Why Are You Playing Small?

How to Stop Procrastination and Self-Sabotage When You’re on the Edge of Success


Are you not reaching your full potential? Do you know you have so much more you can bring to the table, but you have something stopping you? And, come to find out, it’s YOU?!

Haven’t we all had that happen at times? Haven’t we all been capable of so much more, but then we do something to stunt our progress? Or we procrastinate? Or we sabotage our efforts? What’s that all about? Why do we do that?!

Don’t you deserve better than that? Doesn’t everyone deserve that better version of you?

The other day while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a post by a guy that I follow named Keith Claridge, who says he is a truth seeker, coach and mentor. He had posted a tweet to a longer Facebook thought that was basically him journaling to himself. It struck a chord with me – you can read it here if you’d like. He said, “By playing small I’m not impacting the world. Playing small robs people of having the opportunity to work with me.”

Why Do We Do This?

Have you found yourself “playing small” as well? If we focus on our Self-Awareness, we have to really look inside to determine why this is happening. What is driving you toward a certain behavior? What benefit do you get by not reaching your highest level? Or if you do reach those high achievements, but they still don’t bring the feelings you thought you might experience long term, then what?

I recently watched the Netflix film on Tony Robbins entitled I Am Not Your Guru. The film documents one of his Date with Destiny events, showing the challenges, decisions and transformations people commit to after being part of the event. In the bonus material after the credits, dancer Derek Hough was talking about how he felt like he always had to achieve things in order to feel good; that he had to be first place and be the best. Then he found himself sitting at home after winning a TV show (Dancing with the Stars) three times, surrounded by his trophies and feeling like, “Well now what? Shoot! I thought this was going to bring me, just … long lasting joy.”

The winning didn’t make him feel the way he thought he would. Often, after the initial high once you’ve achieved your goal wears off, you come back to reality and wonder why that didn’t make you happy. Were you happy to begin with? There’s something to consider …

After someone who bought his books asked real estate investor Dean Graziosi why he would be at Date with Destiny, he said, “Are you kidding me? We all have our own stuff … Accomplishments don’t change who we are in here. We all need to fix that. How many successful people end their lives, or drink or do drugs ‘cause they can’t figure it out?”

Understanding why you do things can help you create more Self-Awareness. Knowing what success really looks like for you can help, too.

What’s Your “Stuff?”

Tony Robbins talks about how, ultimately, people usually want to change a behavior, or they want to change how they feel. Which is it for you? Maybe it’s both.

If you feel like you are playing small, why do you feel this way? Is it due to a fear of success? Is there anything traumatic in your past that made you feel like you didn’t get what you wanted? In Psychology Today, Susanne Babbel Ph.D. MFT wrote in her article “Fear of Success” that “… the physical reactions to stress and to excitement are very similar. So, when we experience a traumatic event—such as a car accident or a school bullying incident—our body associates the fear we experience with the same physiological feelings we get while excited. Once we have been through enough trauma, we start to avoid those types of situations that trigger memories of fear. For this reason, trauma victims can tend to avoid excitement, and that can lead them to avoid success.”

Have you had traumatic events in your past that you still hold on to? Most of us have experienced some sorts of trauma of varying degrees, and in truth it is often what makes us better and stronger human beings when we are able to move through and past it all and then serve others around us. What were the feelings that you held surrounding that trauma? How do those feelings play out in your life today, subconsciously or consciously?

Or perhaps you had something that you failed at previously. If you find yourself focusing on that (over and over again) and the reasons you may not succeed, that can also slow your progress. If you feel like you were a failure, you may think, “Why even bother? This won’t work.”

What are the behaviors you then engage in? Did you know that 20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators (Psychology Today’s “Why We Procrastinate”)? Procrastination is a Self-Management issue. When you are procrastinating, you are lacking the discipline to do what needs to be done; something that would likely ensure your success. With regard to one reason people procrastinate, Hara Estroff Marano writes, “They distract themselves as a way of regulating their emotions such as fear of failure.”

There may even be a scenario where you have a blind spot … you may think you’re doing everything you need to do, but perhaps you aren’t doing it all in ways that bring you the results you seek. How can you fix something when you don’t even know what isn’t working?

So How Do You Handle This?

