"You'll make a great mother."
That's what one of the call center male supervisors said to me one day as I was dealing with a delinquent customer service rep in training. I was 26 years old and had full responsibility for training the never ending stream of new hires to answer customer calls at America Online.
"The delinquent" was only a few years younger than I, but his behavior was that of a teen-ager. Smart as a whip with computers, no real interest in customer service, quietly devious, and emotionally troubled, at least that's what I saw in his eyes.
I tried a combination of encouragement, validation, and firmness to keep him on track. But, near the end of the two week training he severely challenged my good will. He reformatted his workstation hard drive. On purpose. He acted ignorant but I knew he found it amusing.
I was furious inside but did not show it. Instead, I patiently counseled him, and since we were in dire need of help, I graduated him from training. His first day on the job, he arrived very late, claiming he was unaware of his schedule. In my gut I didn't believe him, but chose to demonstrate constraint in addressing it. That's when my supervisor friend made his comment.
This event happened over 14 years ago, but the imprint remains. Why? Because I knew in that moment I was behaving more mildly than I felt and I didn't have the courage to do otherwise. What resulted was a double-whammy.
One whammy was personal; I felt like a wimp. The second whammy was professional. The male supervisor's words that were intended as a compliment to my seemingly wonderful, nurturing "mothering" quality really meant I wasn't seen as tough enough. Not exactly the reputation I needed to build my career.
The delinquent rep finally got his lesson and was eventually fired. I got my lesson, too: Fear and discomfort are never good enough reasons to keep you from acting on what your inner voice is telling you. It doesn't help you internally and it doesn't help your career.
Being bodacious requires courage. Courage often requires being temporarily uncomfortable. But it doesn't last forever and the pay off is satisfying and long-lasting.
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