I spent the better part of eighteen months traveling cross country for work every week. The frequency has waned, but as a result I still carry certain rituals both by airport and type of flight. For example, I always fly American. I have a much better chance of getting upgraded. In Nashville, I stop to watch the live music before getting potato skins and a beer in which I pick off most of the bacon. At JFK, I stop at the Dunkin' Donuts in American's baggage claim. The beauty of this particular Dunkin' Donuts is that it's open twenty-four hours so I never have an excuse not to go. Yesterday I had just gotten off of a five hour flight after virtually no sleep the night before. So it's possible I wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. What transpired is an actual conversation with a Dunkin' Donuts cashier. It's me, right?
Me: I'd like three glazed donut holes, please.
Her: We don't sell three donut holes. We only sell ten.
Me: *staring at piles of donut holes in bin* So you're telling me that I have to buy ten even though I only want three?
Me: What about if I pay you for ten but you only give me three?
Her: I can't do that.
Me: *confounded* You physically cannot do that?
Her: Well, it's too expensive.
Me: I'm okay with that.
Her: But you have to pay $2.99.
Me: *defeated* Fine. Can I just get a strawberry donut?
Her: You want one donut?
Me: Yes. Can I buy just one donut?
It's not lost on me that yesterday was the day Mercury went direct. The rest of the day pretty much turned out the same until I met a former client for happy hour across the river in Hoboken at a place that our (consulting) team used to go to win karaoke tournaments. I should clarify that I didn't win any tournaments--Kate and Bret did--I only watched and secretly recorded them to post on YouTube later.
As a consultant it's sort of foolish to get really attached to any feedback you get, good or bad. I'm about to do a pisspoor job of recounting a fable I once read in an old yoga book. There's this story of the Chinese farmer whose eldest son has to go off to war. The townspeople say, "Very bad luck." But then the son's leg is broken and he comes back. "Ahhh, very good luck," they say, discounting the fact that broken legs are painful. But then the horse runs away and they can no longer pull the plow. The townspeople say, "Very bad luck." But then that horse comes back and brings ten with him. "Very good luck," they say. And it goes on. The moral of the story is--and maybe this is how the farmer ends it--"Good luck, bad luck, who knows?" This is a protracted way of saying that we are taught to contextualize positive and negative feedback.
But I'm a seriously horrible people pleaser and a perfectionist so naturally I only take feedback personally. The year and a half we spent at this client was incredibly challenging. It was the largest (in scope) strategy project I had ever worked on and I poured my heart into it. I grew tremendously. And I always questioned if I was doing a good enough job.
I remember my boss once telling me that: "As a consultant, when you do a good job, someone else may take credit for it. As a consultant, when you do a bad job, you're an easy person to blame." I've remembered that advice when times were tough and when they were good. I've passed on that advice.
So last night, having dinner with the guy I worked closely alongside (and for) from a few years ago, I tried really hard to not take it personally when he said that we were some of the best consultants he's ever worked with. But I couldn't help myself: I walked home a little bit happier.