I have a friend who has an air of grace about her. She steps softly whenever she walks, she doesn't jab at her phone to end a phone call, places things down gently after using them, and looks at you directly in the eyes while speaking to you - again with a soft, kind gaze.
I'll admit I envied that about her.
It wasn't even the feminine-ness of it, no, it was the idea that someone could still have this gentleness within them while working in Public Accounting was what infuriated me.
When you work 12 hour workdays, put out 3 fires before lunchtime, deal with passive aggressive emails every 10 minutes and all this for a not so glamorous paycheck, there is no doubt that there will be some frayed nerves.
And such frayed nerves are not easily mended.
The funny thing about envy is that it makes it okay to assume things about other people. And such assumptions more often than not, tend to be less than favourable.
I told myself that she was wealthy, didn't care about her job and thus had time to be graceful and elegant. I said she wouldn't last more than a year in this field. I also said there's nothing I could learn from someone so out of touch with the intensity of the work pressure in my line of work.
The more I interacted with her, the more obvious it became that she was good at what she did and in many ways had a lot more on her plate than I did.
Still envious but this time a little less egoistic I decided to befriend her to understand the way she thinks. There has to be something that's not so graceful about her I thought. Sure enough when we became friends I saw some of her imperfections and we ended up becoming very good friends later on but there was one thing she taught me that has stayed with me to this day.
We were talking about an issue at work and she was going on about it in her typical sing song voice and I flat out asked her.
"How can you be so calm about this? Where are the swear words? Where is the anger?"
"Well", she said, a little surprised by the question, "To get worked up about this would be like trying to shoot a bird with a cannon. You could just as easily kill it with a bow and arrow. I refuse to surrender my restraint"
This was not only a bizarre metaphor and also the most violent sounding thing I had ever heard her say.
She went on to explain that while being graceful and considerate and even polite seem like 'weak' features, they are in fact the hardest things to exhibit when things get tough. It's easy to yell, slam telephone receivers, generously sprinkle swear words whenever the occasion arises but to be able to hold your nerve when it gets bad, and talk about solutions instead of the problem.
That takes practice.
Don’t think for a second that grace and poise and serenity are the soft attributes of some aristocrat. Ultimately, nerve is a matter of defiance and control - Ryan Holiday
The message translates pretty well even to situations outside of audit. I've realised that it feels almost inevitable to become hardened by work pressure, by challenges and threats and to resign oneself to cynicism.
The biggest duty one has to oneself is to guard their 'grace' and cultivate it. Refuse to let go of that unassuming, childlike faith in humanity, refuse the temptation to write things off before giving them a chance. Refuse the urge to colour all emotions in the shades of anger and frustration.
It's a quiet form of defiance and one that we don't pay nearly enough attention to.
Steady your nerves. Sharpen your gaze. March ahead with poise.