My Office - Not Just a Room
Updated: Mar 8
Yesterday, I was invited to return to the hospital where I had worked to film a video about our exceptional stroke program. I was delighted to be included, but apprehensive about kicking up a lot of memories I had deliberately worked to file away. After all, in the last 6 months, my focus had shifted to defining my new, retired life chapter.
It was a fun morning catching up with old colleagues. But, when I walked by my old office, a wave of memories and emotions swept through me. I knew intellectually that it was just a room in a building, but emotionally, it was so much more than that.
My office was typically decorated in a manner to make my visitors feel at home. There were personal objects scattered around - including some pottery that my children brought home from school twenty years earlier. If I was off the grid on my healthy eating, there might be some candy in a dish. There was a picture of my son hitting a tennis ball - a reminder to me to stay focused on the objective at hand. Although I had a few diplomas on the wall, I always joked about putting my high school diploma up there and taking the rest down, because so much of the knowledge I needed in life had been learned by my high school graduation. The rest was just a lot of technical stuff.
By college, I was mostly equipped with the emotional intelligence needed to deal with many situations. My parents had encouraged independence from the time I walked out of the house to attend college and they prepared me well. I never lived at home again - even during the summer breaks. So, I had a modicum of street smarts and an absorbent personality that later focused on the psychology of motivation and the power of empathy. I knew that bringing focused people together was key to getting the big jobs done. I was one of those products of the 70’s, a unique mix of the hard core work ethics of the Greatest Generation and the alternative, free thinking perspectives of the Baby Boomers and Woodstock generation. Yes, it could get a little skitzy at times.
My office had an open door and the discussions were always varied depending upon who entered. A typical day would begin with a few physicians stopping by to either say hello, or to air issues. The surgeons in particular, were a highly talented group, but demanding and generally required immediate attention. Sometimes I could help fix the problem and other times, an attentive ear was needed. The staff and management who reported to me were more focused on problem solving and moving barriers that were keeping them from getting their work done.
I realized early on that many of their work hurdles were complicated by issues unrelated to work. After all, I had a truly “A” team, quite capable of figuring out solutions to most of their challenges. So, I often heard about kids, young and old - babysitter issues, non sleepers, learning problems, stress over college decisions, and sometimes illness. I heard about older parents and their ailments, health of relatives and marital stresses. I heard about substance abuse challenges and terminal illness. What I could handle, I did, and what I could not, I referred to capable professionals. I was a go-to problem solver and I found that once these external hurdles or distractions were aired, my staff could see straight again and resume their high productivity. More often than not, they had the right answer inside themselves all along.
So many of my big life events happened in my office too. I was sitting at my computer when my doctor called and shared my cancer diagnosis and for most of the test results thereafter. One morning, I answered the phone at my desk to my daughter’s hysterics after my son-in-law fell off a roof and later became paraplegic. I also picked up the phone to hear that my son was accepted to medical school, that my daughter was in labor, my grandchildren took their first steps and frequently heard the great news about promotions and so forth - all in that same room.
My office was a space full of life-forces - personal stories, creative solutions, sometimes tears and many, many ideas. So, as I now exhale a day later, I understand my reaction much better. And, my hat is off to those colleagues of mine whose office space works as hard as mine did to engage, help employees succeed and capture the life force that makes us all so human.