Hey, won't you play . . .
another somebody done somebody wrong song?
And make me feel at home. . .
~ B.J. Thomas
A few years after I joined the Grady faculty, I was given the honor of leading this huge Emory sponsored Internal Medicine board review course as the director. In this role, I'd coordinate some eighty plus speakers and manage a substantial budget for a five day program. With attendees from all over the U.S. and beyond, it was a huge deal. Especially for someone as junior as I was at the time.
The first year went swimmingly well. I met tons of faculty members and was glad to be in a position that put me on the radar of a lot of well-connected people in our department. Given my triumphant neophyte crack at this program, our leadership tasked me with the same job for a second year. And that was cool.
Not too much earlier than that first year of planning, I met the man of my dreams--the BHE. Then, in that second year as director, Harry and I were in the throes of wedding planning. And since I'd done this thing before and knew all the moving parts, all of that was cool, too.
But you know? Weddings are exciting and have this way of consuming you. I did my job, yes. But admittedly, I was quite distracted by things like invitation styles and calligraphy and showers and menus. My May 1 wedding had the lion's share of my thoughts and attention. I was quite thankful that I, one, had experience as the board review course leader and two, had an a very knowledgable coordinator working with me.
Things had gone without a hitch the year before. Our timeline of getting in touch with speakers, securing the venue, arranging the AV support and sending out the mass mailings of brochures was proposed to be identical to the prior session. Jana (name changed), my coordinator, had been a key part of the continuing medical education department for years and was a pro at this particular event. Through lighthearted emails, we quasi-discussed our action items and discussed our game plan of rolling with things just as we had in 2003.
Jana knew every nitty-gritty detail of my wedding plans, too. As a matter of fact, her background with planning these medical meetings made her so connected in the hospitality industry that she was a key factor in helping me lock down my own wedding venue. It was great that our collective history of working on the board review event helped me to feel less stressed. And by less stressed I mean I wasn't really paying attention to the detail of the board review.
The months leading to our May day nuptials were a whirlwind. Showers and dates with friends and so much more swirled around me and kept me floating in the air like Mary Poppins with her magic umbrella. That day finally came and it exceeded my wildest dreams. All of it, simply sublime. And the only thing better than that was the exquisite honeymoon escape Harry and I went on a few days after.
Hand in hand, we strolled along the island paradise of St. Lucia with goofy grins plastered on our faces. We lingered in saunas and took couples' massages. We ate the ripest, freshest fruit and met new people. And mostly just marveled at the blessing of being in love and now married.
A few days into that honeymoon, I decided to make a lazy pitstop into the internet cafe of our swanky resort. Since we weren't on our cell phones, I thought a happy little message from the newly established "Team Manning" would be a good thing to send to our family and friends. And so I logged on and planned to do just that. Which was mostly cool.
I clicked into my work email and saw this one message dated April 30--the day before I got married. It was from Jana and had been sent a few minutes before midnight. In it, she described how she'd been going through some personal things and how, as of earlier that day, had resigned from her position.
Turns out that in my wedding obsessed state, I hadn't even noticed that we'd not touched bases much about the board review program in March or April. Every email in my inbox referred to loose, slippery plans intermingled with brainstorming sessions about how to pull off a perfect wedding. Instinctively, I panicked. I internally prayed that she'd handled all of her action items (that is, the ones I assumed she knew of that were just like the ones she had before) although something welling in the pit of my gut told me that she hadn't.
It was now May. The first order of business--and the most urgent to confirm--was that the brochures had been mailed out to the hundreds of physicians who were our targeted audience. Now. There was a simple way to know this for sure. I was among the physicians in that bulk mailing and should have received my brochure sometime near the end of March. Problem was, that was the furthest thing from my mind back then. And you know what? For the life of me, I couldn't recall getting one.
Well. Turns out I didn't get one for a good reason. It never was sent. Nope. The 750 to 1000 mail flyers earmarked to be shot out to every corner of the southeastern U.S. never left Atlanta. And you know what else? That's because they never got printed.
The last thing I could say with certainty was that I'd electronically put together the sample brochure and approved it for print. But confirming that it got printed? Then making sure it got mailed? Well. I'd left all of that up to Jana, my coordinator. You know, the one who'd just notified me of her resignation. And also shut off her cell phone and discontinued her university email account.
So me? Obviously, I was hysterical. Freaking out near the equator and ready to punch in a wall. I called Jana every dirty, slimy name in the book and lamented nonstop about how I couldn't BELIEVE that she hadn't done ANYTHING. And since my only sounding board was Harry, he just sat by sipping his all-inclusively provided spirits and listening.
"I talked to my division chief today," I huffed. "He is just as floored that this woman would just throw this whole damn thing under the bus. I mean, who DOES that? Doesn't even print OR send the damn brochures?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes. Every few seconds I said something similar, pacing all around Harry and dropping occasional f-bombs. This? This was a multi-thousand dollar disaster.
After the 24th hour of hearing me rant about the incompetence, unprofessional behavior and lack of consideration of Jana--the woman who was "supposed to be my friend"--Harry finally had had enough.
The BHE is a man of few words. But when he speaks? It's almost always worth listening to. And seared with honesty. He decided to let me know what he thought about all of this.
"This has nothing to do with that woman. You fucked this up. Period end of story."
