On “women’s problems,” enemas and choosing a career counselor

I was recently reminded that this month marks the thirtieth anniversary of my having had major surgery. I spent 27 days in the hospital. It was an experience, to say the least.

A number of years ago a colleague was going to the hospital for surgery. When I asked our supervisor what she was having, he said, “women’s problems,” which abruptly ended the conversation. None of my business. None of his!

She knew that I knew she was going into the hospital so I went over and wished her well. We were rather friendly so I asked if it would be alright to visit her. She said it would be but I should call the hospital first.

A week later I phoned the hospital and got permission to visit. When I arrived she was surrounded by colleagues, friends and family…and her doctor. I immediately knew what was going on. All of her visitors were telling her she looked well. Asked how she was feeling. Reassured her. Said all the right things. Basically did everything a patient does not want done.

I walked straight to her bedside, said, “Hi” and asked the doctor if he was her doctor. He said he was. I then looked closely at her nose. Using my finger as a pointer I said, to the doctor, “You do great work. I don’t see a scar and I can’t even see any swelling. Remarkable! But, if I may offer one criticism, personally, I would have chopped a bit more off.” Without missing a beat he replied, “It’s a judgment call. It’s easier to chop more off later than to add on.” “Good point,” I responded. I then looked at my colleague and said, “See you back at work.” I gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder, shook hands with the doctor, and left. That was it.

By the time I got to work the next day the rumor mill was hard at work. Everyone knew about my “disgraceful” behavior. I just laughed it off. I could not have cared less.

A few of us were in the lobby when she returned. She ignored everyone and came straight to me. For the first time ever, she gave me a hug and a kiss. Everyone saw and everyone heard what she said: “I can’t thank you enough. How did you know what to say?”

The answer was simple: I had been a patient and knew what she wanted to hear and how she wanted to be treated.

A couple of years later a friend called me. His grandfather was going to have heart surgery. He, the grandfather, was very nervous and they, the family, were worried about his state of mind. He asked me to drop by.

I did. I walked into my friend’s apartment. He introduced me to his grandfather. I whispered in his ear. He smiled. Slapped me on the back. And I left without saying a word to my friend or anyone else.

When I got home my phone was ringing.

What did you say to my grandfather? When you left, he got up, took his meds, and went to bed. Usually we have to fight with him. What did you say?

I figured all of you were telling him that today the surgery is not a big deal and he should not worry. Well, for him it is a big deal and he has the right to worry. So I told him it was big deal and he had the right to worry.

But what exactly did you tell him?

Nothing that begins with an enema is every any fun!

People who have not had an experience that someone else is going through usually want to be nice. They think they are saying and doing the right things. But, in truth, they are not. They are usually saying and doing the exact opposite of what the person they care about wants. And, because of that, it does not work and can lead to frustration.

I have noted previously that when choosing a career counselor the first question to ask is, “Have you ever hired and fired people?” If not, then the counselor’s approach is purely academic. That’s not what a job seeker needs.

Of late, I have come to the conclusion that other questions have to be asked:

Have you ever been unemployed? For how long? How did you get your next job?

Have you ever been faced with having to sell your home?

Have you ever had to choose between paying for medication and buying food or paying the rent?

In other words, before hiring a career counselor make sure that they have personally experienced what you are experiencing. If they haven’t, you can probably find better ways to spend your money.


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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