Compassion vs Ambition

[This is an entry in my project to write something every day in the 100 days before my retirement, reflecting on my career and life]

92 days until retirement

May 31, 2018

My first job at E.L. Littlejohn & Associates lasted less than a year because I had to take a long break in the middle of it to return to Germany for surgery.  Grace, the office manager, allowed me one break but when I needed a second, we decided to part ways.  I learned a lot in the job and I learned even more from Grace.  She was one of many women I worked with over my career who have had an impact on me.

If I try and think of one positive trait to describe many of these women, it would be compassion.  On the other hand, if I try and think of one trait to describe most of the men I have worked with, it would not be compassion, but perhaps ambition.  

And therein lies the rub.  Somehow, those two traits cannot go together in a business atmosphere; they are like oil and water. This of course is just my opinion, not a scientific study, but 45 years of observation of men and women in the workplace has given me the proof I needed.

There were several women with whom I have worked who come to mind who were in the ambition category – and in my opinion, they weren’t very nice people.  Again, on the other hand, I have worked with several men who had compassion, but this was not always their main trait, or what made them successful.  

Back to women who had an impact on me. They were always kind people.  Co-workers and managers who had the time to listen and understand when you had an issue to deal with.  Those issues might have ranged from a sick child to a senior person harassing you or your need for a new stapler. The point is they took the time to listen.  I have tried to mirror the best of these people in the way I work with others. The old adage of treating people the way you want to be treated has always resonated with me. 

My three grown children are gainfully employed in various workplaces and the stories I hear about how they are treated sometimes makes my skin crawl. I shake my head at the lack of training or understanding their managers bring to the table and deep down I know that every single business or government agency out there is hanging on by the skin of their teeth.  Those organizations are not successful because of their management teams.  Cynical? Maybe.

I have recently had many young, new to the workforce employees on my team, and have been complimented a few times about my understanding and compassion.  And here’s what I say to them: “Thank you.  Now take the way you have been treated and pass it on.  Make sure you treat your co-workers and future employees with compassion and understanding.”

I had a boss once who told me (when I was whining about not being paid enough): “Rosemarie, we work for two things, money and job satisfaction. You rarely get both.”  I’ve done okay on the money side of things but I have more than lucked out on the job satisfaction side of things.  I’m holding my head high, knowing that I have been fair and kind to my co-workers and that, ultimately, is my job satisfaction.