When I worked in retail, just a few years ago, my biggest take-away was improving my customer service skills. As a sales associate, I always had to bring a positive attitude to the floor with a big smile to last at least an eight hour shift. That was a piece of cake for me—I am always in a chipper mood, without any concerns in the world, and all I want to do is smile all the time. Yeah, right. Even if I was in a good mood all of the time (I try to be most of the time!), by the end of a long shift of catering to many customers with various needs, I was exhausted and sick of looking at the same articles of clothing and saying how great (or bad) they looked on the customers. But I could never actually appear that way. I could never let my true self out on the floor while selling clothes to strangers. Nobody was to ever know if/when I was in bad spirits. So now, knowing the importance and value of great customer service in any sales position, I am shocked when I encounter a sales representative who is visibly in the worst mood ever.
I love Starbucks—and usually I love the service at any given Starbucks, of which there are a lot! However, every so often I give my order to a very cranky worker behind the counter. Now I know that it is not easy waking up at 5am, or perhaps earlier, to prepare thousands of cups of coffee for complete strangers, but how is it that my particular coffee order has gotten you in such a bad mood? Well, when that happens, as much as I do not like rude people, or those who take their bad days out on me, I remind myself that it is not me that this person is upset with. I just so happen to want a coffee during their bad mood.
But what if it is more than just a temporary bad mood or cranky attitude?
Every one of us carries around baggage from day-to-day. We all have stresses of some sort, we all have experienced life’s ups and downs in different capacities. And we all deal with that baggage in different ways. Some people will talk to anyone, even a customer ordering coffee. Some become distant and appear stand-offish, which can often-times translate into rudeness, especially if you are the person behind the counter and can’t muster a smile for your customers. It’s up to you how you cope with stress and how you want the world to see you. It’s up to you to decide when you’re ready to share your baggage with those around you, and when.
I will never forget the moment when Eamonn told me he had cystic fibrosis. I remember it like it was yesterday. I don’t remember it because he was telling me about the disease, but because he was opening up to me. He was sharing his baggage with me. He was waiting for the right time and moment, when he knew he could trust me, to share this large part of himself. Eamonn was not, and is not, the type of person who walks around like CF is destroying his life. He is not the type of person that shares his life’s challenges with just anyone, or even indicates that he is having a bad day on his bad days. So I was quite taken aback at the news because there was no indication of this from what I knew about him, but I was also comforted that he felt ready to share that part of his life with me.
Ever since that moment I have completely altered the way I look at others—the driver of the car that cut me off, the waiter/waitress that took my order as if I had just asked for freshly caught giant-squid, the cashier at the grocery store who rolled his/her eyes because I asked for paper bags when he/she assumed I wanted plastic, or the woman on the train who wacked me with her purse and didn’t say sorry. Everyone has his/her secrets. Everyone is keeping something from the public. We don’t put everything out there for everyone to see because that would be weird and uncomfortable. But when do we start sharing? When do we start letting people in to truly see and understand what makes us “us”?
It has taken me a long time to figure out these questions for myself. Before Eamonn started to get really sick, it was rare for me to tell anyone that he had CF. Why should I? Why did it matter? In fact, it took a bit of time for me to tell my family members, with whom I am incredibly close. But, as soon as his health started to decline it was not as easy to bottle it in. For one thing, learning how to become a care-taker was very new to me, and still sometimes is, so I had a lot of emotions that I did not know how to deal with, and often denied. The days that he was admitted into the hospital, or when he had important doctor’s appointments, I felt overwhelmed with more unfamiliar emotions, which meant that involuntarily, and even subconsciously, my mood would drastically change. For a time, I grew more quiet, kept more to myself, and wasn’t sharing what was really on my mind. My coworkers in particular, as I am surrounded by them so often, could tell that something was different in my persona, but I wasn’t opening up, so I became more difficult to approach on my bad days, which was not me. Finally, I shared what was going on with my closest friends at work and it felt like a weight had been lifted. I told my boss because I couldn’t keep it in anymore, and I didn’t feel like always smiling when I was feeling nervous and anxious a lot of the time. My purpose in opening up to those who know me well is not to have a pity party. I actually hate pity and for me, that was the hardest part about telling people about Eamonn—I didn’t want those, “oh, wow, that must be tough” comments, or looks as if you told someone that Bill Cosby died. I just wanted to be honest about what was going on in my life. I wanted those close to me to understand me—to understand why I didn’t always want to laugh at every single little joke.
I am still very guarded at times, as I think I should and deserve to be in this situation. I have always been a great communicator—I think it is essential to any healthy relationship—but Eamonn’s health is not everyone’s business, nor does everyone want to hear about it. I still deal with the challenges and the emotions on my own time and in the way I feel fit, but knowing that I have a support system of family, friends, and coworkers who understand some of my baggage is comforting. It’s nice to know that if I’m having a particularly bad day that some people will understand why everyone else in the world is driving me crazy!
We all have our own struggles. Our own daily challenges that, for the most part, we can deal with in private, but that sometimes get the best of us when we’re out running errands, or serving coffee to customers. We may try the best we can to put a smile on our face, despite having a bad day, but sometimes that can get exhausting and you just want to be yourself, even amongst strangers. So next time your ordering coffee and you get treated as if you’re Tiger Wood’s mistress, just remember that he/she has a story behind that bad mood. It might be a little thing, but it might be a big thing. Everyone has a story that they’re only sharing with those closest to them, but which may result in emotions that get inadvertently taken out on others around them. You don’t know what anyone is going through at a particular moment, or on a particular day, so try to give him or her the benefit of the doubt and remember that you’ve done the same. It’s not an excuse, but it is human nature. So the next time a cashier gives you an eye-roll, try to offer a smile in return.