We’re standing in a ragged gaggle at a grown-up party. Cocktails in hands. Dressed up slightly for a Saturday night (nice jeans instead of the neighborhood’s traditional weekend uniform of yoga pants and sweats). We’re feeling festive-ish, even.
When she says, “Michele is so funny. I mean, you always say the funniest things. Say something funny, Michele.”
All eyes turn to me.
And I got…nothing.
I mean, nothing. My mind is totally blank.
Faintly, you can hear the sound of crickets in the distance. Chirping.
I shrug. “It’s kind of hard to be funny on demand.” I get a courtesy fake-laugh – because obviously I am so totally hilarious – and the gaggle breaks up. I wonder if I should have hauled out the joke that got me published in Highlights magazine as a fifth grader: What kind of ears do engines have? Engineers! (OK, I stole it off a bubble gum wrapper, but I was published!)
In this era of “on demand” everything, we often find ourselves in this same predicament – put on the spot to serve someone else’s needs – although it can come in other guises.
Your boss says: “We have a great opportunity to get five tons of raspberries but we have to decide right now!” The fact that you work at a law firm who has absolutely nothing to do with raspberries doesn’t feature – it’s an immediate opportunity and it moves to Urgent status.
And you got nothing but crickets chirping in the distance.
Because it’s stupid and a waste of time to even consider what you’d do with five tons of raspberries when you do contract law and, besides, you’ve got plenty of other things to do.
It’s like when your kid says: “Moooooooooom.” Or: “Daaaaaaaaaaad.” Even from another room, you know the tone. You jump up from whatever you’re doing and run in there. Panting, you say, “What!?” He needs you to find the remote. She needs you to find a certain pink ponytail elastic.
In that moment, their urgency becomes your urgency.
And you’re just a little bit cheesed off.
Come on, you can admit it. It’s frustrating when will-’o-the-wisp, fleeting fancies that are urgent to someone else take you away from serving your own priorities.
What would happen if you said to your kid: “I am in the middle of something, honey. I can be there in five minutes.” I’ll tell you what would happen. He’d find the remote. She’d either find the ponytail thingy or decide on a headband. They’d figure it out.
What if you said to the raspberry hoarding executive: “I am just wrapping up the Framastam contract. Can you give me thirty minutes?”
[As an aside, I know this makes you nervous because a boss is a boss and to be obeyed (it's amazing how many people tell me this - as if Odin, God of War himself were seated in the corner office - when I know for a fact that the guy in there is usually really uncertain, kind of frightened and slightly in over his head).]
But trust me, if you asked for thirty minutes, Mr. Raspberry 2011 would find another
sucker co-worker to play out his drama. And you could get on with your business.
What do you do, then, in your own life when faced with a figurative five tons of raspberries?
Well, when asked to drop your own priorities to adapt to the flaky urgency of another, my friend, take a deep breath and remember this simple mantra:
Let there be crickets.