Last night was one of those delayed-plane-sprint-to-the-gate-to-catch-my-connection scenarios. This required two unfortunate events: my having to run, never ideal. Then the thwarting of the million-foot high, one-foot wide escalators at ATL which makes it impossible to walk up or down them. You’ve just gotta ride ‘em out.
As I got to the bottom of the escalator, I heard the melodic voice of the plane train saying the train was leaving…and I grabbed my bag and lept off the last 3 steps of the escalator and sprinted to the nearest train, which was packed out, and jumped on as the doors were closing. Or I should say, closed. On me. And not in the elevator door closing type way in which they felt my presence and opened. No, they felt my presence and held on for a few worrisome seconds. I had flashes of riding to Terminal T half in and half out of that train.
The plane-train-bot voice announced, “There is someone blocking the doors.”
“Confirmed. It me.” I said to the amusement of my fellow train riders. The doors released and I secured my whole self on the train. I gave a few, “I’m sorrys” because I’m sure those people were in a rush and I delayed them by a few seconds.
As I gathered myself, I looked up. There was an older man, rocking the over-the-ear Bluetooth, staring directly at me. With the slightest shake of his head, subtle scowl, and a dismissive glare down his long nose, he said: “Too much.”
I paused. Looked at him. Speechless. I glanced away because I could feel the rage starting to rise up through every ounce of my panting body. Then I looked back at Bluetooth dude.
“Too much.” Too much what? Too much blue in my pants and color in my shirt? Too much that I was trying to get home? Too much presence? Too much space I was taking up? Too much hair? (It was massively humid in Kansas City and my hair was Jersey-large.) Too much…what?
I death-stare-glared that old man. Seething.
He got off the train at the next stop and it was all I could do not to yell out after him, “You’re a huge jerk!” or something equally as 4th grade-ish.
Realizing that probably would be a bit much, I kept my mouth shut. Then I heard, “That guy was a real asshole.” It came from a man standing right at the door of the train, who had a front-row view of the door-squishing-incident. “I heard what he said to you. It was uncalled for.”
The tension broke in my body–so I wasn’t the only one seething. I hadn’t read the situation wrong. His validation was huge.
As the train came to the stop and I was off for the next 1000-yard dash to my gate, I grounded my thoughts in the doorframe guy and put the old man aside.
I made it to my gate with moments to spare, plopped myself down in my seat, and composed myself.
That’s when those two words crept back in. “Too much.” The slow blood boiling began again. I’m sure he wasn’t giving me another thought.
There I was, hearing his words over and over and over.
Let it go, Erin.
That’s the thing. I–we–never really fully let it go. Those comments go directly to a compartmentalized file in my brain where I put all the moments that I should “let go.”
The seemingly benign “Hey, kiddo!” Or “Give me a hug!” when I just want to shake your hand. “Come on, loosen up!” ‘It’s just a joke!” “Your emotions are the best part of you and the worst part of you.” “You need to understand!” “Too much.” (I’ll spare you the body commentary files.) All delivered by men. All delivered at various points throughout my career. All in that file in my brain.
I call it my Fury File.
I don’t dwell on or think about those comments on the regular. However, when I hear a new one, they all get stirred up. They all get brought to the surface.
The interesting thing I’m realizing as of late: slowly but surely, those files, and moments, are being used for good.
A friend experienced a NOT OKAY situation getting a massage a few weeks ago. She was going to let it go, but with my Fury File activated I encouraged her to speak up. She did. Masseuse fired.
The Connected Conversations Framework is being adapted and embraced by team after team as a straightforward, actionable framework to empower people to have difficult conversations–conversations that can help reduce the fury.
I’m designing an amazing program for the Women in Optometry Leadership Conference this fall. The topic: Be Bold, Leading with Confidence. Or as I interpret it, how do we harness that fury for good?
That man made me angry and I knew it was pointless to say anything to him. Not worth it. And yet, I’ve got another comment in the Fury File. The way I see it, the more files, the more the fire burns inside me, and the more of a force to reckon with I’ll be as I encourage others to advocate for themselves, fueled by that fury.
I only hope with all of those files, I won’t be “too much.”