How do you break these patterns when you find yourself playing small? Well, first you have to make some decisions. The first decision is that you are no longer going to accept that behavior or that feeling that is causing you to play small and not put your best self forward. You decide that you are tired of the results you are getting. From there you simply have to choose to do things differently, and you have to choose that daily. Yep … Every. Single. Day. This will come as you increase your Self-Awareness. Once you realize you are going down the rabbit hole again, you can stop and change what you are doing.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone for constructive feedback on your performance. It can be difficult to hear what we’re not doing well, but pick a trusted advisor to help guide you along the way and you will reap the rewards of their observations and care. When someone you trust can see things you can’t, you are able to incorporate their thoughts, make small adjustments, and then course correct to get yourself back on track.

Note the different feelings that are happening in your body, the physical cues, the habits you engage in, and the time wasters you allow. I encourage my coaching clients to keep a journal to note anytime something happens that takes them away from what they should be doing. Often they may catch it after the fact … you know, after they just spent forty minutes scrolling through Facebook when they should have been finishing an important report? Yeah, that kind of procrastinating. Figure out what your common distractions are and eliminate them.

If eliminating them is not possible, LIMIT them. Set a time limit on how long you will allow yourself to shift your attention to refocus. Consider how your brain performs most optimally. Travis Bradbury wrote an article called “The Perfect Amount of Time to Work Each Day.” In it he states, “The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest. People who maintained this schedule had a unique level of focus in their work.”

He went on to say, “The brain naturally functions in spurts of high energy (roughly an hour) followed by spurts of low energy (15 to 20 minutes).”

Did you even know your brain works that way?! This was news to me, but it made so much sense when I started to think about some times I have gotten distracted or lost focus on a project. It usually happens about an hour in … interesting, right?

So look at structuring your day differently if you can, in hourly blocks with little breaks. When you take your break, separate yourself from your work so that you can refocus. As someone with many different aspects to her business, I can sometimes feel scattered because I have so many different tabs and email accounts open, and I try to tend to all by jumping from one to the next at times. Guess what? I am figuring out that doesn’t work well for me. When I shift and focus on just one at a time, it helps me to better manage everything.

Get up and walk away from your desk! Have you heard? “Sitting is the New Smoking.” Do you spend too much time on your caboose in front of the computer? When you take those focus breaks, ensure that you are getting up and moving your body, even if it is just for a quick stretch or a walk to get a glass of water. Are you getting enough exercise every week? That can kick your brain into action, too. If you change your physical state, you change your brain. Form new habits, and you will form new neural pathways in your brain. Create a new and better you!

I have not written this blog as regularly as I had planned. While I love to write, I often have to feel inspired to do so. It feels difficult to me to be “creative on demand.” I have always felt the need to be in a writing mood, and sometimes my brain is too full of other things to feel creative. Which stinks! Because my brain a great power tool full of creative energy … I shouldn’t keep it locked away!

I have been thinking lately that if I will make a practice of setting aside my time differently – I am currently working on scheduling and time blocking for different projects, learning, and tasks – I could create better and more regular habits around writing as well, in addition to some of my other work. Sometimes I feel I just have too much on my plate, which can lead to feeling overwhelmed at times. But then I step back and remember my QuantumThink mantra, “I have all the time in the world.”

Once I relax into that, my focus shifts and I can move forward. Usually. Except on those certain days when I also find myself playing small. Which is what brought us here today. I don’t want to do that! As Keith expressed, I don’t want to rob people of the opportunity to work with me, because my goal is always to impact change and make a difference. If I am playing small, I can’t do that. And neither can you!

Let’s stop. Right now. Together. Because I’m a pretty cool person, and so are you if you’re reading this. And cool people should never play small! Right?!

Find Your Purpose

In an episode of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday on OWN, Oprah conducted an interview with Wes Moore. Wes is an entrepreneur, Rhodes Scholar, war veteran, former White House staffer, prior Wall Street investment banker and now a best-selling author of the books The Work and The Other Wes Moore. Yes, one could say he’s accomplished! He has a focus on pursuing passion and finding your calling, and has founded BridgeEdu to help students positively transition from high school to college in an effort to increase retention and graduation rates.

Do you sometimes feel like you’re faking it? In response to the thought of when you are feeling like an imposter or that you aren’t good enough to be in a room, Wes said, “We are never in a room that we don’t belong in.”

