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Difficult Professional Situations.

10 March 2016

I went to New Orleans in the beginning of this week to give a short talk about how to evaluate new skills, and decide if practitioners of those skills would be worth investing in in a hospital. The venue was a group of quality and safety leaders of peer institutions to MECMC. I was invited by my boss and the hosting organization. It was fun and my talk was well-received.

There were two sobriety-relevant events. The first was the evening before my talk, at a networking dinner. I met several C-suite level executives of important hospitals. The kinds of places that – if I continue to grow and promote my work – I might be looking at in 8-10 years for a vice-presidency of my own. If I decide to go that way. People with power, influence, and interest in the kind of work I can do.

I’m never comfortable at those events. I’m reasonably extroverted in a lot of ways, but social events where I’m alone and don’t know people and am feeling like I’m at the bottom rung in the room? That’s difficult. And of course, it was an open bar event. I arrived and got myself a club soda with lime early on. No one commented on my drink the whole night, and no one looked funny when I didn’t ask for wine with dinner.

The second event was dinner with my boss, the next night. I used to refer to her as “Boss’s Boss”, because that’s what she was. But I’ve ascended now, and there’s no one between us. She reports to the Chief/VP, who reports to the COO. This was a good time for us to meet, no one else from my department was on the trip. I got a 90 minute dinner alone with my boss and an opportunity to bend her ear about my career plans and our office policies.

I of course obsessed about the alcohol. She had a glass of wine. I didn’t. I stupidly asked about the poached pear for dessert, which I said sounded good but then couldn’t have because of course it’s poached in Pernod or whatever. I always worry about these kinds of events. What are they thinking? They’re thinking I’m an alcoholic and a liability, aren’t they? Of course they are. They’ll never invest in me. I’m too risky.

Of course, in more than 8 years now, not one single thing has ever gone wrong in those scenarios. And yet I am no more comfortable now than I was the first time I was in a situation like that. I don’t think I’ll ever get better at it. But I’m relieved that nothing went wrong, again, this time.

There was one incident that happened at the networking dinner that made me more uncomfortable than the alcohol situation. One executive, at a table of four men, one of whom was myself, started talking about, and showing pictures of, his attractive personal trainer. Really? This is not why I’m here. I don’t think it’s why you’re here, and it’s just a little skeezy. You don’t know me. Why do you assume I share your prurient interest?

But this was an important man, in an important meeting, and so I didn’t say or do anything. I grunted when he showed me the picture. And on went the night. This wasn’t harassment, but I can see how harassment gets glossed over, even by people like me who try to actively work against it. There would have been repercussions if I had said anything. No one was being actively harmed in the moment. It wasn’t my business.

I don’t feel like I did anything wrong, but I also didn’t do anything right. Maybe there was nothing right to do. I don’t feel it’s incumbent upon me to risk my career because a guy shows me a picture of a woman dressed for her work and makes a crass (but not vulgar) comment. But I also don’t like that I felt uncomfortable and could do nothing. I wish there were another way. Maybe there is, and I’m just not seeing it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    10 March 2016 13:12

    You did fine. Nobody is called upon to die on every hill. Save it for a more glaring example.

  2. 14 March 2016 06:02

    It does you credit how you have considered this. However if we all tackled every single one of these issues every single day we’d get nowhere and soon be labelled “Trouble maker”. Pick your battles – this didn’t seem to me to be one you needed to fight there and then or subsequently really

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