A lot of people ask me for advice on how they can help their loved ones who have chronic, degenerative or terminal illnesses. They especially want to know what to say, how to talk about illness, and feelings, and fear, and all the awful things. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can offer what I know, what I feel, and how my friends and family have helped me.
There are a lot of ways to respond when a friend with degenerative illness shares with you the latest shitty (and scary and often humiliating) ways that their body is breaking down, or the horrible treatments they endure, or the conversations with doctors that are heavy enough to crush even the most valiant among us. People tend to say things like, “It’s going to be ok.” or “But you look great.” or “Have you tried [some shit I read about on the Internet]?” or “You can beat the odds, and maybe they’ll find a cure…” or at least something that sounds helpful or hopeful.
And it’s hard to know what the fuck to say to someone you care about when shitty things are happening to them, because you want those things to NOT be happening to them. You want to make it better, or at least easier, and you are totally freaked out about saying something wrong. (And we know you love us. We know your hearts grow heavy for us. We don’t talk about the hard stuff often because we love you and don’t want to hurt you either.) But, in that moment, we don’t want to hear that it’s going to be ok. It’s not ok. It won’t ever be ok. And we’ll figure some shit out and adapt. But, in those moments that you manage to get us to talk about it, those times when we don’t gloss over it and change the subject, don’t freak out. Just listen.
Listen to what we say.
And let it be shitty.
Let us be sad or pissed or tired or defeated. We won’t always feel that way. But if we tell you the truth, (the stuff we usually don’t share because we don’t want to bring everybody down all the goddamned time), it’s because we need someone to be with us in that particular shitty moment. Don’t try to make it better. Don’t try to clean it up. It’s messy and awful, and we’re hoping with all of our might that you’ll just be there with us in that moment. It’s a place we usually visit alone.
We stay there for a little while sometimes, and before we can climb out and try again tomorrow, we have to
Our most vulnerable selves are peeking from under the blanket, for the chance that you’ll stay, for the chance that your hearts love our hearts enough to sit in the messy and the awful for just a little while.
It takes a real friend to say, “Well that’s goddamned horrible.” and then pour a drink or make a snack and let us talk, and cry, and laugh that not-really-funny-but-I-don’t-know-how-else-to-cope laugh about how fucking seriously ludicrous it all is.
So, my advice to you and your worried heart is: Stay.
Stay with us in the awful moment. It’s a lonely place and invites to join us there might be rare, but if you get one, please accept.
If you have a guitar, and can learn a few easy chords, teach yourself to play 5000 Candles in the Wind by Mouse Rat. This will take you approximately four seconds to learn. Then, on a random school day morning, wake your children by quietly wandering into their rooms and playing it with a gradual crescendo until your children are standing on their beds with lighters** in hand, swaying and singing along with the chorus. This will start their morning off right. Offer them sugary cereal immediately after.
You will be the best mom ever.
Also, if your kids walk to school as mine do, you can wait until they are about a block and a half away, stand in the middle of the street, and belt out a 5000CITW chorus-only reprise. They will pee their pants laughing (sneak extra pants into their backpacks ahead of time), and the entire neighborhood will undoubtedly love you for it.
(This also counts as an Unsolicited Professional Neighbor Tip.)
** If you don’t provide your kids with personalized lighters, kitchen matches will work fine. If your kids have smart phones and wish to use them as the source of audience participation illumination, you are an awful fucking parent. What are they, like seven? Seven years old and you gave the little jerks a smart phone? You don’t deserve to sing about Li’l Sebastian. You probably don’t even deserve to live.
Have a great day, errbody.
I want to believe in people. Some days, some people make that a very challenging thing to do.
I guess the best thing we can do is remind ourselves that those people have to live with their bullshit, but we can walk away from it.
It’s true that they will likely carry on as they always have, as assholes, and never even realize it. It may never even cross their minds, allowing them an ignorant and blissful existence in spite of themselves.
Before we let that piss us off, we have to remember that they will never live a life as meaningful and incredible as those who choose to live a life of generosity, service, self reflection, and the kind of vulnerability that allows us to make deep connections with others.
They may never feel loss for something that they’ve never known, but they will be missing out on the best part of being alive.
Reminding myself of these things is how I process the anger I feel when a shitty person gets away with, well, being a shitty person. It helps me ditch that anger, realize that a more appropriate reaction is to pity them, and further remember that I don’t need to waste any energy on them at all. It frees me up to help clean up the damage, hold someone’s hand, and be grateful that my life is full of amazing people with the most beautiful hearts.