Remember that. Whatever insecurities you may be having, wherever you may be falling short, stop playing small and feeling like you don’t belong or that you don’t deserve the success you’re headed toward. Are you worried about what other people think of you or what they will say about you? Pause … let it go. Move on already. Wes has a great thought that everyone should incorporate: “Don’t let people that don’t matter too much matter too much.”

Why are you giving those people any real estate in your head? Release those people and things that do not have you performing at your highest potential. Sometimes that also means letting go of that little voice inside your head that holds you back. For some, this is the biggest culprit in self-sabotage. Negative thinking must be eliminated, along with negative self-talk, if you want to reach the next level. When you catch yourself listening to that little voice in your head and you don’t like what it’s saying, change the soundtrack and focus on the possibilities ahead instead.

As we all search for meaningful ways we can serve in this life and put forth our best efforts, don’t let fear or the act of playing small stop you from bringing everything amazing about YOU to the world. We are all here for a reason. What is yours?

I will close this with a final thought from Wes Moore: “I would rather flirt with failure than never dance with my joy.”

There you have it. Now stop reading. Go dance!


Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.

Photo Credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/137169575@N04/25072344705">Adorable Handsome Black Boy Child in Baggy Business Suit laughing and walking over white background.</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">(license)</a>

Donald Trump’s Lack of Emotional Intelligence

And Why This Spells Big Trouble for Our Nation.


Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

This is not a politically motivated post … it is about human decency, Civil Rights and treating one another with respect and tolerance. My Emotional Intelligence certification, marketing experience and fair housing background from my many years in the multifamily housing industry have me looking at this candidacy from a variety of angles.

I am no longer associated with a political party so that I may vote for candidates and issues of my choosing. There are things on each side of the fence that make sense to me, so not aligning with either side finally seemed to be the best fit for me (unfortunately, independent voters are not allowed to vote in primary elections in some states, yet interestingly Gallup reports that as of January 2015 a new record of 43% of voters in the U.S. are political independents — is it time for that primary election process to be updated, given those numbers?).

Even when registered with a party, I voted for the candidate I felt would make the best decisions for issues that were most important to me. As such, I would like to see Congress be more bi-partisan in their actions in order to accomplish more things for our citizens as opposed to meeting the goals of big money and huge corporations that push their own agenda and money into politics via PACs and SuperPACs. Too much money in politics does not encourage politicians to vote on behalf of the people. I believe this is how both Trump and Sanders are working to differentiate themselves, by attempting to buck the system. I agree … it could use a little bucking!

As I consider all of the candidates for the upcoming Presidential election, I find one thing continues to stand out to me that genuinely concerns me as he maintains a level of popularity among a sizable group of voters: Donald Trump has a blatantly obvious lack of Emotional Intelligence, yet he continues to maintain his numbers. His Self-Management and Relationship Management skills are horrendous and, in my opinion, have the potential to be very dangerous to our country and to our foreign policy efforts. So why have people been flocking to him?

What’s the Draw?

“The Donald” definitely has name recognition. He truly can be entertaining. Watching him in reality actually reminds me of watching an SNL version of him, only it is actually real – it’s him! He is like a caricature of himself. Sometimes he really can be funny, although oftentimes he will use targeted, demeaning humor to make fun of and attack his rivals personally (as opposed to attacking their politics), including pointing out what he perceives as flaws in their physical characteristics, looks, etc. This, friends, is what we refer to as “bullying.”

The idea of having someone as President of the United States of America who pointedly makes fun of other people is not someone who would be a good role model for our youth – we already have enough problems with bullying in schools without them witnessing it from leaders they should be looking to as an example.

Many people are drawn to Trump because he has had success in business. I understand that, as I have often thought it would be good to have a successful businessman at the helm who was not tied to the corporate interests of America. Some of his supporters like that he will speak his mind and he doesn’t sugar coat things. Being frank is one thing; being rude, arrogant and condescending is another.

“I’m going to make America great again,” he boasts in his typically braggadocios manner. I happen to think America is already pretty great, yet of course there are many things our elected officials could always work together better on to improve. I am actually in line with him when he talks about jobs being taken out of the United States that could or should be done here – we have a lot of people here who need work – and we obviously do have to get our illegal immigration issues under control.

