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December 08, 2003
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The H.R. Doctor Is In: Waiting by the Mailbox

In our careers and in our lives, there are moments of key importance when news finally arrives that we have expected impatiently for a long time. The wait by the mailbox seems interminable.

The HR Doctor remembers as though it were yesterday running to the mailbox every day as a high school senior waiting for a letter from UCLA. When the letter arrived, I recalled being paralyzed for several moments. Do I open it? What if I haven’t been admitted?

I have shared my hopes and dreams with friends and colleagues. I have waited for weeks and now the letter is in my hand. Do I open it now? I did. I stared at the letter in silence as I read the words "Congratulations on your admission to the University of California, Los Angeles!"

The same feeling of impatience, worry, fear and hopefully joy is something we all experience. Sometimes that concern is reflected when we visit a doctor’s office with a medical problem and wait for the doctor to come in to the chilly, Spartan examining room to tell us the results of tests. Sometimes at work, we wait for the results of the performance evaluation. Every appointed official has waited, either impatiently, nervously, or both, while the elected City Commission, County Commission, or Board of Supervisors considers our recommendations and then says to the clerk "Call the roll!"

Recently in the Rosenberg family, two of these events occurred in close proximity. Wonderful HR daughter Elyse, a county government senior management and budget analyst, applied for a promotion to manager. We all strive to advance our career, even though it might mean leaving the comfort zone of a job we understand and working with people we respect, to risk the unknown of a new director, a new department, unfamiliar work and our first supervisory responsibility. Am I doing the right thing? Will this work out? How do I excel in supervision? How do I handle my first staff meeting with new subordinates?

When the offer is finally made and accepted, we all look back on our careers and find that the answers to these questions were inside of us already. We may have had self-doubts, but somewhere along the line a mentor or a sensitive executive like Sue Baldwin, director of county records in Broward County, Fla., understands that there is nothing to worry about except, to paraphrase the great HR Director, Franklin Roosevelt, "fear itself."

The other "blessed event" involved wonderful HR daughter, and fourth year medical student, Rachel. No matter how hard you work in medical school, no matter how respected you may be by your fellow students, the attending physician who grades you, or your patients, you simply cannot be a doctor Ð you cannot graduate Ð unless you pass the various State Medical Board examinations.

These are two-day marathons Ð grueling, nerve-racking examinations Ð which can shatter a student’s confidence and leave him or her wondering if instead of being a doctor, perhaps he should consider a career as a greeter at Wal-Mart. The monumental board examinations were taken two months ago and the results arrived just yesterday. Every day, the "HR Daddy" was dispatched out to the mailbox by his daughter who is involved in doing clinical rotations half a continent away. "Has the letter arrived?" "I don’t think I did well!" "What if I failed?"

Yesterday, the letter arrived while Rachel was on the telephone talking to Dad about her day’s experience. I got to open the magic letter from the dreaded "Board of Medical Examiners" and got to say immediately, "It’s a ‘pass,’ Rachel! Not only is it a pass, it’s a ‘super pass’!"

It may be something like medical boards or getting a promotion. It may be good news from the doctor or good news about other people you work with or care very much about. The situation is the same. Everyone of us faces these moments in our lives when we "wait by the mailbox" Ñ either literally or figuratively.

These moments of great importance mark the progress of our careers and our lives. While we believe that joy is far better than disappointment, the HR Doctor wondered Ñ but only briefly Ñ how the HR daughters would have reacted if the promotion went to someone else or the board scores were disappointing. How we handle disappointment and failure is, arguably, more important than how we handle success.

The "Seduction of Comfort" (see the HR Doctor article by that name at can be dangerous. The best bosses, colleagues, spouses, and parents work with the ones they care about through the process of recovery and growth out of disappointment with equal passion and sharing as though it was joy rather than sadness.

Joy may not be as great a character builder as disappointment can be, but it is much more fun! The HR Doctor hopes that your time spent "waiting at the mailbox" produces equal joy to what has occurred recently in our house.

All the best,

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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