[This article is my entry for this month's groupwrite project, What I Learned From My Friends. You're invited to join us! Just click the link or see the bottom of this post for details.]
Ya know, words are pretty powerful things, aren’t they? (Yes, I’m surely preachin’ to the choir here.) A few well-timed words can really make all the difference, can’t they? It never ceases to amaze me how just a couple of words can totally change a situation, even to the point of turning defeat – into victory.
For the last several weeks, I’ve been busily setting up and executing a one-day client engagement. It was particularly exciting for me because it was my first “sale” (sound of crowd cheering) since I moved over to the consulting side of things at the Engineering firm where I work. Pretty cool, eh?
My plan (no wait, let me put sneer marks around that: my ‘plan’) was to use this short engagement to generate much more business with this particular client. It’s the ol’ tried-and-true foot in the door sales technique, used since some guy named Gutenberg invented the printing press and right off the bat started printing coupons for 50 cents off your next purchase of Twinkies at the local Food Farm.
Well, last week it finally happened. I flew to Canada (and boy, are my arms tired!), we did our thing, and based on the initial feedback, it looks like we accomplished what we set out to do. (Insert Elvis impression here: “Thank you; thank you very much.” And don’t forget to swing your hips.)
Now the fun began; all we have to do is win the rest of the work. Easy, eh? (Funny; while I was there, I never heard one single Canadian say “Eh”. ‘Course, I was only there one day. Or is that a stereotype? Anyone?)
Not as Easy as it Sounds
I’m tellin’ ya; for such a simple-sounding project (I mean c’mon – it was only a one-day thing, fer cryin’ out loud!) for a while there I almost at the point of despair! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced as much aggravation from such a small project before. It was ‘way more than what poor little ol’ me is used to.
To begin with, I’d been working on this deal for going on six weeks. Then, when it finally turned serious (you know; the moment when the client suddenly stops talking about doing it and says, “OK, let’s do it!”), well, the amount of time I had to get everything in place turned out to be ridiculously short. Think: less than two weeks.
Yikes! Hey, you’d have been proud of me, though; on the outside I didn’t bat an eye. I must admit, however; on the inside I was a mite concerned.
So I switched to high-speed mode (which is consultant-speak for “running around like a chicken with its head cut off”), tryin’ to make sure all the t’s are dotted and the i’s are crossed. I mean, among other things there was a Subcontractor Agreement to write, a Purchase Order to set up, contractual stuff to sign, visits to the Legal Dept. (sound of terrified scream), etc., etc. I mean, even with preparation it’s next to impossible to hurry some of this stuff up, you know?
And have you ever tried to get a series of signatures on a document – in a limited amount of time? So as ol’ Dr. Phil is fond of sayin’, how’d that work for ya? Yup; thought so. It never fails, right? There’s always at least one who’s out of the office or otherwise unavailable. Every. Stupid. Time.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, even more roadblocks began appearing. For instance, it took nearly a week to finally get a P.O. from our client. Alas, only then did I discover I sorta, er, neglected to tell them to put the amounts in US instead of Canadian dollars (yes, it was clearly my fault *sigh*). Say, what’s the exchange rate these days? Oh well; a simple change can fix that, right?
Then the client’s purchasing system inexplicably decided to lock everyone out. I said to myself (after much head-thumping on my desk, of course), “Self, these are mature computer programs, right? Hey, I’m sure it’ll be fixed in a minute hour day, right?”
In the meantime, I managed to acquire enough assurances from the various parties that we could go ahead and book our flights. No worries, and no need to panic – but I gotta tell ya; buying those tickets sure made me feel vulnerable. And not in a good way.
As the deadline approached like a runaway Space Shuttle, just to throw a wrench in the works we had to stop and celebrate a National holiday here in the States (Labor Day was Sept. 1). Although I always enjoy taking paid time off, it essentially shortened what little working time I had left by two full days.
Anyway, I figured at least the corrected P.O. would be in my inbox when I got back to the office. After all, Canada doesn’t celebrate our holidays, you know. Well, that’s what I get for figuring, because (and you knew this was coming, didn’t you?) it, um, wasn’t.