When I look at things from a marketing perspective, I am very mindful of the fact that Trump is always selling himself and his brand. He has spent years and years building the Trump brand (I have even wondered if this campaign weren’t just about furthering that goal). I have stayed at Trump Tower in New York City, and it was indeed a fantastic stay. He definitely has the branding aspect down. I also believe in the power of real estate, which is part of his business that attracts many.

What’s the Problem?

What we have seen many times through this campaign process, however, is that while he is building himself and his brand up, he is often tearing someone else down with personal attacks and insults in the process. What is particularly of concern to me is that when these verbal assaults are directed at a specific group of people, he is inciting hate and bigotry across the United States.

“These aren’t the best and the finest,” Trump said about people coming over from Mexico. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

We do have a problem with illegal immigration. But we also have a plethora of wonderful, hard working individuals from other countries who are diligently trying to LEGALLY immigrate to the United States, which happens to include many truly “good people” from Mexico. I have had friends from Mexico, Great Britain, New Zealand and France detail for me the immigration process they went through, including the interviews and many dollars involved (it’s expensive to get legal assistance in that process!), and I have watched these people do things the right way. Trump belittles these people and others like them when he categorizes immigrants as “problems.”

What does it feel like to be a Mexican American (someone born or living in the United States as a U.S. citizen who happens to be of Hispanic heritage; a child of immigrants from recent generations) and hear this type of messaging from Trump about Mexican immigrants? People were very upset after hearing Trump’s speech. A 24-year old named Carmen posted a video in responsecomforted by the actions her mom took in giving her actual facts about immigrants. She cited that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those who are native born Americans, and that immigrants start small businesses at more than twice the rate as those who are U.S. born.

Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California, put together a video detailing the costs involved in Trump’s plans to deal with illegal immigrants via deportation, including estimates from a Conservative think tank saying that it would cost our nation over $400 Billion. He says that subsequent loss of half of our farm workers and 6% of our work force would set our economy into a downward spiral, ultimately costing our economy over $1.6 Trillion and putting us in a place worse than the Great Recession. When putting it into Trump-like language, Newsom said, “His plan is a loser.”

The Outcome of Negative Rhetoric

When Trump makes sweeping negative statements about an entire nationality or religion, such as when he said all Muslim travel should be banned and no Muslims should be allowed to enter our nation, it goes against the very principles that formed our nation. We are, after all, a nation formed of immigrants. Many of our Muslim Americans (U.S. citizens who happen to practice the religion of Islam, per our country’s freedom to practice the religion of our choice) have relatives out of the country. Such negative, targeted statements that are all-encompassing demean everyone in the group he is addressing, despite the fact that the people he is really targeting in this situation are those Islam extremists who are terrorists. This is certainly not all Muslims, and demands like this incite fear within our Muslim American communities and can create bullying situations against young Muslim American children as well.

When Oprah Winfrey asked Malala Yousafzai – author of I Am Malala, focus of the documentary He Named Me Malala, and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner at age 17 for advocating for all students to have the right to education (she was shot in the face by the Taliban in 2012 in Pakistan for speaking up for girls’ right to education) – on OWN’s Super Soul Sunday what it meant to her to be a Muslim woman, she replied, “For me, being Muslim means to be peaceful. To be kind, to always think about others, and to always think that how the one action you take can affect other people’s life.”

She believes the characteristic of Islam which she tries to embody is peace. Making broad statements that lump everyone of a certain nationality, race, religion, etc. encourages a hateful rhetoric across the nation and incites bad treatment among some of his followers against people in those groups, as we have seen evidenced at some of his rallies.

After insulting a group, you’ll later find him saying they are “tremendous people” and he has a “great relationship” with them, perhaps trying to gloss over his prior negative statements. But it doesn’t negate what was said, and he doesn’t apologize. He easily calls people stupid, then says he gets along with everyone. Not only has he spoken badly of Mexicans and defamed Muslims, he has also offended women, reporters, breastfeeding mothers, overweight people,and handicapped individuals among others … I had a friend tell me just yesterday that she paid to attend a conference 10 years ago where Trump was speaking, and walked out because his statements were so condescending toward women.

