Story 5

We all have our not-so-proud moments

Hi, I’m Andrei, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I’m a passionate marketer, former DJ, and forever music enthusiast. I naively believe that people are good, and all actions have a positive intention at the core.

In 1999 I found myself in front of a full classroom. I was in my second grade and my teacher challenged me to solve a math problem.

The teacher was in front of me at her desk, reading the problem aloud, and I was at the writing board. 

While she was not looking, I decided that this was an excellent opportunity for entertainment, and I chose to do something funny for the whole class. Suddenly I started making all sorts of hilarious faces behind her back, and everybody started laughing. 

Instantly, I knew I shouldn’t have done that. It was not long until the teacher found out what I did. The fact that in the second grade, I was a good student, doing my homework, and being obedient most of the time, did not help in that particular situation. Being good at something implied some responsibility towards my classmates; I was supposed to set an example for others.

Since we became a restless democratic country just ten years prior, the use of a punishment system was still heavily ingrained in Romanian culture. Therefore, my actions needed to have some repercussions to discourage anyone from doing the same. 

My parents were called to the school and informed of my actions, which resulted in a hefty debate and discussion at home. On top of this, my good behavior grade was lowered—this is a grade that starts at 10, the maximum, and decreases at the teacher’s will if you do something bad, like get into a fight, break a window, or in my case, make funny faces behind the teacher’s back.

There aren’t many things that I remember from when I was a kid, but the ones ingrained in my memory are there because they’re in the not-so-proud category. It’s well-proven that humans have a negativity bias and focus more on negative events and stories. This “feature” was handy a few thousand years ago when those who paid more attention to the dangers around them were more likely to survive—now, not so much. 

This focus on unfortunate events might also be because, as Jordan Peterson says:

People think that the purpose of memory is to remember the past. And that’s not the purpose of memory. The purpose of memory is to extract out from the past lessons to structure the future.

The lesson from the way I behaved was simple: never do something reckless and impulsive before thinking about how my actions can affect others and me simultaneously. So, making my colleagues laugh for 30 seconds while in class should not have been on my to-do list.

Nonetheless, this did not stop me from finding excuses for my behavior and downplaying my actions, especially towards my parents—”What’s the harm? It was a simple joke. My intentions were far away from making the professor look bad.”

Even though it was not the right thing to do, I knew my behavior was not evil. My actions were not coming from a bad place; I wasn’t trying to get back at anyone or put my teacher in a tight spot. In my head, I was simply trying to be funny

The big unbalance between the (almost nonexistent) benefits it got me, and the ripples it created was something I was experiencing for the first time. I felt my actions were misunderstood and taken way to seriously, given the intentions behind them. 

Fortunately, my parents knew where I was coming from. Their trust helped me move on with a second lesson under my belt: there’s a time and place to be funny.

It’s almost impossible not to be biased

As probably most people reading this story, I thought about myself as always trying to be fair and rarely doing things that harm others, saying things like: 

Of course, there are some occasional slips and impulse reactions, but that’s understandable, right? I have my set of personal problems and stress from areas like family or health, so of course that I’m acting this way.

What I failed to grasp is that other people don’t know what I’m going through, what my challenges are, or where my thoughts or reactions are coming from. My intentions may be good, but my actions can sometimes have the opposite effect. Not to mention that I was not wholly aware of how my problems can affect the way I’m acting or interacting with others.

People don’t judge me by my intentions and rarely ask for context regarding my actions. What seems to matter is what’s displayed outside. 

I don’t agree with that.

Until about four years ago, I was convinced I don’t have bad days, especially when I was at work. I thought that my energy is always up, that I’m ready for any task at any given moment, that I left my struggles at the door, and nothing can stop me.

Fortunately, a colleague of mine seemed to have a good nose for when I acted differently than usual. And she often pointed those moments to me asking: “What’s wrong? What happened today? Why are you acting differently?”

At first, I played it cool, but in time, I started to acknowledge these changes from one day to the other. I began to question myself and seek answers to what I was feeling and how it affected me.

This made me realize that—shocker—I’m not immune to everything around me. Being aware of how something impacts me made me address my limits and behaviors.

This experience took me back to that second-grade class when I promised myself to always carefully consider how my actions can affect others. But I failed to think about how the way I’m feeling and the things I go through each day can touch the way I act and how I relate to those actions.

I changed my mantra

If my actions are influenced so greatly by what I’m going through in all areas of my life, that means that other people have similar challenges. They, too, have their high energy let’s-do-this days and their leave-me-alone days. They might not be aware of it like I wasn’t a while back, but they do experience them. 

Add the fact that people (myself included) tend to suck at showing vulnerability, asking for help, or talking openly about their down days, the gap between what we see and what’s really going on increases significantly.

It was clear I needed to shift the way I’m evaluating my interactions with others. From that day on, I decided that I should apply the same measuring scale to everyone.

If I can find excuses for what I do, it must mean that others have their valid justifications. If one of my friends or colleagues does something from the not-so-proud category, I should try and be aware of where that is coming from. And if I don’t know what they are going through just yet, that doesn’t mean everything is fine. As I experienced it myself, they might not even be aware of what takes hold of them.

I use the same approach when it comes to my relationship with managers. They are people just like me, with fears, anxieties, dreams, ambitions, and personal dilemmas. I’ve learned that it’s essential to try and see things from their point of view and take into consideration the entire package that life throws at them each day.

I wore the manager hat a few times during my career, in different shapes and forms. Looking back, I can pinpoint moments when I wasn’t good at my job, when I was too harsh, lacked patience, or didn’t give enough guidance. Of course, at that time, I thought I was handling things great and gave 100% each day. But nobody can do that day-in and day-out.

Sometimes we don’t realize how the way we’re acting is influencing others and that some of the things we’re going through in our lives can extend their impact upon colleagues and friends.

I will always have my not-so-proud moments, and I’m sure everyone else will have them. Today, I choose not to cast judgment on others based solely on specific days or moments. Instead, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know I would want the same treatment when I’m the one screwing things up. 

Otherwise, there isn’t a chance to learn from our mistakes and have the opportunity to do better next time. Just as I learned from my actions in that classroom 21 years ago, people tend to look back on such moments and take valuable takeaways. And if they don’t, maybe it’s a good idea to stand next to them and lend a hand instead of putting a label that helps nobody.


Contributors of this story: Andrei Ungurianu wrote this gem, Oana Filip edited it, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development, George Mihăilă took the photo.

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