I sipped my eighteenth cup of instant coffee, and wondered how work was going. I was working at Starbucks at the time, and I had skipped work. A quick text to let them know I wasn’t going to be there, that was it. I would have gotten better coffee if I had gone into work, but I didn’t mind too much. I’m not the type of person who skips out on work. I get jobs and keep them as long as I want them, and almost everyone I’ve worked with has liked me. I’m reasonably responsible, and people rarely get angry at me. My shift supervisor was angry when she called, though. She chewed me out for not coming into work, and told me that the day was crazy busy, and everyone was having to stay late to cover for me. She wasn’t happy, but I hung up the phone and shrugged – just the night before my wife had our new baby, so to heck with work. I went back to sipping coffee and making funny noises.
But over the next few days, this phone call really started to gnaw on me. The truth was, I liked the shift who had chewed me out – she was generally really cool, and great to work with. I engaged my terrific mind reading skills, and defined from our phone conversation that I had done something wrong. The shift manager was so terribly angry, I was sort of sure that she might try to fire me, or even worse – not like me any more.
I had several days off after the phone call, and I fretted constantly. I was sure that the shift supervisor was really angry with me, and I decided that I had to do something to make it up to her. I talked with Sonia about it, and we decided to send her some flowers, as a thank you from us.
As I drove to work, the pit in my stomach grew to resemble the mariana trench. I was imagining all of the terrible, angry conflicts that might happen once I got there. It was terrible. I even imagined that she could be so angry that she would bring a gun to work, and then our baby would have to grow up in a fatherless household, which could mean that she would have higher risk of depression and engaging in bad relationships.
Once I got to work, I walked slowly towards the door, attempting stifle the urge to run. I opened the door, and tried to slink to the back room without anybody noticing –
“Hi! How’s the baby?"
It was the same shift supervisor who had called me, but now she was smiling. Cheerful. Happy. She just had been venting, and she apologized for the phone call. It wasn’t the flowers, she had just been stressed and venting – she was nowhere close to the homicidal maniac that I had conjured up in my imagination.
I had tried to read her mind, and I had done a terrible job.
+ + +
Do your best not to read other people’s minds. Seriously, it causes more problems than it’s worth:
When you read someone’s mind, of course it makes your life harder. It’s stressful and it fills you with anxiety, because you're trying to achieve the impossible – down that road is madness for sure, but that’s not the only reason you should read minds. When you read someone’s mind, you’re not trying to give them what they want - you’re trying to give them what you think they want. Big difference.
You’re almost always harsher on yourself than someone else would be, so in your mind, they’re a worse, more judgmental person than they are. Don’t expect everyone to be the jerk that your internal critic is – give them a chance to be kind and forgiving and apologetic, and they’ll tend to rise to that.