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Brewer Burns

Monday, December 04, 2006

No, I Can't

More often than I’d like to I have to tell people, “No, I can’t.” Sometimes these people are clients. Sometimes these are people in my personal life. And I find it hard to do. Every time.

Why do I find this so difficult? Part of the problem is that I desperately want to please people. I want to tell them what they want to hear. I want to appease them if they’re frustrated. I want to make them happy if they are unhappy. The need to please people, to do what they believe will make them most happy, is like a gravitational force that sucks me in. It is only through difficulty, emotional difficulty, that I am able to tell people, repeatedly sometimes, that I can’t do what they want me to do. That I have no words of comfort for them. That I can’t make them happy.

As you can imagine this causes me difficulty in my life, particularly in my professional life. Sometimes I realize that I’ve agreed to do something that I can’t do and I agreed to it only because someone pressured me and I caved. Then I hate myself a little. Sometimes I don’t cave in to someone’s demands but the stress of the encounter: the request, my initial refusal, the pressure, my next refusal, the resulting discordant energy that is the result of the person’s disappointed expectations, get to me. Even though I haven’t, in these instances, thrown myself under the train by telling someone I will do something that I can’t do, the stress is almost as bad as if I had. In addition, if the person harbors negative feelings against me that crop up at some later date it is even worse.

This problem is compounded by the fact that my job exposes me to lots of people with really unrealistic expectations of what I can do for them. First, I’m a lawyer. Because movies, TV shows (Perry Mason, anyone?) and various other media outlets often portray lawyers as miracle workers who can make anything happen, instantly, many of my clients come to me with the expectation that I can make their problem go away, instantly. Unfortunately, this is never the case. I don’t have a magic wand and legal action is generally time consuming and costly with no guarantee of victory. This is why so many cases settle: settling guarantees that you will get some of what you want, and it shortens the time parties spend trying to out-maneuver each other.

Second, I answer the phone at my office. This means that I spend a lot of my time every day telling people that they can’t talk to one or the other of my co-workers. I have found that people tend to take this personally. Which is funny because, of course, it isn’t personal. It simply is. No one can talk to more than one person on the phone at the same time. Neither can either of my co-workers meet with clients while talking on the phone with another client at the same time. Since the two things are mutually exclusive, someone is going to be disappointed.

Over the last few months I’ve felt better about answering the phone. It’s one of those things that just sort of happened. One day I guess I just decided that the phone, and the feelings of the people on the phone, weren’t my responsibility. It wasn’t my responsibility to make them happy or acquiesce to their wishes. I do what I can for them, and, for the most part, don’t feel bad about the things that I cannot do. Granted, there are days when I still let the ringing phone get to me and people who still manage to get under my skin, but it’s much better than it was.

I’m going to leave off now, but not without mentioning: I finished the second of Stephen’s mittens, I’ve spun quite a bit more of the cotton candy wool, I’ve changed my spinning technique yet again, I finished my future SIL’s Fuzzy Feet down to the felting and they are drying in front of the heater vent as I type this, and I started my BIL’s Fuzzy Feet. The stockinette in the round is rather satisfying at the moment.


At 10:08 AM, Blogger Moni said...

As I librarian I can *totally* relate. You wouldn't believe some of the refrence questions I get from people. And then thier impatience when I actually have to look up the answer. As if I'm some kind of walking encyclopedia.


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