I think deep down inside we all know we are different. Do we really understand what means? Why is being different good or ok? We strive so hard to be accepted and liked by those around us. Whether we look for acceptance at work or at our kid’s school functions. We want others to see us as a normal human being that they would like to be around.
So…what happens when we find out we are different. It depends. Let me tell you a quick story that happened to me when I was 19 and being treated for Leukemia. I know, that makes me really different already.
I was going through a 4-day physical to help the doctors understand if I was a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. That was 1987, the doctors and researchers were still trying, like the dickens, to understand this procedure.
Anyway, one of the test I had to go through was a full dental exam and dental work if needed. I was told that I could not have any dental work done for at least 6 to 12 months, post-transplant. So, any work I might need had to be done now.
I was being seen at the University of Minnesota Hospital for this physical and eventual treatment. The orderly wheeled me to the dentist office, which was connected to the hospital through some over-the- street walk-ways. I was wearing my normal hospital uniform. Or at least that is the way I saw it, a uniform. It was boxer shorts, a t-shirt, hospital robe, hospital slippers and a very uncomfortable, specially designed face mask. That with my very, very chemo thinned hair was not a very attractive look.
I told the orderly I could find my way back to the hospital room by myself. It was ok if she left. She did and once my appointment was over I started my walk back. However, I forgot how to get back. Within minutes I found myself outside in the warm September sun walking towards one of the prettiest college girls I had ever seen.
I put on my charming, macho walk and attempted to make eye contact from a distance. As we got closer our eyes finely connected and she gave me a sheepish grin. As she looked away I knew what I was seeing. It wasn’t the flirtatious grin I was expecting. It was the grin of “I don’t know what is wrong with you, but I feel sorry for you”. It was at that moment that I felt different. I felt broken. I felt like I wasn’t able to make meaningful friendships with others because of my health. I was heartbroken.
It took me years to appreciate the message in the moment. What it taught me is that no matter who enters my life, they need to know they have hope, they are welcome, they have purpose. I know it can be tough to be overly empathetic, especially in the business world, but I think that is where it is needed most.
As leaders, we need to empathize with our employees in a way that makes them feel important, a part of the team and values the fact the they are different and unique. The experiences and insights they possess might be just want the company needs.
Photo courtesy of www.pexels.com.