I teach Fair Housing within the multifamily industry, and cover the history of housing discrimination in my leasing training classes, discussing how important it is for people from all backgrounds to be welcomed into a community. We have come a long way since the Civil Rights movement, yet race continues to be an incendiary issue. This is evidenced by attempts in recent years to show a systemic race problem, including how prevalent instances of police misconduct have been against African Americans with the rise of the #blacklivesmatter campaign. So when the former head of the Ku Klux Klan endorses Trump, you have to realize we have a reason to be concerned as he encourages his followers to join forces with Trump’s supporters.

“Go in there, you’re gonna meet people who are going to have the same kind of mindset that you have,” Duke said Wednesday on the David Duke Radio Program, as first reported by Buzzfeed, reasoning that “voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage.”

Houston, we SERIOUSLY have a problem here!!

Some of the Disparities

After Trump won three states on Super Tuesday, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight took on the many disparities of Donald Trump and his campaign – if you want an amusing yet informative look at these, turn up the volume and check out John’s take on things (warning – some adult language included). In this, he takes a closer look at people’s reasons for supporting him: 1. He tells it like it is … yet evidence show he has made frequent opposite statements or untruths; 2. He is independent, has financed his campaign and is not financially beholden to anyone … yet he has not personally spent $20-25 million – he has loaned himself $17.5 million in campaign funds, which can be paid back by the campaign, and he has received $7.5 million in individual contributions. 3. He’s tough … yet has to try to show that he’s right when he is sensitive about something. 4. His success … while he has made a lot of money, he has also lost a huge amount with his multiple bankruptcies.

He also is sue-happy. Oliver shows that during a deposition, Trump explained that his net worth changes based on his feelings. That tells me that his EQ (or lack thereof) is part of what has gotten him in financial trouble in the past. I think it’s safe to say that the same thing could happen if he were dealing with our country’s budget.

EQ Skills and Policy Issues

You’ll often see Trump in an interview situation where he will reply to someone making a point, “You’re wrong,” continually interrupting the person in order to prove he is right. During these frequent interruptions, he will at least occasionally say “Excuse me – excuse me” as he interrupts several times in a row … yet the point is that he is frequently interrupting, which means he is not present in the moment or the conversation. This means he is not truly listening to the other person. He is thinking of how he can respond so that he can be right or position himself in the best possible light. This shows very poor Relationship Management skills, which is definitely a concern for me when I think about his potential involvement in foreign policy matters and interaction with other world leaders.

An election really should come down to policy matters and running the country. If you look at the Republican debate that happened on FOX March 3, 2016, it was a bit of a circus. To weigh in on where candidates stood with regard to policy issues, Donald Trump scored second lowest in discussion about economic policy, and was lowest with regard to both foreign policy and domestic policy, according to Bloomberg. John Kasich was actually the candidate that turned in really solid numbers for all three areas that night. It is unsettling how much Trump doesn’t address with regard to actual policy matters. Feeling confident in a potential candidate should involve that candidate having a wide range of knowledge and plans for all of these areas.

What is Needed

Basically, here’s the deal for me … When I think of who I want as Commander-in-Chief for our country, it is someone I would feel confident could handle himself/herself well in Foreign Policy negotiations; someone who will thoughtfully consider and weigh options prior to making an incredibly difficult decision; someone whose behavior toward others will be a good role model for young children and our nation; someone who will be inclusive, not divisive; and someone who treats others with respect and dignity, even when there is disagreement on the table.

Most importantly though, it essentially boils down to what President Obama stated at a recent press conference. He said he voters will be looking at, “Whoever’s standing where I’m standing right now has the nuclear codes with them, and can order 21 year-olds into a firefight.”

A sobering thought. I want someone who will remain cool-headed with access to that little red button. The President of the United States of America should not be someone who will be impetuous and reactive to situations or conversation. It should not be someone who has a lack of Self-Management skills and treats people unkindly through actions or words.


Trump is so focused on “Winning” … I have a hard time thinking a Presidential candidate is using the same little slogan first brought to light by Charlie Sheen (who, granted, I loved in high school prior to his travels down the prodigal path – come on, it was when he was in Lucas!), given his downturn in recent years. What is both amusing and terrifying is that if you really listen closely in this video, you can really grasp how Trump’s rhetoric sounds like he could actually be your drunk neighbor.

This is the most important job in our nation. It is not a reality TV show. Since Trump gets so much joy from doing it to others, I think it’s about time we tell him, “You’re Fired!”

