Workplace meetings are not renowned for their magic or mythical creatures.
Two months ago I sat in a bi-monthly meeting with my colleagues. This is one of those long standing scheduled meetings that has unfortunately developed an atmosphere of smothering cynicism. I’m one of the newest and youngest members to this team. On this particular day, there was a problem on the table. How do we get business partners, administrators, counselors, and students to buy into a new online platform where they can register to host or have an internship? I suggested brining all the stakeholders together at each school so they could learn and get excited about the platform in proximity to each other.
One of my colleagues responded to this idea with…
“Really, Barbara? And then will there be unicorns?”
Yep. She did. In front of all my peers she called me a unicorn lover.
This day will live in infamy for TWO reasons.
- Because I’ve told this story indignantly countless times and I’m now blogging about it.
- Because I never realized before this moment that I was out of touch with my inner unicorn love.
My rage and disbelief makes the memory of my rejoinder a LITTLE fuzzy, but I believe I said something along the lines of:
“Yes. I will be riding my rainbow haired unicorn, and you best get out of its way!”
Implied in her critique, of course, are other labels and accusations. A dreamer. A naïve optimist out of touch with the pragmatic constraints of the world. Here was a person who, for whatever reason, wanted to quickly dismiss and shut-down a possible solution. Many of you reading this will undoubtedly be able to share similar encounters with colleagues or cultures characterized by “can’t”. But in her defense…a confession.
I am a person who moves through life with a lot of…exuberance. (For a more detailed account, consider reading “Turn Down For What?”) I’m kind of like a puppy. I might jump and lick your face when I first see you, but I swear, I calm down after like a minute. And it’s all totally genuine. I really do think you’re just that great! I really do think there are a ton of solutions to intractable problems! I really do believe that if you build the right relationships you can harness the power of the people around you and innovate your way out of or into almost anything!
Are you exhausted by my exclamation points yet?
This can be a lot for the people around me to handle. Particularly if we’ve only just met. Folks are like, “She can’t possibly maintain this outlook or energy over time.”
Oh. But I can.
Before this moment, though, I didn’t even really LIKE unicorns.
Well…not in my adult life. I DID in fact grow up with “My Little Ponies” because my dad wouldn’t let me have Barbie’s because he didn’t want me to have a bad self-image. (And, yes I still have the pink castle. Yes you can come over and play with it.)
Being an ADULT PROFESSIONAL, though, who STILL likes unicorns, seems a little…infantile. But the more I told this story about a colleague threatened by my enthusiasm for creative solutions (which, by the way, I did in fact follow through on and all the stakeholders were TOTALLY excited in proximity to each other, thank you very much) the less it became about her, and the more it became about defending my right to carry my therapy unicorn anywhere I damn please.
That’s about the time I grudgingly began to wonder if unicorns might in fact be my spirit animal. I was not initially thrilled about this prospect.
I get it. Not everyone’s a unicorn person. They shed their rainbow hair everywhere and some people are allergic to glitter. If you need the effusive affection and affirmation of your place in the universe, don’t get a unicorn. They’re very independent, particular, and can be moody.
What’s more, there are indeed BAD unicorn owners out there. They’re all “believe in my unicorn” but they won’t let you ride it, pet it, or share joint custody. There are the unicorn lovers, too, that don’t pick up after their pet. They promise big things with their inspirational demos, but they don’t stay around long enough to follow through on the practicalities. Their unicorn is knocking shit over because they didn’t take it to obedience school or think about all the responsibilities that accompany unicorn ownership.
But if I’m going to own my unicorn, I’m going to feed, groom and board it, too. Its mane will be braided, its coat will be shiny, and we’re going to win some dressage blue ribbons together. So, don’t confuse my optimism with naïveté. If I tell you I’m planning a trip over the rainbow, you best believe I’ve booked the tickets, found a cloud to sleep on via “airbnb”, and filled up my tank on lucky-fucking-charms.
I am a pragmatic optimist. I see opportunities everywhere not because I’m making them up but because I’m looking for them AND because I’m already a regular member of a Unicorn playgroup with like-minded unicorn owners who believe in magic and will show up when I call. I have a smattering of “little orphan Annie” and “Pollyanna” in me. I will sneak out my upstairs window to go to the carnival. I will rescue strays and hide them under piles of laundry. I will decorate the ailing curmudgeon’s room in prisms. I will persuade Daddy Warbucks to adopt the world. I may be whimsical, but I’m also scrappy, self-aware, and “charmingly subversive.” Just. Like. My. Pet. Unicorn.
Once I crossed that rainbow, stopped talking bad about my colleague and unicorn hater behind her back, something (dare I say it) magical happened. People started saving a seat at gatherings for me to bring my unicorn.
It started small. At a meeting in a school library a “Book of Fantastical Creatures” appeared on my table. This same meeting my boss brought glitter and covered my work space with it. People started texting me pictures of t-shirts at Target, sardonic Memes, and screen shots of unicorn slippers.
And then, the penultimate miracle moment. The colleague who had started it all…who had made manifest my mythical affinities. What did she bring to the notorious bi-monthly meeting of doom?
A Solar. Powered. Unicorn.
It bobbed gently in front of me throughout the day. Reminded me that even cynics can soften. Emboldened me when our Assistant Superintendent joined us to raise my hand and say…
“I want to know if something is possible.”
Instead of groans from my colleagues? Laughter. “Here come the unicorns!” These comments were no longer accusatory or dismissive. They were intrigued and bemused.
I can live with that.
This conversion from unicorn doubter to believer will forever serve as a testimonial that if we believe in unicorns…they suddenly appear. If we believe in unicorns, others do too. And they start to make room for them. They start to book meetings in proximity to verdant meadows where there is room for unicorns to frolic and room for humans to twirl. Evolve. Learn to fly. Breathe Fire.
Because…who DOESN’T want to believe in the possibility of unicorns?
So, Yes. My name is Barbara (not Annie or Pollyanna), and I believe in unicorns.
Climb on, or get out of our way.