Yesterday was not a good day. Yesterday was a day where I wished I hadn’t given up wine. Because I needed a glass, or two, or to hell with it, a whole bottle. If ever there was a day, in recent memory, where I felt like I needed wine … it was yesterday.
Melodramatic much? I am. But it was a crap day. What happened? I lost my cool. That is the best way to put it. I lost my temper, at work, with a group of museum visitors. Stress had been mounting all day: our air conditioning is down (again) and the museum itself is hotter than the blazes of a furnace. I was working alone yesterday so I was leading back-to-back guided tours, non-stop, of the museum for 5 hours… in that heat. Normally, I have help on the weekends, but yesterday was a rare day where I did not have one of my dedicated volunteers by my side, so I was trying to run the show by myself. That adds a whole new level of stress since we are expected to start our tours every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour. Gotta keep cracking in order to stick to that schedule.
And then as Hour 5 of non-stop tours was approaching, a loud BANG exploded from the air conditioning system and an overwhelming smell of burnt rubber quickly permeated the entire museum.
I was working by myself, I was exhausted, hot, and thirsty, and now something had exploded in the HVAC closet. Just what I needed.
And to top it off, I was in the middle of a tour with 20 people on it.
The next 75 minutes were marked by one stress on top of another. My 20 guests did not want to leave their tour, so I kept trying to lead them through the museum, while also trying to coordinate with the staff that work in our Park – the museum is situated at the top of a hill in a beautiful 200+ acre park – to determine if that BANG and burnt rubber smell were things that spelled “doom” for the museum building.
I decided to finish the tour I currently had, but then close the museum early so I could devote my full attention to the BANG and burnt rubber smell. Well, that decision didn’t go over too well with the guests waiting for the next tour. They started yelling at me, and I, pushed to the limits, started yelling back.
Now, let me throw in an aside and say that yelling … and yelling at people … is completely out of character for me. I’m so non-confrontational, I won’t even write a “strongly worded” letter to a hotel I stayed in when I know that a member of the hotel staff stole my phone. So, for me to yell at anyone, let alone guests waiting for a visit to my museum, I was defining new levels of stressed out.
I managed to recover my cool, and I straightened the situation out with those guests. They ultimately left happy, but I didn’t. I came home feeling like I just ran over somebody’s beloved dog, and upon walking into my apartment, broke down in tears and cried like I ran over my beloved dog. I felt like a professional failure – that I should have been fired on the spot for making stupid professional decisions, for losing my temper, for not handling a potentially disastrous situation in a more straightforward manner – and I was thoroughly disappointed in myself. Me? Yell? At people? I only do that in my dreams!
It took a lot of crying, and sobbing on J’s shoulder, but my tears finally ran themselves dry, and I tried to figure out ways to pick up what I felt like were the shattered pieces of my professional identity.
I started with a Google search. Literally. I typed “lost my temper at work” into that oracle of endless information, and I was relieved (yep – relieved) to see so many results pop up on the screen: blog entries, discussion forums, news stories (!) that all addressed this very topic – normally calm and collected people who lose their temper at work. People who wanted to know how to control their tempers; people who had sage words of wisdom, based on personal experience, about controlling your temper; advice on how to handle and rectify a situation when you lose your temper. It was all there.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
There is no other way to put it; it was refreshing to see, right there, in electronic print, so much information about controlling your temper in the workplace. It made me feel less like a professional failure to know that so many others struggle with controlling their temper, and to read how some of these others learned from situations where they lost their temper.
One blogger’s entry on this topic particularly resonated with me. She posed this question: how would you feel if the situation you experienced was experienced by someone else? Say that it wasn’t you that lost your temper, but your best friend, lover, parent, etc…, and they were describing this situation to you as their own? Would you think less of that person? Would you forgive them for the mistake they made? If so, then why can’t you do that for yourself? I knew that if J came home and described my situation to me as his own, and asked me if I thought less of him, I would say “no” with very strong emphasis. So why can’t I forgive myself for making the mistakes?
And then, the part of your brain that controls your dreams? That part offered me some comfort last night. It reminded me that I had a wonderful moment yesterday morning. Before everything went to hell. In our park, we have a small animal compound with a collection of live farm animals. They are a huge hit with our visitors (especially since you can feed them), and a huge hit with us too. How can you not love the guys who live in our animal compound??
Well, yesterday morning, I stepped outside the museum to check for visitors awaiting the first tour, and who should be hiking up towards our front door but one of our animal care staff with the resident donkey in tow. Now, this donkey is adorable. Simply and truly adorable. And I got so excited to see her right outside the front door of the museum, I nearly squealed. I managed to restrain the squeal though, and I calmly strolled up to start petting her. Within moments, the donkey and I were best friends, and she didn’t want to leave when the staff tried to take her back down the hill (turns out, she goes on a daily walk up and down the hill because she’s getting a smidge pudgy). After that encounter, which included lots of snuggling up with the donkey, I was walking on Cloud 9. Nothing makes a day better than some time spent with an animal…
But in the midst of all the afternoon drama, I completely forgot the visit with the donkey. Until I fell asleep, and dreamt about her. And in the dream, I was visiting with her again, petting her and snuggling with her like I had yesterday morning. When I woke up this morning, I felt better. More relaxed. Happier. Thanks goodness my dreams stepped up to help me out like they did.
And then there was today. J and I decided to take a mini-road trip in an attempt to wipe the horrible taste of yesterday afternoon from my mouth. And what a beautiful, glorious, wonderful day. We visited the San Juan Capistrano Mission, whose gardens are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. We went to the beach, played around in the waves, and watched the birds. We experienced history, nature, and art. We laughed, talked, explored, relaxed… it was a perfect day.
The nuclear meltdown from yesterday feels like a hundred years ago now. But I still feel ashamed. And I’m worried about losing my temper again. If I can do it once, I can do it again for sure.
But at least I won in some ways: I did NOT drink any wine last night, as much as I wanted some. So I am still 15 days wine-free. And I made some mistakes yesterday, but not to much detriment. It turns out the giant BANG and the burnt rubber smell was probably caused by a belt breaking inside the HVAC system. And a situation that would have paralyzed me for days just a few years ago only knocked me down for a few hours.
Does that mean I am getting stronger?
And as an aside, many, many thanks to Melissa Kirk and her blog post, 5 Tips to Accept Your Weaknesses: The First Step Towards Growth, for helping me think about self-criticism in new ways!