, know whether to shit or go blind.

I panicked. I wanted to call my friend Jodie who lived in Johnstown (in Somerset County). I wanted to be with anyone but those strangers in that room. I needed some kind of comfort (and it did cross my mind that Southern Comfort would have sufficed). I needed some familiarity, some warmth, some kind of safety net.

The meeting from hell continued, after the CEO made us all stop and observe a moment of silence for those who had lost their lives that morning. And while I did feel a bit better to have a chance to connect with my higher self, well, someone else in the meeting went into a full-fledged panic attack. We were running around, getting her cool, wet towels and calling 911. I ended up calling 911 after 45 minutes had gone by, asking when they were planning to come save this woman’s life (we were four blocks from the nearest hospital). The operator said that there was a huge influx of panic attacks in the city, and everyone was in their cars, clogging the roads, so a unit was on its way but there was no telling when it could arrive.

Long story short, she was fine. We were all fine … eventually. But what I loathe to admit was that, during that moment of silence, I hoped that the building I was in would be hit with a plane. Yeah, when do you expect to read a thought like THAT in a Sept. 11, 2001, memorial post? But bear with me for a second. It’s not that I really wanted for myself or anyone to perish — I’m not that sadistic. 🙂 But I realized how woefully unhappy I was in my life. I’d made many sacrifices for my job, and while I fundamentally loved what I did, I was masking my general unhappiness every day under a cloak of Suzy Sunshine-esque mannerisms.

And what struck me more than anything was that people died for their jobs, fundamentally. I’m not talking about the firefighters and police and other good samaritans who restored our faith in humanity. Oh, no, I’m talking about the office workers who were counting on just another ordinary day in the workforce so that they could get a paycheck. I didn’t live in Washington, D.C., at the time (and BOY did my mom freak out when I decided to move to the nation’s capital, but that’s a story for another day). But I realized that I could very well have been one of the people jumping to my death to escape a burning building. I could have been trapped in a stairwell with other unsuspecting people, praying for my life. I could have died a very unhappy woman in an environment I had grown to dread.

But I didn’t. I am fortunate to have lived to make the changes in my life so many others would have done. And while my contribution to the workforce and the economy is a small one, it’s still all I have to give.

So it took me three years, literally to the day, to start working from home. But this is the lesson that many people learned before me, and I hope others will follow in our paths. Someone at a previous job had a great saying, how clear-cut the employee/employer relationship is: you give them a full week of work, then they give you a paycheck for that work. End of story. That is the extent of your contract with them. But I always gave my heart and soul to any job I held. And while I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I’ve, well, rocked socks, the bottom line is that I worked too hard for what I got in return. Questions always arise whether the employer needs us more than we need them, but when we need that paycheck (commensurate or not with the effort expended), well, we need to feel like we earned every dime. At least, that’s how I’ve felt. And I still do, but if I’m going to be busting my behind, I want to be the beneficiary. And now I am. My business will only be as successful as I make it.

Anyway, I’m treading carefully here, because I don’t want future employers to read this and think I’m a walking attitude problem. But I don’t want anyone to miss the message that no matter whether you work for someone else or yourself, you need to be fulfilled by it each and every day. We come into this world with so much potential, and I truly believe that something, anything has to change by the end of each workday. In the positive sense, of course. So many people amble through their vocations, not realizing that they have the power to change their respective industries, if only they seized the opportunity. And many people don’t have that option — some are held back by politics, by superiors, by their own indecision or insecurity. We as leaders should be enabling every single person to grow to his or her heights within an organization. Most people are rebels at heart (at least, I am anyway), and when you give them parameters, they like to go beyond them. So keep setting the bar even higher, and you will be amazed at how people surpass themselves.

So, in any event, Sept. 11, 2001, is truly the start of a snowball effect on the labor of love. Whether paid or unpaid, Americans and maybe even citizens of the world have realized that whatever they want to do, they can do it and should do it before it is too late. The lesson I learned throughout my life, and it is magnified now, is that we may be born alone and die alone, but we don’t have to live alone. There is always some sort of safety net out there — friends and strangers really aren’t so different, when you think about it. We all want each other to succeed, and when we spot that spark in others, whether we’ve known them 10 minutes or 10 years, we want to help them to reach their happiness. When we can and do help, it’s a stop along the way to reaching our own.

On iTunes: Pat Benatar, “Invincible”

One Lonely Response to Day of reflection

  1. Caterwauling » Blog Archive » Untitled :

    […] on demand. Sometimes, it doesn’t arrive at all. If we really have to go through it, this is where I was on this day in 2004 and, retrospectively, in 2001. So I ain’t regurgitating that mess […]