She was my boss' secretary, back in those days when there was such a thing as personal secretaries.
She was mean as a snake. She snapped at anyone who dared ask her for assistance with anything. And if you made a mistake, heaven help you.
We called her "Mean Jean."
The smart people ignored her. Unfortunately, back then I wasn't one of the smart people.
I let Mean Jean get under my skin. Sometimes just hearing her answer the phone in her rude snarling voice was enough to get my blood boiling. I'd go to lunch and instead of recharging or thinking about what I wanted to accomplish that afternoon, I'd find myself ruminating over something Mean Jean had said or done.
I even let my emotional angst with Mean Jean spill over into my relationships with others. I wasted valuable time with colleagues complaining about her. Time that I could have spent learning or building relationships was often spent venting about Mean Jean.
In hindsight, I'm appalled that I let myself get so preoccupied with office drama that I lost focus of my goals. I was trying to get promoted, why did I let a negative relationship dominate my thinking? She wasn't even my boss!
I'm now 20 years older and wiser. Mean Jean, God rest her angry soul, has been dead for over a decade. But the same dynamic plays out in other workplace situations.
My daughter works at a restaurant. Every night she comes home with tales of who's mad at whom, who didn't do what they were supposed to and whose ex-wife showed up, drunk.
As I listen to her describe the drama, I realize: The more emotional angst you have in your life, the less you can accomplish. Many of the people she works with are so embroiled in dramatic personal issues that it keeps them from setting and achieving any goals.
My daughter is leaving for college in the fall, but I'm sure she'll encounter the "emotion takes the place of goals and ambition" problem again.
It's not just the out of control families on Dr. Phil. As my experience with Mean Jean illustrates, many of us get distracted by drama.
Have you ever been angry with a co-worker? How much time did you spend in meetings dissecting their flaws when you could have been thinking up new ideas for company growth?
You don't even have to be angry to get distracted. Someone else's interoffice affair can stifle your productivity for a week. It's hard to stay focused on your goals when you're embroiled in gossip.
Relationships are important. In a best-case scenario your personal relationships provide you with the comfort, support, stability and love to create success in other areas of your life, and your professional relationships can also challenge you and help you grow.
But chaotic relationships suck away so much of your energy, you don't have brain power left over for anything else.
Let's be honest. It's easier to spread gossip or ruminate about your co-worker than it is to set goals for yourself and actually work to achieve them.
Emotional drama never creates a successful business, or helps you graduate from college, or gets you a promotion.
If you want to be successful, disengage from the drama, decide what you really want in life, and go for it.