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Getting better

My first trip abroad was just after I graduated pharmacy school. It was my gift to myself for getting through those five grueling years. Two weeks and three cities in the UK and Ireland.

I was ecstatic.

It was a dream come true - both needing a passport and especially, using it to go to the place I’d always considered myself “from” - and I will admit, that because of my exuberance, I may have gotten a little overzealous with the packing judging by the luggage I took with me.

One large suitcase (like the kind that barely makes it under the weight limit), the suitcase I now use as a carry-on (which is still about twice the size of a carry-on in Europe), a backpack, and a very large purse of some sort I’m sure. It was over the top and now, I can’t think for the life of me what was so important in all that!

I cursed my inexperience throughout the whole trip there, but nothing proved the extent of my mistake so much as stepping off the train (or Tube in London) from the airport to my hotel stop and realizing with a lurch in my stomach: no lift (as in…elevator).

I can picture now the look that must have been on my face.

As I struggled upward with all my extraneous stuff, out of nowhere someone took a suitcase from me and carried it up. I’m sure it was out of frustration that I was in his way as much as it was out of kindness, but I was grateful just the same.

And after walking to each hotel that also had no lifts, and navigating buses and trains between cities, let’s just say I learned a lot over the course of that first trip.

Now, I can do two weeks with just my smaller suitcase and a backpack.

I’ll consider myself a master when I can do it with only a backpack.

Because as it turns out, there is a bit of an art to packing and there are nuances to each kind of trip - domestic vs international, work vs pleasure, overnight vs extended - and of course, there is also necessary variation depending on activities planned. Hiking boots take up more room, for instance than a bathing suit.

These are things I’ve learned with experience and practice.

Said another way, with experience and practice, I’ve gotten better.

This memory came to me recently in a seemingly unrelated way. It was after a couple of work calls where frankly, I just hadn’t been at my best. I started the conversations already frustrated, and the folks on the calls were…ummmm…of the challenging sort.

Example. You know how some people struggle with conversational cues and end up talking over the top of everyone else? And how when faced with those people, sometimes it feels like your only response to get a word in is to do the same thing?

Yes, well, I ended the calls feeling both drained and really bad about my behavior in response to theirs. I found myself wondering why couldn’t I just stop myself?

Why couldn’t I do better?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, Bridge, let’s just take a breath.

First of all, being effective in a relationship - whether it be with a family member, friend, colleague, or otherwise - is not innate, but learned behavior. So just like many other things in life, it takes experience and practice.

And just like other things we have to learn, like say, how to pack for a trip, doing “better” does not mean never messing up. I am now better at packing, but that doesn’t mean I never bring anything superfluous or on the other hand, never leave out something important.

What’s even more, when you’re talking about how we relate to each other as humans there is a layer to the interaction that’s occurring at a subconscious level. We respond to all sorts of things like facial expressions and vocal variations at a level that is beyond our awareness.

Mind blown, right?

But that means that no matter how well you manage what you know about, there’s stuff happening that you don’t.

Doing better interacting with my workmates then does not mean never losing my patience, or never having reason to think, man I wish I hadn’t just said/done that. Being better might mean attempting to limit those moments sure, but it might also mean handling things differently when I do inevitably have them. Like being kinder to myself or apologizing to someone if it’s called for.

Being better at something is not an endpoint. It is not something you achieve. It is something you work at. It is a process.

My friend once said it like this. Improvement is like a snowfall. Each flake doesn’t look like much when you see it on its own, but when you look back over some period of time, the whole landscape is white.

So let’s give ourselves a break, shall we? Let’s remember that just deciding we want to be better and believing we can be better and carrying on when we stumble are steps on the road to being better. And let’s also remember that each small step toward better is better.

That better does not mean perfect.

A master, after all, doesn’t carry nothing; she still carries a backpack.

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