Think back on your summer: what was most memorable for you?
If you’re like me, you remember the highlights, the times where you deviated from your usual routine, the events you attended, and maybe a few low points too.
Not many of my memories from this summer are related to work—those I do have are wins and losses. The big deal I helped my team land — the lackluster response to a big campaign.
Of course, many moments happened in between, but they were largely routine. The easy commutes, the expected meetings, the time spent working through blog posts or spreadsheets—all of those moments blend into one unremarkable blur.
Making the Middle Memorable
I believe that creating happy memories at work—with our colleagues, managers, and our clients is essential. Those memories can propel us through the routine stuff (which tends to make up the bulk of our days), and sustain us through low points of stress or conflict.
To quote the great Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”
In high-pressure work environments, that can be a double-edged sword. Do you make your colleagues feel valued, or do you make them feel disposable? Do you make your clients feel that they are important, or do you make them feel that you don’t care about their problems?
One of the challenges of memory is that it’s fickle. It is easy to remember beginnings and endings, and successes and failures. But there are so many moments in between, and they often dwell in the murky middle.
Finding Focus in the Murky Middle
In the middle, there aren’t as many touchpoints to cling to. It’s easy to lose focus, get distracted, or feel like you’ll never make it to the end. I’ve been struggling a lot with the murky middle as I work on my novel—it was a long, hard grind for the first draft, and it’s proving to be a long hard grind for edits to the second draft. But without pushing through the middle, I won’t get to the end.
The middle is also where the work gets done. It’s where we form habits, where we build relationships. And yet it’s easier to remember the extreme touchpoints—the big win when the project succeeded, the frustration when it fell apart, the angry email from the client in need, and the sincere thanks when you fix the issue. Without the middle, those highs and lows wouldn’t be possible.
The first challenge is to identify when you’re stuck in a middle. Look back on the last few weeks—what were your most memorable moments? If it all blends together, that’s a good sign you’re probably trying to push through to an ending, or prepare for a beginning.
Make Your Interactions Count
Pay close attention to your interactions with others. Are you relying on routine to pull you through? Are you assuming that they understand your intentions? If you’re feeling stuck in the middle, deliberately take some time to shake up your routine. Take the usual meeting out for a walk. Print off the draft that you’re in the middle of, and write the rest by hand. Make an effort to check in on the personal lives of your colleagues and clients. Finding moments of connection and disrupting routines (even just a little bit), can be powerful.
Think back on your recent unpleasant memories. What were the conditions that created them? Was someone rude to you? Were you frustrated that something didn’t go as planned? Next, consider the times when your actions may have contributed to someone else’s unpleasant memories. Were you curt with a client? Did you drop the ball on your portion of a project? Resolve to be better next time, and offer an apology if one is warranted.
Be Proactive and Make Memories
If you’re a leader, think about ways that you can break up routine for your team, and create happy memories. An unsolicited but heartfelt expression of appreciation can go a long way, and so can acknowledging when things are stressful or difficult. Ask your team what they need from you to make their jobs easier, and then provide it if it’s possible. Celebrate wins enthusiastically, and debrief on losses without pointing fingers or assigning blame.
If you’re an individual contributor, make sure that all of your interactions with colleagues and clients are warm and kind. Your career will be long, and you never know how the memories that others have of working with you will benefit you in the future (or come back to haunt you).
Creating positive memories for yourself and those around you can have a lasting effect on your career—and can make the grind of routine a lot more bearable. We’ll all have plenty of days that blur together, and plenty of highs and lows along the way. My hope is that my colleagues, clients, managers, and the people in my personal life will end up with more good memories of me than bad. No one is perfect, but by being mindful of the ways I approach my interactions with others, I hope that they will remember me as kind and competent.