I don’t know about you, but I have always found saying “I’m done” to be very liberating. As a child, being able to say “I’m done” was a big deal. Making this announcement not only gave me a sense of accomplishment, it established my preliminary position on my current status. I liked establishing my position early, and I typically felt strongly about it. Often I would push back my booster seat, rip off my bib and announce “I’m done.” This announcement would be accentuated by a spastic uplift of both arms, like a calf roper at the national finals rodeo.
Unfortunately, youthfulness does not always afford you the luxury of understanding that announcing one’s position on a subject does not always validate public opinion on said subject.
So, let’s get back to my calf roping days. Typically, when my mother got wind of my position, she would eyeball my half eaten lima beans, put down her crossword puzzle and give me a look that asked “Really, you’re done?” She would then pick up my bib and push in my booster.
I would repeat my announcement complete with the spastic arm lifts, which only led to more questioning looks, booster seat adjustments and interrupted crossword puzzles. This type of routine went on well into my twenties and never really qualified for what I considered to be quality parenting.
It is my belief that everyone should be able to say “I’m done” without the fear that someone will come along and question your “doneness”. I struggle with how a person questioning your “doneness” can determine with certainty whether you can fit one more lima bean in your esophagus. Shouldn’t the person’s opinion whose esophagus capacity is being challenged have equal weight and consideration? The truth is that you may not actually be done cleaning your plate of lima beans; you’re just done putting lima beans in your mouth.
The “doneness” question usually shows up at that critical intersection where personal intent meets public expectation. In my opinion, that critical intersection is pretty grey. In fact, the only time I have experienced more grey was that nine-hour period I got locked in the starboard side head aboard the U.S.S. Missouri during my 2nd grade field trip.
Eliminating the grey can only be done through an overwhelming appearance of credibility. I have noticed that those with apparent credibility receive fewer looks and don’t have to restate their position as often.
At the age of three, I had limited credibility. My mother was not going to stop working on a “seven letter word that means dish soap” just to have a meaningful discussion with me about why I felt “I was done”. People in booster seats don’t have credibility; therefore, the look.
On the other hand, I imagine when Michelangelo said “he was done” with the Sistine Chapel, no one gave him the look. I would find it hard to believe that someone would say, “Really, you’re done? Why don’t you finish your lima beans and splash a little more magenta on that pudgy one in the corner?” Nope. It’s all about credibility.
Without credibility, not only can you expect your “doneness” to be questioned, you might even get the occasional look that “graduates” from “Really, you’re done?” to “you really need to be done”. I know this firsthand; I have seen this “graduated look” many times, and it’s not pretty.
Time has not diminished my desire to feel liberated. Nor has it stifled my quest to gain credibility.
Thus, I still look for those golden opportunities to announce “I’m done” and have found that sharing nuggets of wisdom with employees is an excellent forum to do this.
I figured out a few years ago that the typical employee (not all) will usually allow me about two minutes to “spew some wisdom” before they give me a look. Depending on the employee’s tenure and whether or not the individual has ever communicated with me before has a great deal to do with the type of look I receive.
My highest success rate comes when I spy a new hire who is seated in the lobby wearing what I suspect is the same tentative, yet determined expression that Neil Armstrong must have had when he took his “Giant Step for Mankind”.
I disguise my sudden appearance in the lobby as a mission trip to the complementary candy bowl, which we thought our guests would enjoy but has now become part of our employee benefits package. I grab two lemon flavored gobstoppers, turn to the new hire and say, “Welcome to the Y. How would you like to hear a wisdom nugget?”
One minute and forty-five seconds into my tirade, I begin searching for any telltale signs of facial tics that might indicate which “look” I will encounter. If it appears that I might get the “graduated look”, I figure I have fifteen seconds left to announce my position and spastically lift my hands.
Although I have never spent much time on it, it occurs to me that most new hires react to “wisdom nuggets” similarly; a mix of awkward silence combined with uncontrollable fidgeting of the lower extremities.
As I walk back to my office, I overhear the new hire turn to the receptionist and say, “Wow…was he ever a calf roper?” – and I feel liberated.