Take off your colored glasses
Rid yourself of all preconceived notions
I just finished part one of Don’t Worry Because 90% of Your Worries Won’t Come True earlier today, but I just had to talk a little bit about one of the zengo (Zen saying). It goes something like this: Don’t wear colored glasses.
I actually have a story to share that directly relates to this Zen saying. I worked in-office for a couple of months at the start of my career. The first day at my new job, I was introduced to most of my colleagues, and shortly after, we all sat down at our desks. After I setup my Macbook, and looked around, I noticed the chair of the person directly behind me was empty.
But what caught my attention was a pen that was sitting directly upright. Curious, I asked the person to the right of the empty chair: “where is this guy?” Everyone that sat behind me happened to be the most senior-most members of the team (not in seniority, but in age, as well as tenure at the company). While asking my question, I gestured at the pen sitting upright. I was immediately met with two colleagues who were almost hesitant to answer that question. Finally, the person on the right answered: “That’s MS. No matter what, do not touch anything on his desk. They also added, “and make sure to always wish him good morning. As they continued, I was told that MS was extremely grumpy, and that I should, in general, try not to piss him off.
“Wtf lmao” I said to myself. How bad can this dude be? First day wrapped up fairly quickly, and he never showed up to work, so I didn’t pay it that much attention. Next day, however, as I walked to my desk, I see the pen from yesterday in the exact same position. But I also see MS sitting at his desk. Sure enough, his posture alone told me he was likely bad news. He slouched—not in a bad posture way—but in a “I hate everyone around me” way, and he had headphones on at 9AM in the morning. Everyone was talking about their day, but this guy was already working, almost as if he wanted to get the fuck out of there as soon as possible.
Not gonna lie, I was assuming too much based off of a single piece of information: this was no good. As I continue with my story, you’ll see I was also very wrong in doing so.
If you base your evaluation of someone on just one piece of information, or a negative idea or emotion you have from a single facet of what you’ve seen of him, you will inevitably misjudge him.
9:30AM, I head to my standup which usually lasted 5-10 minutes. I come out of the meeting room, walk downstairs to grab some tea from Starbucks, and head back around 10AM to my desk. MS is still sat the exact same way at his desk. Still looking like he barely wanted to be there. My curious nature got the better of me (and I’m so glad it did!), as I waited for him to take off his headphones so I could finally introduce myself to him. This time, the colleague who sat to the left of me warned me: “don’t. You’re gonna get yelled at.”
Fuck it. I tapped him on this shoulder, only for him to turn around with his headphones already off his head, and without hesitation, he introduced himself in the thickest Québécois accent: Bonjour, my name is MS, PL (the woman who sat beside him) already told me your name. Nice to meet you. The emphasis was on the bonjour.
Shit. I forgot to wish him a good morning. Turns around, and starts typing away on his keyboard almost immediately. Okay, maybe he’s not as friendly as I’d expected him to be. But definitely not rude. My colleague who sat to the left of me just says: “you got lucky, I’d say”. Then he starts working, too.
Over the next few days, we barely had any interaction. We had cleaners come in every morning, but they too didn’t touch his desk. By the end of the first week, I just had to find out the deal with the upright pen. On Friday morning, I tapped on his shoulder again. Once again, his headphones came off before he even turned to face me. Only this time, he stared blankly at me. After hearing all that stuff about MS, I didn’t want to waste a single moment of his time, so I wished him a good morning, and immediately followed up with: “why do you have a pen sitting upright like that?” In my head, I thought there has to be a good reason behind it: surely, MS would not dilly-dally and fuck around at work.
MS turned around, without saying a word. I thought to myself: fuck, did I piss him off? Before I could finish the sentence in my head, he tipped the pen over. Then he turned around, and asked me to put it back in its original state.
Gulp. Now, I was getting late for standup, the CTO already walked past me, and asked me to join the rest of the team. Yet here I was, trying to put the pen back upright. For some reason, this task seemed more urgent at the time. Of course it did. After all, nobody warned me about the CTO being overtly rude. They did, however, warn me not to piss off MS. So I tried a couple of times, and soon enough, MS grabs the pen from me, and swiftly places it upright, almost as if he had practiced this several times. Our eyes meet, as he laughs hysterically, and says, “only I can do this,” as he continues to smile smugly.
At this point, I head to my standup, and come out as usual within 10 minutes, only to see MS quarreling with ZL (the colleague who sat to his left). As I got close to them, I realized: they weren’t quarreling, but competing to see who could get the pen to sit upright the fastest. ZL also had his pen sitting upright. They both tipped their pen over. MS won, fair and square, at which point, he turned around and started conversing with me and my colleague. We were both taken aback, but as we continued talking, we both came to the realization that MS… wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, the dude was hella chill.
Over time, we got to know each other. As much as the age-gap allowed, and as much as we could get to know each other without our questions getting to personal. Each time, though, it was MS who would initiate the conversation that led to us finding out more about him.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” We’d answer, then he’d exclaim: “ah, I’m too old to have a girlfriend”, then add on: “but I love drinking wine with my female companion whenever I get the chance. On a good day, we’ll finish the whole bottle together.”
“Kunall, why do you have your headphones on all the time?” As if MS didn’t do the same. Later on, I’d find out that MS cannot work with all these people talking around him. Just like me.
MS loved listening to music, too, though. He would come in early (7AM), blast his radio (yes, AM/FM radio) till more people rolled in, then put on his headphones. He wasn’t listening to music anymore, though. He only had them on for the noise cancelling feature. It’s not that he didn’t want to be bothered, he just wanted work to be about work. That’s all.
MS came in so early (and therefore left early, too) not because he hated working with us. But because he lived in Quebec, and past 2PM, he was guaranteed to be stuck in traffic for hours.
MS wanted you to say good morning each day because he was the oldest at the company, and elders deserve that much respect at least. He would sometimes walk out from internal meetings, or simply head home if he had had enough. At his age, he had heard and seen a lot, yet he never got rude with a client. So it didn’t make sense to him how someone could be rude towards him. Again, he was a bit old-school, but you can’t change how people act or respond. Not at his age. He expected everyone around him to understand that.
“NF (colleague who sat to my right), you seem stressed today. Everything OK?” NF would explain how he got chewed out by one of the clients. “Tabarnak!” MS would always say that whenever he wanted to amplify an emotion, often a negative one. But he never used it as an insult.
It’s not that MS didn’t like his things being touched: he just expected his belongings to be put back the same way he had left them. He was just extremely particular about things.
Basically, this was a long-winded way of me saying: rid yourself of all preconceived notions. Take off your colored glasses.