They say you can always tell a person’s real character by the way he/she reacts under stress. And today was one of those days that put my coworker, Ian, to the test.
Ian is normally Mr happy go lucky. A social whirlwind. A wandering butterfly, free and easy and mellow. Nothing seems to upset this young kid. He attracts others like a moth to a flame. People stop by his cube to bare their souls, to share their trials and personal tribulations. He is the type of person who gets the scoop on the gossip and is in touch with the grapevine before it gets on the fast track.
I guess it is because he has that special something: charisma. And a job that doesn’t have a lot of accountability. He always has someone else to take the responsibility, to make the tough decisions and to save his ass whenever he screws up.
Not so today. His Supervisor gave him an assignment, with a deadline: 3pm, to have a report ready for a major account. A report that required focus, analysis and precision. It was an assignment from hell, for Ian. He had to deliver. And no one could come to his rescue. It was all on his shoulders.
The persona started to crumble, and fell quickly. His phone would ring, and the normally chipper kid, picked up the phone with disgust. “What now? Oh God, no. I can’t. I just can’t.” He even asked me for help with his distractions. “Can you do this for me? Can you handle that for me? I am buried.”
He knew I was on a conference call, but that didn’t deter him. He stood by my desk, with bulging eyes, asking for help. “When you get off the phone, can you….” I put my call on mute and say, “Sorry Ian, I have a meeting right after this call.”
He is at his wit’s end. At 330pm, he is still working on his report. At 430pm, he goes to his Supervisor for help. The 2 of them finish the report, at 5pm. He is a wreck. He had done nothing else all day. He is exhausted.
I get ready to leave for the day. I tell him to have a good night. He stammers, “I can’t leave. I have to finish my other projects.” No smiles, no jokes, no charisma. Just the bare bones of knowing what it means to have a job, with responsibility, accountability and pressure.
The kind of job that the rest of us have experienced for years. The years that separated the successful from those who just can’t cut it.
I leave the office. He is alone, at his desk. He digs in to the untouched projects.
Welcome to the real world, Ian. I think you might grow up after all.