The Perfect Time to Panic
Right about then the distinctive flutter of butterfly wings (probably Callophrys sheridanii lemberti, also known as “Lembert’s Green Hairstreak – which also adequately describes what was happening to my remaining hair) were tickling my stomach (if not outright stomping around in it with jackboots on) as a sense of panic began to peek over the horizon.
I desperately pounded the Easy button on my desk (yes, I really have one), but the pesky thing chose that moment to malfunction as well. Strangely, instead of hearing the usual word, “Easy”, the silly thing inexplicably started laughing hysterically. I don’t know about you, but I really hate it when that happens. I instinctively know that can’t be good.
The Tuesday after Labor Day dawned, leaving me with only one day left to wrap things up (everyone was supposed to fly out the next day). Not only do I still have no PO, but we’re already committed to considerable expense because of the aforementioned airline tickets. (It’s a sensation not unlike have your, er, nether regions hanging out a window overlooking the Interstate – and Chopper Dave is focusing the Channel 7 traffic-cam on it).
Finding the End of Yourself
Well suffice it to say, my friends, at this point I’m thinkin’ to myself, “Self, this ain’t exactly the most auspicious start to a fine (and preferably long-term) consulting career!” (Yes, I talk to myself a lot. So what’s your point?)
You know that moment where you realize there is absolutely nothing more you can do to make things work out? You know, when you’ve done everything humanly possible, you’ve (if you’ll pardon the expression) reached the, er, end of yourself (sorry!), and the whole shebang is all in God’s hands?
I distinctly remember reaching that point about midday on Tuesday.
OK; I won’t leave you, er, hangin’ (sorry again!) By the end of the day, all signatures were collected, documents emailed, and contracts executed (sound of giant sigh of relief). Everything finally fell into place within 30 minutes of the end of the day. I finally received the official “go” from my boss to actually, you know, go.
The Last Word
Before I left his office, however, I thought it worthwhile to try and salvage the remains of my seemingly vastly diminished future career as a consultant. I mean, wouldn’t you? Admittedly, some of it was, well, self-inflicted (the P.O. currency snafu, for instance). But much of the remaining aggravation was simply out of my hands.
I began to summarize, and just as I reached the “… I’ll do better next time” part of my semi-prepared speech, he just smiled and held up his hand to stop me. He then told me something that totally changed my entire outlook about the whole sordid mess.
He simply said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. This sort of thing happens three times a week around here.”
Now, I don’t know how often you’ve found yourself in the midst of a high-stress situation (OK; let’s just call it what it was – a panic button moment), but it is most definitely not fun. Oh sure; you can (if you’re paying attention) learn a lot from situations like this (like, for instance, make sure you get the currency right, ya big galoot!), but it’s not something you’d want to do every day, ya know?
Here I was, really pretty much exhausted by the entire last couple of weeks’ ordeal, and frustrated because of the hassles, aggravation, and outright mistakes I’d encountered (and yes, made). As my brainy friends, the Good Doctors Ellen Weber and Robyn McMaster will tell you, that sort of thing quickly drains all the vitality out of you in no time at all.
But when my boss told me those few little words, well, it was like being handed a glass of ice cold water after a hard slog through the desert. I mean to tell ya; it was truly an amazing moment. Within a matter of seconds, it literally transformed me from a position of weakness – to a position of strength!
Just a few words… how powerful is that?
It’s YOUR Turn Now
You know; you can change people’s lives with just a few words. Be they uplifting… or spiteful… they can make a difference that won’t be soon forgetten. Wanna try an experiment with me?
Your task, should you choose to accept it, my friends, is to find an opportunity to do the same thing to someone you know that my boss did for me. When you encounter someone who is obviously under tremendous stress (or maybe they just got through one), then try giving them an uplifting word or two.
I’d be willing to bet that you’ll not only have the amazing experience and joy of seeing someone completely transform right before your eyes, but you’ll learn a lesson you won’t soon forget! C’mon; be the water!
Let me know how it went, if you would. I’ll leave the light on for you.
[As I mentioned up at the top, this is my entry for this month's What I Learned From... groupwrite project. I'd like to invite you to join us with your own story of lessons learned. The topic this month is What I Learned From My Friends, and we're open for entries thru Sunday, Sept. 14th. If you'll click on that cute little link there, you can read all about how to participate.]