What I Learned Outside a Diner

Leadership Focus Entrepreneurship Mindfulness

What I Learned Outside a Diner

As the founder of VIM Executive Coaching in Denver, Colorado, I have often been asked (not only in seminars or one-on-one discussions) if the life’s lessons I teach have any applicability in the real world. The question is usually posed in this manner:

“Sure, I can see where business coaching might help in business, but what about life? What use is any concept such as authenticity or mindfulness when I’m out shopping for tires?”

My answer might surprise people, for concepts such as mindfulness or being authentic and responsive are even more valid in our everyday interactions. Allow me to relate an absolutely true interaction.

Under Construction

For many years, I have been patronizing a diner that is also across the street from my dentist’s office. The owner of the diner is fairly friendly. He may not be my best friend, but we have certainly had a cordial relationship.

My dentist’s office is in a six-story building that has been under renovation for the past two and a half years. Parking is always impossible, but on a recent Monday, the same day I had a dentist’s appointment, I could not find a space anywhere and time was getting very short.

As it was early in the morning I decided to take a chance and park in the diner’s parking lot, dash across the street, get my cavity filled run back and be on my way. As I was leaving my car I thought I heard a voice shout at me. I initially ignored it then the voice grew louder. It was the owner. He yelled at me that the lot was for customers only, and that I should find a space on the street. He didn’t recognize me.

In the moment, I wondered what I should do. It isn’t “his” parking lot. There are a few other businesses. Yet, I decided – then and there – that I was somewhat in the wrong, and he was in the right. I was hurt that he didn’t recognize me. It is his business and his parking lot is needed for his commerce. I got in my car, drove off and

I told the dentist about it to see if perhaps I was missing a point of view. The owner of the diner is about 74. The dentist wondered if maybe the owner of the diner didn’t recognize me because he might have cataracts.

There then, is the crux of the matter. By not reacting to try to save face or to do something egotistical, I swallowed my pride, got back in my car and found a space up the block. By talking to the dentist, I might have stumbled on the key for why the owner of the diner couldn’t see me from fifteen or twenty yards away. He has his own problems. There was no point in fighting a silly fight where I had little ground upon which to stand.

The Office

Suppose the same or a similar scenario took place in an office. Suppose my department managers had overstepped their bounds and had infringed upon the area of another department and they were called out on it? Suppose I had taken a moment to respond and think, “That other department is correct. We had no business infringing on there turf.” To add another element, let’s say that one of my managers was really lambasted (even inappropriately so) by the head of the other department, maybe someone who had worked with them for years. Suppose I was to later learn that the person who was doing all of that yelling had recently lost a parent?

My ultimate conclusion might be that my department was in the wrong, that there was no point in reacting out of ego, and that the executive who was angry was somewhat over the top because of grief.

The point I am making is that so-called “real-life” is very much like the workplace and that the workplace is very much like real-life.

I do know that in not reacting, I may have swallowed some pride and ego, but my response in quietly driving away was appropriate. Authenticity always calls for honesty. Mindfulness tells us to be aware of any outcome, even an outcome we may not like.

VIM: - noun: lively or energetic spirit; enthusiasm; vitality