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Old women talk about old things: history, myth, magic and their
checkered pasts, about what changes and what does not.

Monday, July 16, 2012

You were right. It's been personal, Nora.

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.- Nora Ephron's Commencement speech at Wellesley, 1996

When screenwriter Nora Ephron died and I read the quote (above) that was posted on my facebook page, I immediately remembered how good her romantic comedy movies were. I often pop one in the DVD player when I want something I enjoy listening to in the background to keep me company when I'm working.

While I thought about my favorite lines and moments from her work and felt sad that she's gone, I recalled how simply and succinctly she voiced a fundamental difference between men and women when it comes to work. And I was reminded yet again that it doesn't make a hill of beans of difference that I'm fifty years old now. I still feel like a kid when it comes to trying to be a professional and run a business. I take it personally when a client goes to someone else for their webdesign.

And that is the problem. I'm a "business" of one. One person. Why shouldn't I take it personally? But I know darn well I shouldn't. I was told this time and again by my ex-best friend as she valiantly struggled to hide how badly she was hurt after twentysome years with the same company who callously screwed her over all in the name of saving their profits. To hell with their employees. You should never let them see you cry. Never be unprofessional and show you are actually human (ohmigod, she's acting like a GIRL!) and you have feelings.

from You've Got Mail (1998)AT

(an online conversation)
KATHLEEN: My business is in trouble. My mother would have something wise to say.
JOE: I'm a brilliant businessman. It's what I do best. What's your business?
KATHLEEN: No specifics, remember?
JOE: Minus specifics, it's hard to help. Except to say, go to the mattresses.
JOE: It's from The Godfather. It means you have to go to war.
KATHLEEN: The Godfather? What is it with men and The Godfather?
JOE: The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question. What should I pack for my summer vacation? "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." What day of the week is it? "Maunday, Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday." And the answer to your question is "Go to the mattresses."
You're at war. "It's not personal, it's business. It's not personal it's business." Recite that to yourself every time you feel you're losing your nerve. I know you worry about being brave, this is your chance. Fight. Fight to the death. 

(later in the story, a face to face conversation --)
JOE: I put you out of business. You're entitled to hate me.
KATHLEEN:   I don't hate you --
JOE: But you'll never forgive me.  Like Elizabeth.
JOE:  Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.   She was too proud --
KATHLEEN:   I thought you hated Pride and Prejudice.
JOE:  -- or was she too prejudiced and Mr. Darcy too proud?  I can never  remember.  (beat) It wasn't personal --
KATHLEEN:  --It was business. What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All it
means is it's not personal to you, but it's personal to me, it's personal to a lot of people. 
 (she shrugs helplessly) What's wrong with personal anyway?
JOE: Nothing.
KATHLEEN: I mean, whatever else anything is,  it ought to begin by being personal.


I'm flashing back to my last experience in the "corporate world."  Since I was raised in a household of three women and one man (and my father was a very reticent person who rarely had much to say to his daughters. At least while we were growing up),  I rarely if ever saw men interacting with each other.  I worked for three guys who worked together in one room running a small business. They stuck me at a computer in the outer office (and rarely closed the door)  and I had no choice but to eavesdrop on them all day.

Fortunately for sweet little me, I rarely heard them swearing. But I also learned that on a regular basis, men will yell and tell each other in no uncertain terms that the other guy is  a stupid idiot (or worse).  And the subject could just as easily be sports or politics, not just business.  But right about the time I'd start to wonder if my boss was going to have a heart attack (he would get red in the face), and/or if an actual physical fight was going to break out,  things would get quiet and I'd realize they were back to business as usual. The problem was solved, the argument forgotten (really!), and they were all friends, again.

I remember Steve, one of the guys I worked for who I found it the easiest to talk to, telling me that that's the one thing that drove him crazy about working with women. They take everything personally!, he complained. If you have a disagreement and you fight about it, they are hurt and they stay that way for awhile. They hold a grudge. They don't forget. They take it personally.

Just how can they turn all that testosterone on and off at will? At work, anyway. And then I have to tell you about my first boyfriend post divorce. Because I have to remind myself that there has been a time when I really was getting pretty good at this "don't  take it personally" stuff, anyway.

You see, one of the annoying things that helped me realize that I had really did not want to be in a relationship with this guy was the way he held grudges.  He didn't forget.  He could recite chapter and verse all the times in his life when people had treated him unfairly and done him wrong. They hurt his feelings.  And he had to relate in great detail, what had happened and why.  All the way back to kindergarten.  Yikes! It was annoying. And sad. And wimpy.

I tried to impress on him one of the hard lessons I'd finally gotten in my years of counseling.  People don't deliberately try to hurt you. They are just blundering along, living their life and making choices based on what's best for them at any given moment. And chances are, if you get stepped on (and hurt) in the process, it's only because you just happened to be in the way.  And no, they probably won't even notice you were in the way.  And it won't occur to them that their action directly affected you.  People look out for themselves.  They have to.  Because sadly, if you don't look out for yourself,  chances are,  no one else will. 

And in all honesty, in the process of breaking up with him, I deliberately hurt him.  I wasn't nice, and I purposely did things that I knew would push him to the point that he would not want to salvage the relationship.  I wanted out in the worst way and I knew that if I could convince him that I was a horrible person he'd give up and let me alone.  I knew this about him -- he'd take it personally. He'd carry the grudge and not forgive me. 

But I'm on Kathleen's side in You've Got Mail. I have a small business (of one) and I take it personally when I lose a client.  I have tried so hard to look at it from their point of view and realize yes, it was a good business move (for them - not me, obviously!)  Chances are it's never occurred to them how badly losing them has hurt me. And not just emotionally, but financially. Therein lies the rub.   

And that's why it's so hard not to take it personally - when you may or may not be able to recover financially from someone else's business decision. At least I can honestly say that I have behaved professionally when this has happened. As badly as I would have loved to have screamed "how can you be such a jerk?! You just cut my income in half!,"  I didn't.  I sucked it up and took it like a man.  Or not.  I'm thinking about the guys back at the office.  They would have told you about it.  You would have known exactly where you stood with them. But after clearing the air, they would have made up and gone back to doing their jobs.  Then, again, they could do that.  They were professionals at not taking anything personally.

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