When I was 19 I landed my first newspaper job as a part-time “copy kid.” In addition to supporting the newsroom editors with various tasks such as gathering data for the weather column, I spent a little time each shift helping to answer the phones in the glass-paneled receptionist office.

For some reason Celia, the 60-something, veteran receptionist didn’t like me. This was obvious in how she spoke as little as possible to me, the expressions she wore when she looked at me, and the general discomfort she seemed to feel around me.

I wasn’t sure what I’d done to offend her, and this made for some very discouraging emotions each time I was due to head into the office for phone duty.

One day, out of the blue, Celia asked me, “You’ve got an attitude problem, don’t you?”

I just stared at her for a moment, and then something compelled me to take a deep breath, swallow my pride, and respond, “Celia, I think we got off on the wrong foot. Whatever I’ve done to offend you, I apologize. I want to do a great job, and I’m here to help. I hope we can make a fresh start.”

The emotional climate in the office changed immediately as Celia broke into a wide grin. I can’t recall what she said in response, but it was clear that she accepted my offer of a fresh start without question, and from that day forward she was clearly one of my biggest advocates.

I ended up sticking around at that newspaper throughout college and then for several years as a full-time reporter. My stint in journalism during my 20s was the foundation of my career, and the skills and experiences I learned have proven invaluable ever since.

I still have no idea how I’d initially offended Celia, but it doesn’t matter. The most important thing was to not demand to be justified, but to strengthen the relationship.

And it’s relationships, not just skills or successes, that are indispensable to a sustainable career.

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I’m an ICF-certified and experienced professional, coaching authentic human leaders in the age of AI, with a focus on organizations whose Director+ population is facing complex, nuanced problems. Use this link to schedule a call with me to discuss potential coaching services. You can also email me or message me on LinkedIn.