No matter how hard we try to keep our jobs and careers on track, they just don’t seem to cooperate—they constantly misbehave. One minute we are on our way to a promotion, and the next we are being transferred to Antarctica. Or maybe our boss has closed the largest sale in the history of the company and, as she basks in the glory, asks us to manage the account. We’re enthused and ready for the challenge, but we find that she failed to bid it properly, and now we’re accountable for a project that will be lucky to break even. Such mishaps occur frequently, and we all know the score. And with today’s job losses and business failures, the list of unruly possibilities seems endless.

Typically, and understandably, we work really hard to avoid such difficulties at work. None of us wants to get promoted to a job that’s going to be eliminated; no one wants to be shipped off to a desk in a snowy corner of Siberia. Yet facing workplace difficulties confidently and skillfully when they do eventually arise is vital, and this confidence demands openness.

In my role as a human resources executive, I have had to eliminate many jobs, displace many employees, and advise others that they must seek employment elsewhere. While it is the least pleasant part of my job, it nonetheless requires much care and skill. I recall once eliminating the job of a warehouse manager. The woman, Rose, was a longtime employee, had an excellent track record, and was 100 percent reliable. Unfortunately, the warehouse she managed was being consolidated with four other companies, and her services were no longer needed. When I met with Rose to review her separation benefits and severance package, she was clearly distracted and impatient. “Just read me the letter, please, and let me be on my way,” I recall her saying to me.

On the one hand, Rose was making my job easier. I, for one, do not enjoy firing anyone, and the shorter such an experience, the better. Just like so many other unpleasant circumstances at work, keeping Rose and her dilemma at a distance appeared to be the preferred way to go. Yet I could tell that Rose wanted to move on from the conversation for a reason that was not clear to me. My gut was telling me that something was missing, but I did not know for sure what it was. I abandoned my desire to rush through the conversation and instead gently asked, “Rose, I know you want to get out of here, and I appreciate that—but I can’t help but feel that I’m missing something. Can you help me here? What am I missing?” I knew that by being open to Rose in such a way, I could be inviting any number of responses—anger, tears, accusations— but I was truly touched and a bit overwhelmed by what she had to say.

“You’re not missing anything,” she quickly responded. “For me, it’s all very simple. For the past seventeen years, I have been getting up every morning at 5:00 a.m., getting my paraplegic son out of bed, dressing him, feeding him, and driving him to the day care facility, then arriving here at 6:30 sharp. As you know, I run a tight ship until 5:30 every day. When I leave here, I pick my son up, bring him home, bathe and feed him, and read him a story before he goes to bed at 9:30. I have been doing this now for seventeen years, and nothing in this little letter is going to get in my way. So don’t worry—you’re not missing a thing.”

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