What does human connection cost?

No one listens to me. I give up.

I’m tired of trying to tell you how I feel.

You don’t care what makes me sad, worried, or frustrated.

These were the messages I learned growing up. They still dictate how I function most of the time.

For instance, we spend a huge chunk of our weeks at work but never really feel connected to anyone there.

After decades in a dysfunctional, inhumane system, I stopped trying to form relationships with anyone or make a difference. I was starving to be heard, waiting to exhale.

I felt, “Nothing changes, no matter what I try.”

Feeling like I couldn’t do ANYTHING, I decided that there was nothing else to do. I chose to just survive.

I was in a rut. I drove to work, locked myself in my self-made prison for the day, then slid open the cell door to let myself out at 5:00. I felt helpless to do anything but wake up to do it again tomorrow.

Then the pandemic hit….

It was like a bomb dropped, shaking everything up. If you care just a little bit about other people, you could see how bad it was for some of us over the last few years.

When we came back in person, it made me feel less alone to start connecting with the people, to stop focusing on “the work” only.

It only takes a little shift in your mindset to create a huge change in others. People started to open up. I learned that I wasn’t alone. We are all starving to be heard.

Have you had a moment when you actually feel seen?

Janet was having a really hard time in a new position, new to our school. She was working her ass off and getting bullied by the people who wanted her to make less waves.

I saw that she cared. She hadn’t sold her soul for a paycheck.

Janet really cared for the kids and wanted to protect them like a Mama Bear. I loved this about her and often chose to drop what I was doing to ask what was going on with her.

Two years of witnessing and mirroring losses and illness and scares with our kids. The work was still there but the priority shifted to hear about the roller coaster of each other’s lives.

Eventually, she couldn’t take the bullying and left. We promised to stay in touch but didn’t do the lunches that we planned. We texted now and then.

After two moves, I was so happy that she found a great place to work. I felt trapped in my job but I thought, “at least she got out.”

Janet called last month, all excited: “they have a spot for you here.”

“Nah,” I thought. I can’t leave. They don’t really want me. I’m too old, too expensive.

Then I remembered what it felt like to work with Janet. I felt alive. I felt like I had a purpose.

I found the energy to apply for the job, my first application in over a decade. I did the interview and jumped through all the hoops. I still figured, “this won’t work. They don’t see me.”

When I got called back for a second interview, I had to admit that they could want someone like me.

Last week I got an offer. Tonight the board puts up my name. Tomorrow I will resign from a job that I thought was un-leave-able. After 22 years, January 20th will be my last day.

The gratitude I feel for Janet is immense. Even larger is the gratitude I feel for myself, putting in the work, the human work, that made this opportunity happen.

I stopped what I was doing to listen to someone, to reflect their pain, to see them.

photo credit: cferdophotography/Unsplash