I come from a very small town in Montenegro, Eastern Europe…While I didn’t go out to see the world, my family was pretty well travelled so in some sense, there was a sense of having pretty high standards in our house. Especially in my case, my mom demanded the best of me. I was a straight A student, I was in drama, on math team, reciting, singing in choir, playing basketball, I went to music school and wrote poetry and drew art in my spare time. And it felt like I was never enough on one hand, but looking at it now, I can see that none of what I did was ever an excuse not to do something else well… If I was doing it, it was demanded of me to do it in the best way I could.
Fast forward, at the age of 16 I came to USA and while most other exchange students took junior level English in their senior class, I was at the principle’s office asking for what would have me earn a High School Diploma so that I had an equal chance of going to college as all the other American kids. Among 7 of students from out of country, I was the only one who actually got a High School Diploma that year which allowed me to move directly to New York and start college there. This happened because I took an advanced senior level classes despite their recommendation to stick to the easy ones.
Living in New York humbled me. I thought I had multiple talents with all the things I did that I mentioned earlier, but it took no time at all to see that almost everyone out there had that many if not more talents than I. New York was competitive but besides that, New Yorkers were committed to excellence. Having worked in service industry and having taken many jobs to work with people from all walks of life, I learned this notion that “customer is always right.” And if you ever bartended in New York, you were probably annoyed at this fact as sometimes people abuse this notion of “being always right,” but I quickly learned that people who excelled the most were the people who listened to their customers, clients, patients but also demanded the same of others.
Today I work as a personal (life) coach and I temporarily moved to Florida when I had my first child thinking that this would give me a nice break from the cold winter of Montreal where I spent a year of my life marrying my husband who was born there. I quickly learned that while the weather in Florida rocks, something is majorly missing for me. Unlike how things are in New York, people of different caliber or class don’t mix so well in Florida…. And having a child makes it pretty difficult to mingle and meet new people and I only recently started driving so there were limitations to what we could do and experience while here. I have to say, there are many great people here, with kind hearts but the service overall is pretty crappy. When we first moved into this small town, I was appalled how the owner of the cafe answered my completely curious question about her menu. She was defensive and unkind. Going there a few times with my friends who are now living here, made my experience more pleasant and I almost began to enjoy the small town feel. But then I came alone with my husband and son and was treated with so little respect that I promised myself I would not go back (and not because I like burning bridges but because I am old enough to stop allowing people who treat others that way to get away with it).
I know my voice is a small one here. I am sure some of you may even think about “hm, how did you create this situation for yourself.” Trust me, I went down that road and this is what I realized: most people don’t like to be held to higher standards…Most people are not committed to changing and being better… So, when someone, like myself, makes a comment, they are left with 2 choices: ignore and invalidate me OR accept what I am saying and do something about it. And most people go for the first one. I don’t blame them, its their right. What I am learning, however, is to own my commitment to excellence and to keep asking for what I want and then take time to accept whatever answer I get in return, as how people answer is their choice.
I thought about my own practice. While coaching people for almost 10 years now, I’ve heard much feedback: “you are not really listening to me,” “that doesn’t really make a difference.” “I feel like you are just invalidating and criticizing what I said,” “I don’t think this applies to me,” even “how dare you say an F word to me.” I couldn’t shut myself down and fire back at these people and told them that they don’t know how hard I worked to be where I am and that I have a very genuine intention to serve them. Instead, I heard them and I heard them all and I didn’t use what I heard to put myself down or to stop my practice but to learn and train myself to be better. And every now and then, I hear some of my clients tell me something that doesn’t work for them. I can’t say I ever feel happy to hear it, but I am grateful that they are communicating what is not working versus cutting out their contract and finding a coach who isn’t like me. That is what I believe people who are committed to excellence do. They are willing to listen to others to BE BETTER, and because of that, they are willing to DEMAND OF OTHERS to be better too.