Learning to See
Shared by Andrew
It was my first job out of graduate school. It was my boss’s first job as a project manager. A relationship that started with such promise quickly descended into mutual hostility. Only a miracle could turn it around.
I secured my first job with the help of Al, the owner of an urban planning and consulting firm where I had completed an internship. His company had landed a new major project, and he knew of my potential by having reviewed my work the summer before. He was bringing on board a manager just for this project, Loretta, who was going to build a team of several staff to deliver on this project for a high profile client. We had been given a hard deadline of one year to accomplish the design work, move it through all necessary permitting, and transition it to the construction contractors. Al brought on board Loretta along with me and my colleague, Mike, all at the same time.
On day one at the office, Mike was the first of us to meet with Loretta, and I eagerly asked him what she was like. He told me that she was really tough to communicate with. He described her as “The Ice Queen.” But he said to me, “You’ve just got to put on your armor and go in there and assert yourself. And you’ve got to talk her language and show her that you will be able to deliver on what she wants.”
My first meeting with Loretta confirmed his description. She looked down at my resume and rarely looked up. She made some comment about how much Al had recommended me, but her tone was more of a questioning, a challenging of my connection to Al, rather than a recognition of my expertise. And there was a fair bit of resentment in her demeanor too, if I could read her right. Leaving her office, I sarcastically thought to myself, “Well, you didn’t get the chance to hire me yourself, but I guess thanks to Al, you’re stuck with me whether you like it or not.”
Each day was a repeat of that first encounter. I dreaded going down to the end of the hall to Loretta’s office. I thought to myself each morning, “Is this a day I have to talk with her? Or can I get in and out of here without talking with her in person?”
I found Loretta so intimidating that I could not effectively express myself in describing the status of my work to her. And that got me even more frustrated with her. I got so that I just couldn’t stand to be with her, to sit in her office in that tense, semi-accusing atmosphere. I decided to avoid her as much as possible. I told myself, “I’m going to lay low. I’ll just get done what has to get done so I don’t get fired. Then maybe she’ll find her way to a new project when this one is done. It’s only a year, right?”
In my second month on the job, our human resources manager, Corrine, called me and asked me to come down to her office to talk about something. In her office, Corrine said to me, “I need to tell you that there are going to be some changes in staff roles. Al has decided that before he and Loretta finish hiring for the rest of the team, there needs to be a single, defined second in charge to Loretta as the project manager. And that will be Mike.” She explained, with some perceptible discomfort, that I would be moved into a new role and would now be responsible for determining which team member should receive the incoming designs being submitted by independent contractors. In my view, I could see where this was going. I would just basically be sorting things out prior to the serious technical review work being done by Loretta and Mike and ultimately the other team members. I was to become a paper pusher.
I left Corrine’s office reeling. I went into the men’s room and cried into one of those infamous brown paper towels. I felt totally betrayed by Al. And my frustration with Loretta had turned into anger. “This is very typical of her,” I thought to myself. “Let someone else do the dirty work. Don’t face me with the bad news.”
When I did face Loretta the next time, she had an undeniable air of cool confidence, what I saw as a “one up on you” kind of attitude. And she made sure to note in our conversation that Al had approved the change in my role.
I saw my demotion as a real game changer. I was no longer satisfied with just coming in and doing my job and leaving my work on Loretta’s desk. I told myself, “She is actually convinced that I don’t have what it takes to do this job. That’s how she engineered my demotion. And I will show her differently.”
For the next several evenings at home, I did some real soul searching, and some serious praying to God for guidance. Based upon what I believed I was receiving in my meditations, I made a list of the things I could do both in my work products and in my dealings with Loretta that would make a difference. As I thought about how I could show her a new, more confident and respectful me, I reflected on the lessons I was reading as a beginner student of A Course in Miracles. I happened to be working on Lesson 28, “Above all else I want to see things differently,” which instructed me to apply the words of the lesson to specific things around me. In the FIP Edition of the Course from which I was working at the time, the lesson stated:
“When you say, ‘Above all else I want to see this differently,’ you are making a commitment to withdraw your preconceived ideas, and open your mind to what it is, and what it is for. You are not defining it in past terms. You are asking what it is, rather than telling it what it is.”
I reasoned that since the lesson says to apply this idea to things without pre-selection, I should be willing to apply it to my relationship with Loretta. However, when I thought about applying the lesson to this situation, I felt a lot of resistance, even resentment. “Oh come on,” I told myself, “won’t I just be painting a pretty picture over an ugly reality? What’s there is there. I mean, I can’t change Loretta. She is who she is.” In the end, I finally convinced myself, “I’m pretty desperate. I might as well give this a try.”
Once I made this decision, I forced myself into action. I surprised Loretta by coming into her office first thing in the morning. With an initial sense of fear, even vulnerability, I asked her, “Do you have a few minutes? I think I need your help, your advice, on how I can better communicate to you what I am doing and get your feedback.”
