May 2016

Free Yourself from Addictions

Or At Least Pay Attention

To overcome addictions, we must first pay attention and recognize them for what they are.

The Sally & Donna Show ended last month with Sally refusing to discuss anything other than moving to a new city, while Donna has just emailed her team members individually about what a great job they do.

Let's revisit them now with an eye on how they handle their own personal addictions...


Sally sits on her bed staring into space. She really wants a drink, but she doesn't want to give Larry the satisfaction of thinking that she wants to talk to him. She hopes that he'll leave the living room so that she can go to the wet bar without seeing him. She hears nothing that leads her to believe that he's left. She finally decides to get a drink anyway.

Sally opens the bedroom door.

“Well, well, well,” Larry says, quirking an eyebrow. “If it isn't the grand duchess coming to make her appearance.”

“Cut out the wisecracks and pour me a drink or...just leave,” Sally retorts moodily.

“Sally, how can you be so mean?!” Larry demands, mouth agape.

Sally stops in her tracks and glares at Larry.

“Me, mean?!” Sally's voice is shrill and very loud. “You're the mean one. You're the one who won't even move to another city so I can get a great job! How dare you say I'm mean.”

Sally's hands are shaking as she pours herself a drink. “What kind of partner are you. My team at Future Space was better than you and that's not saying much.”

“Sally, stop beating me up,” Larry responds. “I'm not the enemy. I really am your partner and I'll help you. Just be nice to me.”

Sally sits down, suddenly exhausted.

“I don't know what's gotten into me,” she mumbles, staring into her glass. “I hate my life. I hate myself. Nothing's working. Nothing.”

“Sally, I hate to say it, but you've always been like this,” Larry responds slowly. “At least you have with me. You go off on me at the drop of a hat. I think Alex is right. You should take those leadership classes that help you deal with your anger. Maybe then you'll be nicer.”

Sally glares at Larry.

“You are so inept,” she exclaims. “I cannot believe that you agree with Alex that this mess is my fault. You really think I have an anger problem, don't you? Well I can tell you buster, my anger only flares up when I have to deal with stupid people!” With that, Sally takes her drink and marches upstairs. She slams the door and yells out, “I hope you find a comfortable place to sleep tonight!”

Sally and Larry seem unable to dig themselves out of the mess they are in. While they suffer in their self-made hell, let's see what's happening at Future Space with Donna...

After taking a few minutes to write emails appreciating her team, Donna arrives on time for a project review for ARCTIC. Lakir, the project manager, and Paresh, the project engineer, are in the front of the room about to start. They smile at Donna who smiles back. She gives them a thumbs up and silently says, Good luck.

Lakir starts the meeting, providing an update of how the project is going. They have hit most of their milestones except in one area in which they are managing a vendor. They are not going to hit the milestone with that vendor. They walk through how they have been managing the vendor, how they have been mitigating the related risks, and how much margin they have left. They receive several questions from the reviewers that focus on what problems have emerged, how they have managed workflow as a result of the problem, and mostly, what they are doing to help the vendor get back on track.

As Donna listens, she is impressed with how the team has taken to heart the rigor of questioning she introduced a while ago. They are definitely prepared and, as a result, the review goes well. ARCTIC comes out with a strong vote of confidence.

As the meeting clears out, Donna congratulates Lakir and Paresh and the whole team for doing such a great job.

“Thanks to your great leadership,” Lakir responds without missing a beat. “You've helped us more than you'll ever know. We aren't afraid to ask the hard questions now. As a result, we're doing much better as you can see.”

Donna walks back to her office feeling great. More than anything, she is proud that she is no longer looking for mistakes and opportunities to call someone out for doing something wrong. Instead, she is developing these young, bright engineers to think critically, find what's off, and look for solutions. She's smiling as she walks, thinking that this way is a lot more fun.


Looking through the lens of addictions, it is not hard to imagine that Sally, and probably Larry, have a problem with alcohol. It is absolutely clear that Sally is addicted to blaming others and to reacting defensively. In this episode, Sally unloads on Larry in a way that is reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? Larry moves in and out of his addictive cycle of using sarcasm rather than vulnerability when addressing Sally. Besides Sally's addiction to being the critic and blaming, she also slips into the martyr where she can't do anything right.

Donna doesn't seem to be addicted to any substances that we know of. She has the awareness to know that she is a recovering critic and she is always paying attention to herself, looking for positive ways to give critical feedback, and also looking for ways to develop the folks who work for her. She has turned the corner so much that the people on her team are eager to perform up to her standards which have become their own. Donna sees the difference in her team and she also sees the difference in her marriage and in her children. It took hard work, it still does, and it is well worth it.

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