Sometimes when I’m riding the subway, I catch myself hidden behind a magazine, consumed in my own experience. I may be thinking about what direction I want to take my life, or what I need to get from the grocery store. Whatever it is, I am the center of my universe and all those around me are static actors.
Sometimes, I stop myself and look up. I try to shift the running dialogue in my head away from the grocery list long enough to wonder what my fellow train riders are thinking. I wonder if this is a typical day for them, or if something will happen to change the direction of their lives. I wonder where they work and how they feel about it. I wonder where they are going and what they will do when they get there. And I remind myself that each person on the train is viewing the world through the lens of their own experience.
It’s easy to get caught up in our own internal dialogue. It’s the only one we are privy to. Even when we listen and empathize with others’ experiences, we find ourselves perceiving what we hear through an understanding of how it impacts us, or how we think we compare. We feel envy of the wealth or relationships we don’t have, or we feel grateful that our situation is not as bad as theirs.
Reminding ourselves that we are not the center of the universe doesn’t get any easier at work. Work impacts our self-perception and our livelihood. And the higher the stakes, the more difficult it can be to not think it’s all about us. But we would be much happier, and navigating work politics would be much easier, if we did. Our co-workers are far from static actors in our work universe. When we take time to shift our thoughts away from our own dialogue and consider the internal dialogue of others, the dynamics of our work will make more sense and we will find ourselves positioned to respond instead of react.