And then I can believe in people again.
In a time that there are plenty of serious and even important conversations happening all over the Internet, and news stories of human beings doing despicable things are being hurled at us rapid fire style, can we please just let the funny be funny and not be so goddamn serious all the time?
Dear People Who Are Wrecking the Funny on the Regular, including:
Professor Actually: Your need to correct the wrongs of anything and everything that people tweet is undoubtedly how you’ve amassed such a huge circle of friends, I’m sure of it. Your mission to educate and re-educate us all is really … something. You know a lot of stuff. Totally rad. Maybe take it down a notch? When you feel yourself thinking, “Actually … ” pump those brakes and move on. That would be super great for everyone, because we don’t care. It’s not because we don’t like you. It’s because we hate you. Please stop talking.
Captain Literal: You’re really harshing my mellow. Not everything is meant to be taken literally. I realize that there are plenty of instances where sarcasm doesn’t quite translate in writing, but you and I both know that’s not what I’m talking about. (Quick tip: If it begins with “Knock, knock” you should assume it’s meant to be humorous, and you don’t have to remind us that most people live in apartments or houses with buzzers or doorbells.) You’re killing all the joy, son. Please focus on editing Wikipedia pages when you’re bored. If you get stuck on the entry for humor, call Prof. Actually, he’ll be happy to educate your ass like a boss.
Miss JustSoYouKnow: I don’t want to know. You’re awful.
Ms. EverythingIsDEFCON1SeriousFeminist: No, I wasn’t intentionally meaner to Miss JustSoYouKnow because she’s a woman.
All Grammar Police Officers: R u fucking kidding, me. right now;
99% of the people who comment on local news stories:
“I’m totally putting people in their place. I’m so fucking awesome right now!”
The rest of the Internet:
To be fair, some of you regular-local-news-story-commentators bring a whole lot of unintentional funny shit to the game, and I dig that about you. But most of you are just hateful, awful assholes and/or religious zealots.
If commenting on daily news stories keeps all of you busy at the same time, then keep doing what you’re doing. Chances are, your terrible grammar and spelling will attract The Grammar Police, you could keep Professor Actually busy for hours, and if the story has anything to do with pissed off women (or men pissed off at women, or women who aren’t pissed off about something but should be, or Hillary Clinton), you might be a helpful distraction for the EverythingIsDEFCON1SeriousFeminists, too. Captain Literal will be tied up in a chain of argumentative comments (to which no one is responding), over a single snarky remark, for days. Miss JustSoYouKnow will have already been in there
all morning while at work during her lunch break, defending ideas that have nothing to do with the article, so we’ll just mark that one a win, too.
Well, this is unexpected.
In a time when being sarcastic, funny, politically incorrect (read: funny), snarky, and just plain not taking ourselves so seriously is met with resistance from the Debbie and Donnie Downers of the Internet, it’s the people that wage the oh-so-serious comment wars on news articles and YouTube videos that just might save the funny. So, to all you assholes fighting the good fight through post after post about something a Kardashian did or didn’t do, I salute you. Keep that shit up.
You have lots of experience as a boss, both professionally and in your spare time, so I think you can help with this. I am somewhat new to managing humans and I have somebody who is going through a shitty personal crisis. I really feel for the dude. But his work is suffering: unfocused, lack of attention to detail, showing up late, etc. I was willing to listen to his troubles at first, still am because I am a very sympathetic, nice, amazing human. But I need to figure out how to be kind while still making sure Shit Gets Done. Any words of wisdom for how to handle this without becoming the office asshole who crushed a poor broken man?
– Possible Doormat
Managing people takes some getting used to. The hardest part of earning your stripes is dealing with a situation such as the one you’re in, dealing with the situations that make you feel like the “bad guy”. You’re not the bad guy, and trust me on that, but you do have to get used to doing things that your employees might think are shitty. That’s why you are the manager, and not the other way around.
So, the first thing I want you to remember is that as much as you will want to be liked all the time, there will be days when you’ll have to put the hammer down, and someone isn’t going to like it. If you know me well, then you know that I have been fortunate to maintain good relationships with employees throughout the years, and even maintained good friendships. It doesn’t mean that my employees always agreed with me, or that there aren’t any that still carry anger from having been fired. I have always said to them that some days, it’s 100% ok for them to walk out of the building cursing my name. That there will be nights that they’ll leave thinking, “Fuck you, Sara.” or “Why is my boss such a dick?” As much as I try to avoid that from happening, it will, from time to time, and it’s all part of the package. Being in charge is hard, and this just might be your opportunity to start getting comfortable with things that feel uncomfortable.
