Mortality in the Workplace

I think most of us think and act like we are all going to live forever, until we actually stop and think about it. Of course, we know better, but that still doesn’t stop us from putting off plans, working longer hours, skipping vacations, all in the name of getting ahead in the workplace. In my 6 years of sales, all I’ve ever known is movement. It’s all go, go, go! Push for the sale! Make one more phone call even though your fingers are beginning to blister from dialing. But the presence of death brings pause. Of course for the deceased, the finality of pause can not be understated. But for those around them, it is a very human reminder of the mortality we all will all face one day.

In business, it’s easy to think you’re solely doing business with a company, an organization, an inhuman entity. While that may be true, an organization is really just an amalgamation of individuals collectively working together towards a common goal. Each of those individuals with their own dreams and hopes, fears and baggage cooperating as a whole. All coming together to push the rock up the hill despite their wanting to be home to be with their families. Some just need a paycheck to feed their family, others driven by more material desires. Despite this discrepancy in motivations, there is always a singular denominator. Their human condition.

One of my web design clients has endured the business world for decades. She was closing deals before I was even born. Despite years of competition, she’s managed to carve out her own little piece of the market for herself. But recently, her grasp on life hasn’t been as firm. After being resuscitated twice, I think everyone realizes they’re on borrowed time. Of course, no one wants to share this kind of news. During this tumultuous period, I was putting the finishing wraps on a new site for her. I was eager to get her feedback, finish my revisions, and get the thing launched. Then I heard the news from her secretary. Everything stopped. No feedback, no revisions, no launch. I just sat there, in my chair full in sorrow.

What I thought was important and that must get to her desk 10 minutes ago was suddenly meaningless. No one cares about quarterly reports or meeting notes when you’re fighting for your life. I don’t typically empathize with people very well, but when your client is fighting to survive, it makes you sit back in your chair and realize that you need to put their needs first, to be more compassionate, to be more understanding. In business, we can fall into the trap of treating each other like immortal robots. Requesting tasks be performed by our subordinates, and fulfilling them for our superiors. But you, me, we’re all people. We’re human, don’t forget that the next time you feel like being short with the barista. Don’t forget that when you call your mobile carrier to complain about the service. These are human beings with their own shortcomings, insecurities, and problems. Think of the worst day you’ve ever had at work? Maybe your dog died, or your girlfriend broke up with you. Now imagine, the day you were a shitty customer, full of angst and impatience. Would the weakest you be able to deal with the shitty you? I didn’t think so. So be more human and show some humility in the workplace, we’re all just trying to survive one more day.

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