We have all come across that person who people describe as difficult, challenging,mean or in native Nigerian parlance, over sabi.
We all know or have come across some variant of the following people;
-The teacher/lecturer whose classes you have to be on time for(you KNOW you can’t be late it’s an unwritten rule)
– The head of unit who won’t tolerate people not meeting deadlines (you KNOW they will never accept the ‘my great grandmothers brothers uncle died and I had to go the funeral as an excuse)
-That sports coach who makes everyone on the team run an extra 100 laps for no apparent reason( why??? we just did push ups)
– That friend who says the things you need to hear even if you don’t want to ( very annoying !!!they speak truth though)
The list above is not exhaustive but I am sure you get my drift. These people have a set of standards that challenge those around them to do and be better. They take no prisoners about their expectations of you and will let you know when you are not meeting them
They might come across as harsh, too strict and are often described as difficult to please or work for. I would like to caveat that this post is not necessarily extolling or criticising some of these traits. I actually think that people should evolve. Some strengths when overdone can be become a weakness and that is a topic for another post.
So the other day i was reflecting and it dawned on me that I seem to be a magnet to these kind of people. I remember the reactions I got from some of my peers when I told them who my dissertation supervisor was in my final year of university.
Responses ranged from ‘oh dear’ to ‘eeyah God will help you’.And yes it was really warranted because wow was he thorough. By the time we agreed on a topic and outline some people had actually presented their finished work to their supervisor.And the actual writing of the thesis? He went through every chapter line by line with multiple edits. Phew!
It was not usual policy for our department to have ‘Vivas’ (oral examination of your thesis) for under grad degrees but yeah you guessed right,he made sure everyone he supervised had a Viva to defend their dissertations to a panel of other lecturers.
I also remembered one of my managers at my first ‘proper’ job. ‘I need a report by 10am Friday morning’ actually meant 5pm on Thursday evening’. Obviously most people thought she was very difficult to work with. When I got transferred to her as a direct report, it was another pity party for poor Oyinda. At some point I said ‘God why always me?’
And it’s been a pattern I have noticed in my life. Looking back to my childhood though, I realise that my natural disposition was to avoid difficult or tough situations.My mum(who reads my blog by the way) always used to joke that I always wanted to take the easy way out. I didn’t particularly ‘embrace difficult’ and would have gladly been that person who would always take the road of least resistance.
But here is the surprising thing, as I reflect back on those times many years after, I am so thankful for those difficult people that God placed in my path.
Those difficult people taught me the following;
1. Challenging situations precede growth – little did I know that the viva was preparing me for what I do now which is having to present to others more than half of the time. I was learning presentation skills even though I hated it at the time.
2. Short cuts rarely ever work in the long term – I could have probably gotten away with far less work with another supervisor. And it probably would have been fine.However,that experience laid the foundation for some other skills I have now developed . I would probably have been happy those people who always stayed in comfort zones .However those experiences taught me deliver to high expectations and subsequently hold myself to those standards.
3. You can’t leverage relationships if you don’t prove yourself capable or trustworthy – the manager that everyone thought was ‘too much’ eventually became my friend. I learnt that all she ever wanted was for you to do what you said would do when you said you would do it.And that value is is one of the cardinal rules of my life.When you are having issues with someone sometimes you need to ask yourself the hard question; are you really pulling your weight?
4. Don’t make snap judgements about people – Me & the lecturer I mentioned earlier had history.He had once sent me out of his class for strolling in late while chewing gum and this was just one of our various run ins.So he obviously was not my choice as I thought he hated me.I only got him as my preferred lecturer happened to be on sabbatical in my final year.My anxiety levels were quite high when I realised we had to work together closely.But I had no choice and had to work with him. I ended the whole chapter actually discovering that he was a kind person. The same thing happened with the manager who everyone thought was mean. There was another side to them that people never saw and if I had made up my mind based on a) other people’s opinions b) interactions in different contexts i would probably have not learnt all the things that I learned from them.
5. The process is as important as the outcome/result- Believe me when I say me and most of my peers would have preferred getting a ready made dissertation or even have someone else do all the work with a finished product ready to submit. But that really was not the point was it? The countless back & forth, the various chapter iterations and hours of further research made the finished product worth it. The amount of learning i got from that experience (especially when you are working with someone who is thorough) was so valuable and one that i have drawn on in other similar situations that i have found myself in.
I will stop at these five but there are so many other things I have learnt from working with people who push you out of your comfort zone.
So now I am passing it back to you.Are you currently working with,or for someone who everyone (and even you) consider difficult? How can you change your mindset to dwell on the positives and see what you can gain from the experience? Like I noted earlier this is not excusing toxic or abusive behaviours but providing a different narrative do what we might tell ourselves.
As always I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
Thank you so much for reading and have a lovely week ahead.
Quote photo credits – Pinterest