By Susan MacKenty Brady
I coach executives about managing themselves. I have several direct reports and they know that I expect them to tell me when mistakes happen because I see these as our greatest opportunity for learning. I work with managers of managers and tell them if they aren’t giving “just in time” feedback, then the people on their team can’t possibly be working to full capacity or full engagement. I also believe (as a humble, fellow traveler) that it is my responsibility to hold myself in warm regard despite my (many) imperfections. My mantra–and reminder to myself and those around me–is “I am enough and I matter.” This self-talk is helpful at those moments when I realize I am in a one-up, grandiose, critical-of-others inner dialogue, or when I am going to town on my own imperfections and wallowing in self-criticism.
A morning like this morning challenges me fully. The simplicity of the situation is daunting: I wanted to leave for work by 7:30, get ahead (ya right!) of Boston traffic so that I could be at my desk at or around 8:00 to prepare for my packed day of meetings and calls. At 7:25, dressed and ready to go, with my husband already at work and my two elementary-aged girls getting ready and our nanny about to walk in the door, I had a nutty. The issue? I opened my second grader’s backpack to check her homework folder. I find two forms that must be filled out and returned today, and a sheet of homework–not complete.
I freak. My reaction went something like this (in a punitive, slightly hysterical tone, raised but definitely not calm voice): “I don’t understand why this didn’t get done yesterday. Why didn’t [nanny] see that there was homework? Why didn’t Daddy check the folder before I got home last night? Why didn’t I look in the backpack before this moment?! I can’t always be responsible for making sure these things get done given my work and travel schedule! Why is it up to me to be sure [expletive] gets done around here when it needs to get done? Why is this so hard?”
And then our nanny walked in the door. I continued my freak-out. And then I stopped. Shame washed over me. Was this really a crisis? Was this situation really deserving of bringing my 8-year-old to tears? Who was I and how did I fall into being a tyrant in such a short moment? Ah! I know better! I have friends who are battling cancer, friends who are taking care of children who are hospitalized, Syria is gassing innocent civilians. And I am losing it over unfinished second-grade paperwork?
This is when I get to practice what I teach, and imperfectly practice: breathe. Get down from my victim high horse and come up from “I suck,” and move into repairing with those around me. I look at our nanny (who is a blessing and a rock star in helping us to manage our household and kids and lives) and tell her I am sorry for my rant. I look at my kids and tell them that clearly, Mommy is a bit stressed and I need to chill out. I say out loud, “Susan, you are enough and you matter, and it’s okay that it isn’t all perfect today.”
And then I leave and go to work.
It is my hope to do better next time, that when I get a rush of “Seriously!? How avoidable!” I move quickly into that inner calm and maintain perspective. That is my plan. In the meantime, I will share my imperfect moments for others to enjoy, pray for a not-too-long shame hangover for my bad behavior, and trust that my kids will learn what it is to be human by watching their Mom mess up and then repair as skillfully as she knows how.
About Susan MacKenty Brady:
Susan MacKenty Brady is the wife of Jamie Brady, the mother of Caroline and Abigail Brady, a daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to many (too few hear from her often enough), the Executive Vice President of Global Programming and Market Strategy, and Principal Consultant at Linkage, an Executive Coach, and a champion of advancing the acceleration of women leaders. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susanmbrady1.