Loretta was quiet for several moments, then she said, “Well, this is a start.” I wasn’t sure how to take her comment. She was still not really looking at me. Was she gloating? But the more we talked, the more she looked up at me, and the words seemed to come easier for both of us. I took that as a positive. I walked out of her office with a huge sense of relief.
It seemed like the least thing I wanted to do, but I forced myself each day to go down to Loretta’s office and say “Good morning,” and touch base with her on where I was with my work and my priorities. Sitting across the desk from Loretta, I tried to apply the idea, silently asking how God, through the Holy Spirit, would have me see her. I applied the lesson to both Loretta herself and to my relationship with her. I held in my mind the passage from the lesson that says, “It has something to show you; something beautiful and clean and of infinite value, full of happiness and hope. Hidden under all your ideas about it is its real purpose, the purpose it shares with all the universe.”
The key to me was the idea that Loretta and I shared a holy purpose. I prayed to God saying, “I want to find our shared purpose.” The more I focused on this statement, the more my fear and anger receded. As the days turned into weeks, our conversations seemed to become more natural and more constructive.
One day, during our morning touch base, Loretta surprised me by saying, “I’ve been thinking about your work and what I see as your strengths. I’m not sure you’re the best fit for the design element of the project.” And immediately, the vestiges of fear rose up in me. “Oh here it comes,” I thought, “she’s going to give me the axe now.” But she went on talking, and I could hear her voice through the fog of fear inside my head. “The client is extending the timeline and adding a new piece to the project, which will entail analyzing the land use policies of various localities and making recommendations on which localities might be favorable toward our work. I see you doing well with that. Give it some thought. Let me know what you think tomorrow.”
I did give it some thought. And I thought that maybe Loretta was right. I might just do well with that responsibility. So the next day I told her that I would be interested in taking it on. And for the first time in almost a year, I actually felt excited about coming to work.
It turned out that I flourished in the new role. Within the next year, my accomplishments led to a promotion. It included a significant bump in salary. Loretta said that the program I was coordinating was to be expanded, and that she had worked with Al to secure the money for us to hire two people for me to supervise in this area.
When she gave me the news, Loretta said to me, “I thought you might do well with managing people.” She actually smiled at me when she said that. I got the sense in that moment that we both recognized the turn of events, the complete turnaround of our relationship. Could it be, I thought to myself, that we both had our own initial self-doubts and fears about working under pressure, and that Loretta was working on her own “demons” as well?
In the third year, Al and Loretta nominated me for a recognition award with the national trade association in which our company was a member. They sent me to New York to receive the award. Our relationship moved into a familiar and respectful place, the communication and trust between us grew. And it actually seemed like what we worked on together just hummed along.
When I left the company a couple of years later, Loretta had touching comments to say about me during the farewell gathering. I was so moved that I choked up and started to cry when I tried to thank her for the time I had to work with her, and the opportunity she gave me to develop my skills while doing this job.
And within that next year, my thoughts about A Course in Miracles crystalized. I made the decision, a recognition of a deep feeling that was growing in me, that the Course was going to be my spiritual path. If the transformation of my relationship with Loretta wasn’t a miracle, I thought to myself, then I don’t know what else to call it.
And the miracle didn’t end there. Recently, while I sat at my computer to finish the write-up of this story, my old colleague, Mike, placed a phone call to me out of the blue. He had left the company where we worked fairly early on, and I hadn’t talked with him in over 25 years. When he called me, I was literally speechless. He told me, “I’ve been thinking about you recently, thinking back to our time at the company, and wondering where life has taken you over these many years.” I broke out laughing, just considering the incredible plan of the Holy Spirit to re-connect us at the same moment I was documenting the miracle of years before. I managed to get my wits about me and say, “You know, those were exciting times, being the first hires in the office, getting the project started, and…”
But Mike seemed to be waiting for an opening. He jumped in and said, “But she was a real witch, wasn’t she?” I was taken aback with his nameless and cold reference to Loretta, and it was a shock to me to realize that he had left before seeing the changes in the office environment. He still carried his own resentment toward Loretta’s dealings with me and perhaps with him as well.
I immediately asked the Holy Spirit for guidance as to what to say. I side-stepped his criticism of Loretta, and I sketched out for him the surprising changes that occurred between me and Loretta, and the office around us. It was Mike’s turn to be surprised. After my description of the transformation, his manner was cool but respectful. “Well, he said, “If you’re saying that things changed like that, I’ll take your word for it. But it still seems kind of incredible.” We moved into other topics, catching each other up on the passing events of our lives since our work time at the company.
Looking back on my conversation, I am unsure as to whether or not Mike accepted my account of the change in my relationship with Loretta. But what I am certain of is this: I had the opportunity to affirm the holiness of Loretta, and to appeal to Mike to do the same. Now I thank the Holy Spirit for the miracle of years ago, and I thank Him for the opportunity to continue extending this miracle into the future.