Beyond words

Since I started my new job, I’ve been working really hard to stay on top of things, which often means powering through when there’s a problem: work later, work harder, get it done. So when I got sick two days before I was supposed to fly to Boston for a conference, I stayed home one day because I REALLY had to, then went in the next day and did what I needed to in order to leave my work in good shape and go to the conference.

The first couple of days of the conference went fine, but then I tried to power through as though nothing was wrong for a seven-hour meeting, capped by drinks and a three-hour business dinner. Shouting to be heard across a noisy restaurant was a huge mistake: the next day I was hoarse and today I woke up with no voice at all. None. And I’m supposed to give four presentations back-to-back tomorrow.

So I asked my brother to make my apologies to my Sabbath-observing aunt and uncle, because the visit I’d been planning for a month makes no sense if I can’t speak and they won’t be comfortable with me writing. And I focused on trying to take care of myself today and not speaking more than absolutely necessary, in the hopes that I might be able to get my voice back in time for the presentations if I stop trying to power through and tough things out.

Trying to go a whole day without speaking was a fascinating experience in its own right. I forced myself to speak to order meals from tired older workers, but tea and sweets usually meant younger servers who I felt comfortable being playful with and trying to order purely through notes and hand signals. Instead of pushing myself to make polite chit-chat, I forced myself to try being comfortable with silence. And I realized, listening on on other people’s conversations, how little I really listen at all these days; it’s as though the more I need to control my life, the more I need to dominate in conversations. The more I feel stretched thin, the less I’m able to make space for other people.

I’m still hoping I’m better enough to manage those four short presentations tomorrow. The whole point of my going to this conference was to show the people I’m working with that I’m capable and approachable and they’re in good hands, so having someone else give the presentation or trying to do it all through PowerPoint isn’t a good solution. But I think I have to let go of control and accept the possibility that powering through might not be the best solution anymore either.