If a group of 5th graders see things so clearly, why can’t everyone?


(PS – I apologize for my long absence in posting. Ironically, I have been learning about real estate investing. And, no, I will not be running for President once I am controlling my own properties. But I promise to post more frequently again! Thanks for your patience with my absence. I am grateful to The Donald for getting me back to writing!)


Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.

Pause … for Compassion

A Lesson in Customer Service

Just over a week ago, I lost my best childhood friend to cancer, that horrible disease that has stolen way too many lives far too soon. I was so grateful that my schedule enabled me to be there across the country with her during her final days. I was even blessed enough to be in the room with her as she took her final breath. Although it was all such a gift, it was a mentally, spiritually and emotionally draining time, as you can imagine.

After a trying experience like this, you begin to notice the many little ways in which people serve you and tend your wounded soul: the silence and tears shared on the phone with your BFF as you acknowledge and mourn the loss together; Chinese food, a bottle of wine and much needed laughter with a longtime friend you haven’t seen in years; the texts from those who care to check in and see how you are; the perfect books loaned to you by a loved one that are just what you needed to read at just the right time; or the surprise vase of flowers and card that a neighbor delivers with love and a hug. People are awesome. Because of this, you also notice the glaring absence of the smallest acts of kindness from strangers in moments when it would be so easy to make someone feel just a bit better on a challenging day.

In the name of Social Awareness (one of the four key competencies of Emotional Intelligence), I felt it was necessary to write this particular post based on a few customer service experiences I had after the death of my friend. As someone who conducts training classes on customer service, I share this in hopes that we all recognize the importance one little sentence can have on people everywhere who have suffered loss and have taken a moment to share that information with you in either a business or a personal capacity. Just one sentence would have offered a spoonful of comfort at a necessary time. Can you guess what it might be? It is simply this:

“I’m sorry for your loss.” 

That’s it. Just four little words. It seems basic enough, right? Something that should almost be second nature? But apparently it’s not. 

I think perhaps people sometimes don’t know what to do when confronted with death. That’s okay. I get that. It’s not a comfortable thing. But having compassion for someone in that situation can help keep emotions in a more “normal” place for both you and your customer. Let me explain. 

The morning my friend passed away, I knew it was time to book my flight back home since I had just bought a one-way ticket there. An American Airlines AAdvantage member, I went online and looked for flights home where I could use my miles. Not having any luck for flights that day based on the number of miles available for my use, I called their customer service line. I enjoy traveling on AA and had hoped my circumstances, which I explained to her, might create better luck when working with a human being rather than a computer. It did not, and there was a $75 expedite fee on top of it all. I hadn’t known about the fee that occurs with miles use without a 14-day advance purchase. Good to know, but unwanted in that moment.

While I was disappointed that she was unable to accommodate my needs that day (because, as she told me, the same information was available on her computer that I had seen online), what was more disheartening was her lack of warmth during the process, given the information I had shared with her. It felt more as if I had inconvenienced her by calling to book my flight rather than handling online myself (which I would not have done from public wifi anyway). Trust me, when you are making a call from a hospice room, you just want someone to be nice to you. That was missing. She also missed her opportunity to extend a little empathy to make it all right with the four magic words that would have set my soul at ease in that moment. At no time during the conversation did she ever acknowledge the magnitude of what I had shared with her and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I found that her somewhat cool approach that lacked compassion made me feel more on edge and frustrated by my circumstances. She didn’t even seem to care what had just happened in that room not even two hours beforehand, and that bothered me. It felt as if she didn’t even hear me or care about what was so monumental to me. Luckily, I practiced my Self-Management skills and breathed my way through it. You think to yourself in this situation, “Hmmm. Maybe she was having a bad day.” I certainly was, after all. Geez. It left a sour taste, but I moved forward with arrangements to stay one more night and fly out the following day (see Chinese food, wine, and laughter comment above – thanks Bryce!). 

It Happened Again!

After making it home, I realized I had some electronics that needed to be returned to Fry’s. I had been on my way to do it prior to my trip when a car pulled across a driveway I was trying to enter, causing me to hop a curb and pop my front tire. It really was quite spectacular. You’re sorry you missed that one! Anyhow, because of tire replacement and store location I ran out of time to get my items back prior to travels once I realized my friend was entering her final days and I flew out to be with her and her family.

