Life Lessons on Babies, The Force and Laughing as a Coping Mechanism

Mary-Baugh-JacksonMGBy Mary Baugh, Account Representative

When someone says “We’re having a baby!”, your first response is always “Awesome! Yay! Congrats!”. If it is your manager, that is your first verbal response, as well. The secondary voice in your head says “Oh…#$&^.”

While you want (and should be) supportive of this coworker’s exciting news, or any other scheduled leave, it is pretty normal for the “Oh #$&^” part of the brain to immediately start wondering big questions, selfish questions about how this is going to impact your work life. This all happened to me during the last year in our Account Services department, but I opted to focus less on selfish parts and jump into this exciting opportunity to try new things at work and grow my abilities.

Some account responsibilities were split amongst existing managers, but a lot of day-to-day account management was absorbed by the Representatives team (like me). The leave also occurred during final prep for a huge annual event, a big brand relaunch and planning for two trade shows—all on top of our normal workload. My responsibilities grew overnight, my hours spiked and work/life balance was a memory.

Lean In and More

In her FIRST book, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says women in the workplace need to “Lean In” and take on leadership and be heard in the workplace. That is all very good advice for taking on a sudden influx of work and assuming a greater mantle of leadership. But I think her better advice comes in her SECOND book, where she amends the phrase to “lean into the suck.”** That’s what this experience was like. I knew the bigger workload was temporary and that it would be a great learning experience as I move down the management path and grow with my agency. But there were days when it sucked. Here are a few things I learned while it sucked:

1) Be flexible: Be willing to do things differently than you did before. Be willing to trust your gut and roll with the changes.

2) Ask a bajillion questions: One of the best things about the experience was working closer with managers from different departments. These are the folks I work with some, but they mostly strategize and circulate with my manager. When faced with a question I didn’t have the answer to, I went straight to the people with the answers, and in the process, learned more about the topic and developed greater relationships with people outside my normal circle. I am grateful to the managers and directors who took time to work with me, even when I asked a lot of questions.

Yoda3) Be gracious: Say thank you a lot, especially to the people in item #2. Also, there may be days when you are not over your head, but treading a lot of water, and that’s OK. But it still doesn’t mean you get to be short or unkind to the people around you. The deeper relationships you are developing are too important to risk by taking out your stress on a coworker. In my case I choose to laugh. I definitely had days where I felt like the sky was falling and just laughed at the absurdity of the sky falling. I think Sandberg’s third book thesis should be lean in and laugh at the suck.

4) I get it now: Dark Side analogies aside, the Master and Apprentice (or Account Supervisor/Account Representative) relationship exists for a reason. Always two there are, a Master and an Apprentice. Because our responsibilities to our clients are varied we need a team that is deep into the weeds and knows all the little details about the project so that someone else has the mental bandwidth to take a big picture step back and keep all the pieces moving. If you try and do both for too long, it is hard to keep an objective balance.

My manager is back now. And just like taking on the responsibilities when she left, I had to do the reverse and surrender control of all those things. It took some time, but I think the experience has been good for us. She has a clear vision of what kind of things I can handle on my own, where I still need to grow and how I react under pressure. I value her wisdom and input on things I don’t have enough experience to navigate yet. To continue the Star Wars metaphor, balance has been restored to The Force.

**Disclaimer: Option B was written about the sudden and unexpected loss of a spouse. Taking on greater responsibilities at work is by no means an exact parallel, but there is wisdom in how you treat unexpected changes in your life. End soapbox.