Those were the words that changed my career as an eager, 22-year-old intern at a global public relations firm in Chicago.
Fresh off the bus from Northeast Ohio, I was thrown into a fast-paced “eat or be eaten” environment, far away from my friends and family. My fellow interns and I were told on day one that only two or three of us in the room would actually be hired. We all liked each other, but we also knew the reality of the situation — we were competing for a chance to earn a paycheck.
I did what every other starving kid did — I was the first one in and the last one out. I worked nights and weekends and was at my boss’ beck and call. She was a strong and powerful woman in the world of PR, with little time or patience for nonsense.
She liked me, but I revered her. I had never met anyone like her. All of the powerful women in my life, up to that point, were stay-at-home moms. I admired them, but I couldn’t really relate.
My cubicle was positioned directly outside her door. I took every opportunity to listen to her speak on the phone with clients. I eavesdropped as she ran meetings, writing down her key phrases and practicing them myself when I got home.
One Tuesday morning, I sheepishly knocked on my boss’ door – I had some bad news to share. I was planning an event on the west coast. One of the performers had backed out at the last minute. The event was in two weeks and we suddenly had no entertainment.
I carefully explained to her what happened in great detail, taking special care not to stand too close to her desk (she would find that invasive). I professed with my helpless eyes that I had hounded the performer’s agent and even rung up the lawyers. I had done everything in my power to make this event happen, but I was simply out of options.
I just knew that this strong, poised and exceptionally smart woman would tell me exactly what to do and fix everything. Instead — somewhere between my third and fourth sentence — she raised her hand and stopped me.
“Amy,” she said, with a smile that clearly meant nothing about this situation was funny. “Just bring me the baby.”
I stood there, baffled. What baby? I had no baby! I wasn’t married. Did she want me to grab a random child off the street? How was that supposed to help anything?
Perhaps I accidentally said some of these things aloud because she quickly sensed the need to explain that the “baby” was metaphorical.
“I don’t want to know about the diapers you changed, the messes you cleaned up or the hours you spent trying to get the baby down for a nap,” she said. “Just bring me the baby – when it is ready for me to hold.”
It was a shocking moment. My surrogate work mother had taken away my security blanket.
From that moment on, our relationship changed dramatically. With one sentence, she made clear to me that the nurturing phase was over. It was time for me to step up and prove myself.
In case you’re wondering, I did end up bringing her that baby. I was one of those fortunate interns who became full-time staff and I enjoyed a great tenure with the firm and my boss.
But all these years later, that sentence still sticks with me.
“Just bring me the baby.”
I think about that sentence when I am managing others and I think about it now that I am raising my own kids. It signifies that important moment when you say to people you care about that there is no more time for excuses – only action. It has definitely made me stronger, more determined and ultimately more successful.
Today, I am in charge of other people’s careers. I manage a great team of people and I often wonder if I’m saying anything that will stick with them in a similar fashion. Will I be a memorable manager?
I hope so.
So, do you have that pivotal moment that changed and shaped you in the workplace? If so, share it please.
But spare me the details…just bring me the baby!