In my mid-20’s, I believed I had achieved the ultimate goal of obtaining a job at a hospital. Ever since my second kidney transplant, I wanted a job at a hospital where I worked directly with patients and had that feel-good feeling that I was helping others and maybe, just maybe, even making a positive and happy difference in someone’s day or even life (I strive high!). I was bright-eyed, innocent, and eager to learn and do and not just stand idle on the sidelines. The mandatory and months-long training required a mentor who would show me the work, make me do the work, and assess and report back to our supervisor how I was coming along and when I was at a place of independence. My mentor was a tall, lean, and cheerful guy with a big infectious smile. I immediately felt at ease and set the bar high for myself (as I always do) to do the best job ever.
I quickly caught the mentality of healthcare and working in a hospital that ‘everything should have been done yesterday,’ ‘patients come first’ ( I knew this as a patient myself), and, most of all, the very first work and life lesson that was told to me in my face at work was ‘do not take anyone or anything personal.’
I was a naturally friendly and chatty person that eventually warmed up all my colleagues, but there was one colleague who I could not warm up at all. She was like iceberg lettuce. She barely looked at me and, when she did, her blue eyes were icy and seemed to say “you are really stupid and I can’t believe I am giving you the time of day.” I was terrified to ask her questions, but I did not want to make mistakes. Unfortunately, the roles we were in required me to have to ask questions at times. One time, she finally lost her temper with me and snapped at me in front of all of our colleagues. I was visibly shaken and upset and my mentor who I was still training with and who saw my crushed and confused expression said softly, “Hey, Mary, you cannot take her or anyone or anything personally in this life. The thing in life is you never know what people are going through. Some people will say and share everything with you and you still won’t know what to say or do. Some people will share nothing with you and you do not know what to say or do. You can never really win, but you just keep on trying and going. You develop a thick skin. People are just people and you have to take them as they come or go.”
As time went on and particularly when I finally understood my work and was even mentoring and training others, this colleague finally warmed up to me. She even smiled, laughed, and joked around with me. I would not say she became my best friend, but she did teach me a very important lesson that people are not what or who they seem in the beginning and our situations and environments have a huge impact on how we behave. I have been thinking about this colleague and what my mentor said to me over a decade ago. I think about the person I was back then and still am that I have always been a highly sensitive person that takes anyone and anything personally. That is not to say that I do not have a thick skin. That is to say that I am careful and try to be as cognizant as possible with what I say or do not say and how I say it and with the ultimate acceptance that timing is just about everything with everyone and in life. I suppose what I have been ‘guilty’ of my whole life is that I care, and I HATE to care and especially for people who do not care about me or who care less about me as I care about him or her. Sure thing that I know no relationship is completely mutual or equal, but I also know myself that I walk a fine tightrope of caring and giving just enough so as to protect myself. I have been on the receiving end of hurt and pain from caring too much. It hurts to care and even more to love because the truth is that everyone ends up leaving anyhow. No one and nothing is permanent. Only temporary. Only for rent. No one and nothing is ever for ownership. Too many times, people told me that it is better to have love than lost to never have loved at all, but no one can take away that hurt or pain when the love or the person you care for is gone. Too many people have seemed to put it upon me that it is bad to care or bad to take anyone or anything personally. I’ve developed my thicker skin teetering on a hard shell as I’ve aged alongside a surprising pride that I do care because if we did not take anyone or anything personally then how would we gain our sense of compassion or care for others? And, isn’t compassion and care elements that we need more in this world?
One of my very good friends absolutely cannot stand it when someone says to her: “Do not take it personally,” because she sees it as the person saying this as lacking awareness and responsibility for how they treat others of just being ‘ok’ with making others feel awful. When it comes to caring and being personal, I have always tried to abide by what Papa Wu has said to me: “Never be afraid to be personal and to share, show, or say to someone that he or she is special to you or that you care about him or her or appreciate him or her because life is short and everyone wants to feel like he or she is special and remember his/her purpose in this world.” So, to those who have told me “Do not take it personally,” I say “I will take it personally and I will be proud of it.”
I am known to take people, situations, and just about everything and anything too personally. Do you take everything and anything personally? Have people told you that you take things too personally? How does it make you feel? When have you cared more for someone else than the other has cared for you? When have you taken it so personal to the point that it hurts you? I am sensitive and emotional and why do I have to apologize for it? Why should I have to apologize for caring? I guess it comes down to this: It’s personal.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,