I mean, we were supposed to be "Team Manning." He was supposed to take my side, leap to my rescue and hate Jana's guts right along with me. But that? That isn't Harry's style. He just shrugged and called like he saw it.
"You dropped the ball and this is your fault. How the hell did you NOT know that the damn brochure hadn't been sent? That's crazy. And why hadn't you asked to see the final before the mailing? You'd have known that it wasn't printed then. That's because you were focused on other shit."
"She had a job. She didn't do it." I felt my face getting hot and my eyes starting to prickle with defensive, hurt tears.
"You had a job. You didn't do it. She wasn't the director. You are."
I shook my head and folded my arms. "So you mean to tell me you think this is all on me?"
Harry raised one eyebrow and jutted out his lower lip. "Well. Honestly? Pretty much. You fucked up. You delegated and didn't follow up. And you're lucky as hell that your boss isn't me. I would have torn you a new asshole."
My eyes widened with his military man's lingo. He was pulling not a single punch.
"Look, babe," he finally said, softening his voice, "the best way for you to learn from this is to own your part in it. Call it what it is, man. You dropped the ball. And now you got burnt."
Now I was full-on crying. Partly because my feelings were hurt, partly because I was scared that I would cause my department to lose thousands of dollars, but especially because he was 100% correct in his assessment. I felt so exposed, so obviously wrong. But just a few moments later, I felt that anger welling up again so I started letting the pendulum swing back to Jana. "But she--"
Harry cut me off. "Babe, did you look at our wedding invitations before they went out?" I nodded and dropped my head because I knew already where this was going. "Of course you did. No way in hell would you have missed proofing them and making 100% sure that they got mailed out exactly six weeks before our wedding day. You made that a priority. This wasn't. So just call it what it is--you fucked up."
I plopped my face into my hands and sighed hard. "I did. You're right," I whispered.
"Then own it. And make that the last thing you say about that woman. Just figure out how you are going to fix it and focus on you." Next came the obligatory Army reference, a staple in Harry's lessons of love. "See this is like during my Army days when a private messed something up and I was the lieutenant in command. I couldn't go to the colonel with no bullshit song and dance about how Private Joe didn't do this or Private Joe didn't do that. Nawww, man. It was my job to handle all of that and present results to my superior officers. "
"So she was my private."
"Yep. And you need to thank God that I ain't your colonel."
That? That was one of the most pivotal learning experiences of my career to date. A painful lesson in accountability and the futility of finger pointing--provided in a beachside lounge chair against a Caribbean backdrop.
Let me be clear: Jana was wrong in some ways. She was. But Harry's point was that it would be more useful to focus on my part first before wasting energy trying to decimate her. He also told me that by the time a person looks at what they did and works on that, they're too exhausted to go blaming another person. And so. That's eventually what I did. And you know? The truth hurt. It was as clear as day: I was so busy focusing on things unrelated to my own job as course director that I missed my opportunity to catch what wasn't being done in a timely fashion. Which ultimately fell on me, the responsible party, not Jana.
Tonight I was called by a mentee about something that immediately took me back to this place. This person was singing a somebody-done-somebody-wrong-song and the more I listened, the more it became clear. This was something my advisee needed to own for what it was: His fault.
And so. I told him just like Harry told me (minus the expletives.) "You messed up. Plain and simple. You used poor judgement and now you need to own it and work through the consequences."
And, like me, he countered with all the reasons why this faculty member who'd given him a hard time was wrong. His dialogues sounded like that of a victim instead of someone who truly just effed up. Big time.
I was loving in my discussion, yes. But totally honest and not even remotely yielding to coddling or adding to the narrative of this being victimization. He was mostly quiet. I can't tell if he felt seriously angry and betrayed, or if he just needed time to reflect. Either way, I will sleep well tonight.
Sometimes? Sometimes when you fuck something up, you just have to stand the rain and own it. Put on your big girl panties, raise your hand and say, "Yep. I blew that one." Then be mature enough to work through the solution and the consequences that follow. Anything other than that--especially a never-ending commentary of how terribly you were treated and how much it is someone else' fault--is not only exhausting, it pulls the drain on any patience or respect people have for you.
Listen. We are human beings and, by design, guaranteed to mess some things up. But humans who lead other humans must push beyond pridefulness to own wrongdoing. Paradoxically, it garners more respect than people realize.
At least, that's what I think.
So the board review? It went okay. We broke even which technically isn't the goal. My boss was glad that "that woman didn't cause us to lose money" and felt satisfied with things being even-Steven. But me? Deep down I knew the truth. That my husband was right and that I'd gotten lucky. But especially that this was all my fault for not following through with my responsibility as the leader of that program.
I like thinking about leadership lessons. I think they're an essential part of being a great clinical educator, physician, community leader and mom. The accountability thread permeates our lessons of love in our home. It's my hope that telling my son that leaving homework in a desk is his fault (not his teacher's) will pave the way to recognizing fault and making improvements later. Or as Harry says "being a grown ass man" when things happen. So that zero or that silent lunch is on you, bruh. It's pretty amazing how innovative folks become once they've owned a screw up and decide to try to find a solution.
So yeah. Sometimes? Sometimes you just fuck up. And when you do, step one is to admit it. To whom, you ask? Well, that depends on the situation. But I can say there is one person whom you should always start with.
Can you guess who that person is?
Happy Thursday. And sorry for the f-bombs. Blame my husband. Ha.
Now playing on my mental iPod. . . . kicking it old school, yo.