by Dave Calvin
A story of a struggle we sometimes run into but don't often think about.
The air was cool when Lauren stepped out of her apartment to walk the four blocks to work. It was a typical mid-September day in Chicago that required a light jacket to block the wind. Lauren hung her coat on the back of her chair as she always does and tied her brown hair back in a pony tail to straighten it up a bit from the walk. "Well, here's to another Friday," she said aloud to herself as she knew nobody was around to hear her.
Her desk sat facing the front door of the five-story building. The glass countertop aligned with the top of her chest so she could see all 350 employees come and go. As she got herself settled in for the day putting her coffee cup on the coaster to the upper right corner of the desk, the CEO walked in. "Good morning, Mr. Harrison," she said with a smile handing him a couple phone messages that came before he arrived. He nodded but didn't say anything. "Good start," she again said to herself.
More people began to file into the building for the day, most of them not looking in the direction of Lauren's desk. A few people made eye contact with her but didn't respond to her greeting. She couldn't help but notice how many people avoided conversation. At least I got a nod out of Mr. Harrison. That's some kind of acknowledgement, she thought to herself
A man walked in the front door that Lauren hadn't recognized. She knew she would remember if he worked there. She sees everyone who works there every day. "Good morning, can I help you?" she asked.
"My name is Peter. I'm here to see Christina Baker."
Lauren called to Christina's office to let her know Peter was in the lobby. "She'll be down shortly."
Christina entered the lobby blowing past Lauren's desk to greet Peter. Lauren stood to greet Christina, but her gesture was unnoticed. Soon after, a group of four others joined Christina and Peter. Not one of them looked in Lauren's direction. They were all talking in a group about plans for the weekend. Lauren could hear them planning to spend one more time on the lake before the weather turned.
As the group split, one of the women walked over to Lauren's desk. She set her foam coffee cup on the countertop and walked away not saying a word and without making eye contact. "Don't worry, I'll take care of that for you. Wouldn't want you to inconvenience yourself," Lauren said. The woman turned around, glared at Lauren, and waved her hand in dismissal of her comments. "You're welcome," responded Lauren to the rude gesture.
Lauren, visibly upset, took the coffee cup into the bathroom to empty the cup before throwing it out. She knew she shouldn't go straight back to her desk as she could feel herself starting to shake and her eyes beginning to swell. She looked around the ladies' room to make sure nobody was around, put both hands on the counter, looked in the mirror, and began to let out a few tears. "Does anyone even give a damn that I'm here?" she asked herself. "Lauren, you need to find something else. This shit isn't worth it," she continued.
What Lauren didn't realize is the echo level of that bathroom, an echo that could be heard outside of the door. What she also didn't know is that talk she gave herself was at the exact same moment that Mr. Harrison was walking by. He stopped and listened to her self-conversation. As he listened, he dropped his head a bit deep in thought. He knew right away that he needed to do something to help her with her troubles. Clearing some time in his schedule was past due. He could hear her gather herself, so he quickly walked over to her desk to not be seen.
Lauren took a deep breath and decided to return to her desk. "Oh, Mr. Harrison, I'm sorry. I was just in the bathroom for a minute. Is there something I can help you with?"
Mr. Harrison looked at her eyes that were still a little swollen. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yes, sir. I'm fine"
He handed Lauren a business card. "I have a conference call with this group at Noon. Will you please call the number at the bottom and cancel that for me? Ask for James," he added
"Right away, Mr. Harrison," Lauren responded
Mr. Harrison walked slowly back to his office while Lauren canceled his call. During the walk, he couldn't get what he overheard out of his mind. He pictured her face while she was in the bathroom giving herself that talk, and it broke his heart. He thought about the times he's unintentionally dismissed her and how many others have likely done the same.
He closed the door to his office and sat for a moment in silence. "I need to do something about that," he said to himself. He thought about what he would say wanting to use his words carefully, and also wanted to do something nice for her.
About an hour or so later, he picked up the phone and called to Lauren's desk. "Could you come to my office for a moment please?" he asked.
"Be there shortly, Mr. Harrison," Lauren replied
Lauren knocked on the door to Mr. Harrison's office before entering. "Please have a seat," he said. She closed the door behind her and sat down in front of his desk.
"Did something happen, sir?" Lauren asked
Mr. Harrison sat at his desk facing Lauren with his hands folded on top. "Not exactly," he replied. "Lauren, I really want you to know how great of a job you're doing. Some people may look at your job and think it's just greetings and phone calls. Your job is a lot more than that. You're the first and last person everyone sees every day. You're the one who helps keep me and others organized, and you're a big part of what keeps us all going. People tend to get stuck in their day-to-day routines and things in front of them tend to pass them by. I truly apologize if you have ever felt like I or anyone else haven't noticed what you do. I have noticed all of the things you do for everyone else, and I will always appreciate everything. I want you to take the rest of the day off and have a bit of a longer weekend. I know it's only a few extra hours, but do something nice for yourself like you always do for us."
Mr. Harrison stood up from his desk and walked around to Lauren. He grabbed a sealed manilla envelope from the corner of the desk. "Please take this," he said handing Lauren the envelope. "It's not much, but I wanted to give you a little appreciation gift. I hope you will use it well to help yourself relax this weekend and not think about this place for a couple days."
"Thank you, Mr. Harrison," Lauren said taking the envelope. "To hear you say that really means a lot to me. I have a couple little things to tighten up, but then I'll head out."
Lauren left the office feeling much better as she headed back to her desk. Her walk was a little slower as she was taking in everything Mr. Harrison said. There was definitely a bit of a grin as she sat down to tidy up. She looked at the envelope wondering if she should open it now or wait until she got home. She sat for a moment replaying the conversation in her mind.
Lauren took a deep breath, took out her letter opener, and cut open the top of the envelope. She reached inside to pull out three smaller envelops. The first was plain white with the words "Open First" on the outside. Inside was a note that said "Please enjoy these and do something nice for yourself for a change. I appreciate everything you do for all of us." The second envelope was also plain white and held a gift card inside. It was a gift for dinner at her favorite Italian restaurant just a few blocks from her apartment and a note with a 7:00pm table reservation for that evening. The third envelope was blue with a little yellow star pattern in the corner. Inside was a gift certificate for a full treatment day at the spa on Saturday.
Lauren gathered her things, put on her jacket, and walked out of the building. She looked back at the door. It felt a little weird leaving before everyone else, but it also made her smile. As she walked home, she replayed the entire day in her head. She thought about the group of people in the lobby, the number of people who rushed by, the woman who snubbed her with the coffee cup, and her little break down in the bathroom. She thought again about the conversation with Mr. Harrison and the thoughtful gift.
An hour before her dinner reservation, she decided to get ready. She reapplied makeup, fixed her hair, and put on her favorite blue dress and heels. Lauren took a look at herself in the mirror to make sure she was the way she wanted and then looked down at the gift card sitting next to her purse.
"I guess someone did notice me."