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Transforming the Impossible

by Patti Heckman
USA

Patti

Seven years ago, I went to work for a consulting firm that provides support and advice to insurance companies. I enjoyed a good reputation and consistently got excellent reviews, raises and bonuses.

More than two years ago, the slow economy prompted the company to restructure. I was transferred to a different department doing a job that was outside my comfort zone.

My nearly three decades of Buddhist practice had taught me the value of making a determination to do my best, and I did. I soon realized, however, that I was in over my head. I lacked the necessary training and found the sheer volume of work daunting.

Communication between my boss and me broke down. When I asked questions about subjects I did not understand, I felt her response was abrupt and irritated. It seemed that she did not hesitate to point out my mistakes for everyone to hear. Increasingly, I kept to myself and became isolated.

After a year of working late and most weekends, I was told that I was not completing projects within the required time period; my company had to reduce invoices billed to clients because of me. I was deeply discouraged and frustrated.

During one low point, I sought guidance from a senior in faith. She encouraged me to use my Buddhist practice to change poison into medicine.

This became my prayer. I experienced more criticism and frustration, and entire days went by without any communication from my boss, teammates or clients. In anger, I engaged a job-search service, thinking that finding a new position was the way to transform the situation.

In January 2012, I received a poor job review that came with an ultimatum: Turn things around in the next 30 days or face immediate termination. I felt humiliated. I accelerated my job search, hoping to land a new position before the 30-day deadline. "Why should I be treated this way?" I thought. I was doing my part by putting in the hard work.

As I chanted, however, I made a startling realization. Despite my original determination to do my best at my job, my attitude had been one of complaint. Even my angry effort to find another job was prompted by arrogance and self-righteousness.

I realized that the poison I had to transform into medicine wasn't my job; it was my resentful attitude. Furthermore, changing poison into medicine meant not only that I transform my situation with my boss, but also that my department, company and even the clients win in the process.

As I continued to chant this way, my resentment gradually gave way to appreciation. Over the next 30 days, my boss made time to train me each day. In appreciation, I started each phone call with a cheerful "Hi," like she was my best friend; she responded in kind. When she pointed out my mistakes, she did so with warmth and kindness. Those 30 days became my happiest days at work since transferring to this department.

When the 30-day deadline came, I was still employed. But the real victory was transforming my way of thinking.

The following July, during a staff conference call, my boss announced that our department had turned a corner. We were finally out of crisis mode. For the first time, I learned that we had been notorious as the lowest performing department in the company. When my boss took over as director, she had been under tremendous pressure, facing low revenues, quality control issues and new staff. I was filled with compassion and respect for her.

In January, my 2012 performance review ratings went from mostly "Needs Improvement" to the top two ratings of "Excellent" and "Above Average." My raise was double the company average. My boss expressed her appreciation that I had responded to difficult issues with composure and dignity and that I had made an uncomfortable situation thoroughly enjoyable.

I have learned that the best way to earn the respect of others is by being a shining example of someone who is never defeated.

[Courtesy October 2013 SGI Quarterly]

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