Secondly, remember this when you question yourself and wonder if the rest of your employees will think you’re the “bad guy”, consider how you would feel if you got to work on time and worked your ass off all day, only to watch a co-worker wander in whenever he fucking wanted and just go through the motions? Wouldn’t that piss you off? (Yes, Sara. It would piss me off.) Not dealing with situations like this right away could be so much worse than being perceived as the bad guy.
Without detail about what type problems your employee is going through, or what your company policy dictates for situations like this, I’ll have to make some assumptions here, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it, enough to help you feel a little more confident carrying out your management responsibilities. Now, if his issue were medical in nature, you would be able to provide the pertinent information about benefits he may be able to take advantage of, say an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or for a qualifying medical condition, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) time off. My guess is, that if he has a true medical crisis going on, that you’d have already been discussing these things with him. However, many people forget about the EAP, if they have one. The EAP is designed to assist employees in order to get their shit together. The EAP benefits are usually free to the employee, and are confidential. The EAP also stands to benefit the employer by (hopefully) reducing absenteeism, employee turnover, reduced work performance, etc. Of course, not all employers offer a benefit like this. Visit HR and get their input. Make sure you are aware of company policies pertaining to work performance and tardiness, plus the consequences one faces if those behaviors continue. Make sure HR is supportive of your approach. Now, you’re armed with all of the information you need…here’s what I would do.
Sit down with the employee right away. Lay it all out there.
- Inform him that this is a verbal warning.
- Inform him that this meeting is to address poor work performance and tardiness.
- List the unacceptable behaviors he has been demonstrating, and use specific dates and instances.
- List the consequences, should said behaviors continue.
- Offer him the opportunity to utilize any EAP benefits offered to him, off needed.
- Make sure he understands everything you’ve discussed.
- Encourage him.
- Plan a follow up talk.
As a manager, you’ll quickly find that managing people is not anything like managing projects, production, or caseloads, because, well, because none of those other things are humans. Managing humans can be daunting, because who wants to be the bad guy? No one. (Ok, me. Sometimes.) Part of being a successful manager is keeping your employees motivated, productive, and maintaining an understanding how to get the best performance out of each of them, in turn, they’ll be looking for the same from you. Another part is identifying employees that are no longer motivated or productive. You’ll need to proceed with pointing them in the right direction to get themselves on track, or proceed in the direction of terminating their employment.
The reality is, we live in a society that now thinks everyone should get a participation badge instead of keeping score, and that finishing Kindergarten calls for caps and gowns. That ain’t the way life works. Life can be shit, like a giant flaming bag of shit, and there are always going to be plenty of times that we all need to pull on our big-boy pants and man the fuck up. In the world I live in, it works something like this:
Everyone’s got problems. Some of them are manageable problems, some of them are holy-fucking-shit problems. The similarity between the two, is that you have to deal with your shit. Then, you have to take your ass to work and do a good job. If you can’t, you should look into any resources offered to you that may help you work through your problem. No resources like that offered? Go figure out a different way to get help. Ask someone to help you manage your problems in a way that will allow you to do your job. Still can’t seem to make it to work on time and get your shit done?
Sorry, but we here at Get Shit Done Inc., can only afford to pay employees who actually get their shit done. That’s just the way the exchange works. You do the work, and we pay you money for the work you’ve done.
Whether or not he has cried you a river or given you no insight to his personal problems, your job is to evaluate his performance and the performance of your department against the expectations of your self/employer/company. It has nothing to do with how sorry you feel for him. The world isn’t going to feel sorry for him. The bottom line is this. It is your responsibility to manage this employee. If you don’t manage him, his poor performance becomes your poor performance. It sounds like he needs a little reality check. This is, perhaps, the greatest kindness you can give. Make him accountable for his actions. Work with HR to make sure you are handling the situation within company policy, and let him know that, here in the real world, a participation badge just means you showed up, it doesn’t mean you made the team.
OH MY SHIT. I JUST USED A FUCKING SPORTS ANALOGY IN RESPONSE TO A MANAGERIAL WORKPLACE QUESTION. I EVEN USED THE GODDAMMNED WORD “TEAM”. I SHOULD BE FUCKING FIRED. FOREVER. I SHOULD BE WRAPPED IN MOTIVATIONAL POSTERS, TIED UP WITH PARTICIPATION BADGES, AND SET ON FIRE.