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Thoughts on not solving puzzles and not crying at work

By: Tricia Caspers, Columnist
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I had a Rubik’s Cube when I was a kid. You know, those twisty-turny cubes with bright, mixed-up colorful squares? The goal is to organize the cube so each side is one solid color. At 9, I would complete one side and try to solve the next, and the next, but now I know it doesn’t work that way. I know this because for the last couple of weeks it’s been my job to teach children how to solve the Rubik’s Cube.

Before writing this, I sat down on the couch with my tea and my manual intending to conquer the thing once and for all, but I’ve completed only two-thirds of it. Still, it’s further than I’ve ever gone before.

In addition to this puzzle, I’m taking a leadership class offered by my employer, and I’ve been invited to think about which traits make a strong leader. The leaders I most admire are perceptive, calm, and kind.

That idea about sandwiching criticism between two kindnesses— I love that idea. If I ever become a manager of anybody, I will definitely use it.

Meanwhile, I’ll try it on my children.

This leadership discussion made me realize that I currently work for some truly strong and inspiring leaders. “I’m so lucky!” I said out loud to myself when I had this epiphany.

It’s not luck.

I have left many jobs where I was not so fortunate. When I was younger I would announce, “I quit!” walk out the door and never look back. I’ve grown out of that impulse, but apparently I have a rule for myself: If I’m crying at my desk because of something my supervisor-manager-boss said to me, or about me, it’s time for me to go.

It was a subconscious rule until recently, and maybe I created it because I grew up with a person who hated me and made me cry regularly, and my adult subconscious self is like, “Girl, we are not going back there.”

I wish I could say that I’d never left a job without responsibly finding a new one. I wish I could say I always left on good terms.

Years ago, after a falling out with an employer during a time when I was somewhat destitute, I called someone I love for advice.

“Have you ever burned a bridge?” I sobbed into the phone.

“Heck,” he said. “I’ve blown some of ‘em up.”

In a crisis, laughter helps, and I understand that I was lucky to have the support of friends and family.

I didn’t blow that bridge up, but I didn’t cross it again, either.

Here’s what I’ve decided: I’m intelligent, kind, hard working, honest, and reasonable, and I deserve to work for someone who doesn’t make me cry. Vomiting is also unacceptable.

The same is true for you.

Maybe you’re not crying. Maybe you’re punching a wall or developing an ulcer. This rule is still applicable.

Leaving a miserable job is a risk, even if we go the responsible route; find a new position, give notice, and train the replacement. There’s a chance the new job is also miserable, or a different kind of miserable. Plus, we lose everything we built up where we are.

And this brings me back to the Rubik’s Cube. The lesson of the Rubik’s Cube is not so much to solve the puzzle. The lesson is about learning to strategize, collaborate, and work hard. It’s also about taking risks, possibly failing, and learning from that failure.

Beginning again with grace.

Now that I’ve finished two-thirds of the cube, I’m afraid. What if I get the next step wrong, mix up the squares, and have to start over? (I’ve already done exactly that.) I’ll lose all of the hard work I’ve done.

I shouldn’t be afraid.

Every time I left a job I lost all of the work I’d done, and it was difficult, but I learned from it, and now I’m in a place where my work is valued.

Plus, I get to play with Rubik’s Cubes. How cool is that?

Nine-year-old me is very impressed.

Tricia Caspers is a poet, maker space coach, and librarian. She may be reached at pcaspers@westtrestlereview.com