The Fry’s customer service guy sounded slightly accusatory when I stepped up to the counter, asking me, “Was something wrong with it?” as I set it down and told him I had a return. I told him it just wasn’t what I needed. Upon looking at my receipt he flatly informed me I was past the 30-day window for return. (That 30 day policy was not printed on the front of the receipt, by the way, and I was only a few days past the mark.)

I proceeded to tell him about the flat tire and my travels due to the sad circumstances that occurred. He looked at me warily and with mistrust, again telling me I was past the 30 days. It dawned on me that a smile had never crossed his face from the moment I stepped up to the counter. No care. No understanding. No acknowledgement. NO magic sentence! I am sure he is probably a nice guy at heart (he reminded me a bit of Healy on “Orange Is The New Black”), but it just flipped my switch! I said, “Are you serious?! I’m about to cry here!” 

And I was. And I did! My eyes started to tear up as I prepared to ask for the manager. I have managed a customer service team and I realize many people try to pull things over on customer service reps; but just as with our judicial system we should really look at people as innocent until proven guilty. I wasn’t making up those stories, and I was barely past their time frame! He then took my next move and called his supervisor over, which I appreciated.

The manager was kind and accommodating, and quickly agreed to take back the items and generate the refund despite my few days of lapse. However, neither of them looked me in the eye from that point forward as I stood at the customer service counter silently weeping, my grief coming quietly unleashed while they took action with the register. I had to ask for a tissue, which was quickly accommodated in the form of a rough paper towel torn from a continuous roll. That made me giggle internally through my tears as I realized they were an all male group who were probably unaccustomed to reducing a customer to tears. Note to everyone: It is always good to keep some Kleenex boxes on hand … one never knows. 

As I returned to my car with my refund receipt, I let the grief I had been  denying wash over me (thanks, Fry’s guys!). It arrives again now as I write this post on my Southwest flight back to my hometown for my sweet friend’s celebration of life service … I am once again crying on a plane, damn it. I did that last week on the way home as I processed the loss. Sigh …. breathing deeply. Ahhhh. Funny how that always works, the breathing. I love the gift of presence and Self-Management. And I reflect that one of my Southwest curbside baggage agents came to greet me when I checked in today, saying he could tell I’d lost some weight since he’d seen me last, bless him! (Southwest, I always say your SNA curbside agents are the BEST!!) Okay, smiling now. And breathing again … oxygen is good. Life is good. 

On a Personal Note

I want to share one final story with you that brought this full circle for me. I mentor a young man through my volunteer work with CASA, and he has been assigned to me for nearly six years. When I told him of my travels and my friend’s passing, he didn’t say anything in response. I said, “You know … when someone shares information like that with you where someone close to them has died, it is typically customary to say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.'” 

He still didn’t say anything, and we moved on to deciding where we wanted to go as I pondered why this phrase is missing so much these days. “I planted the seed,” I thought. “It’s all I can do.” After getting our food later and sitting down at the table, he paused and said, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

I looked at him and smiled, seeing the sentiment take root in him. I felt such peace and gratitude. I said, “Thank you,” and asked if he wanted to see a picture of us together at our senior prom. He did. We laughed and went on to have a lovely day. 

That’s really all it takes. If you ever encounter someone who has just experienced the unfortunate death of a loved one, simply say the magic words: “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It acknowledges the pain and lets someone know they are not alone in this world. Even as strangers, we can generate empathy and compassion to another person who is experiencing grief and sorrow. Not only does it comfort the individual who is feeling that loss by calming them and letting them know someone cares, it makes you a connected and more compassionate human being in the process. 

Thank you. Truly.

Valerie M. Sargent is a dynamic speaker, trainer, consultant and executive coach. A natural and engaging motivator, Valerie is a Level I and Level II TalentSmart Emotional Intelligence Certified Trainer and President of Yvette Poole & Associates. She helps individuals and organizations increase their EQ, managing emotions and relationships better on the job for maximum performance. Her signature message, “It’s in the Pause”® focuses on the need for Self-Management skills to preserve positive relationships in the workplace and beyond – follow her blog: https://itsinthepause.com/). For more information: http://ypooleandassoc.com/  or http://valeriemsargent.com/.