Updated: Jul 22
By Mariana Konsolos (As seen in the May issue of the APeeling Digital Magazine)
In Uruguay, the telephone was one of my favorite tools. I used it to speak with friends for hours, or to carry out real estate transactions with my abroad clients. But in Canada it happens to be one of the things which I was most afraid of. I hate answering the phone because I didn’t understand what people tell me. Face to face everything was easier. I would use my hands, make gestures and somehow always manage to make myself understood. By phone it was entirely different. If I did not understand, I did not understand, period. I could repeat the same phrase ten times and still not discern it. This frustrated me a lot.
One afternoon at work, I heard the phone ring. I somehow managed until that day to ignore it. There was always someone at the counter who liked to answer the phone. But that day it rang where my manager and I were standing.
She gestured to me to answer it. I did it as I had been taught, “Good morning, Mariana speaks. What I can help?”
“Do you have a red [...] in stock?” asked the lady calling. I could not decipher what she was looking for in red.
So, I try again, “What are you looking for?”
She repeated over and over and all I understood what she was looking for.
When the lady realized that I did not understand, she raised her voice and said boldly, “Why do you answer the phone if you do not speak English? Pass me immediately with someone who understands me.”
I called the manager and crying I explained what had happened. After attending to the client, my manager called me into her office and told me that she could not believe I still did not know how to answer the phone. It was unacceptable, and she asked me what I thought should be done about it. I felt humiliated and very diminished.
The Mariana who managed millionaire businesses in Uruguay and spoke with important people about philosophy and politics, could not, in this Canadian setting, understand a most basic conversation.
I asked to leave early and went home crying. I was convinced that the best thing would be to give up that job and dedicate myself to taking care of children or doing things where I didn’t need to speak much.
In the evening I called Elaine. I told her all the details of what happened to me and how badly I felt not only because of the client’s attitude and words, but also because of the manager’s. I communicated my idea to resign. She listened to me carefully and asked me questions, trying to get as much information as possible, when, suddenly, she started to laugh. I didn’t understand what was funny about what I told her. Does me feeling like an idiot make you want to laugh?
With a firm voice she shook me, “Mariana, today is the best day of your life. Today, for the first time, you know what you didn’t know. You do not know how to answer the phone! You can’t live in any country without knowing how to answer the phone!
How will you make doctor’s appointments for your child? How are you going to call a mechanic if your car breaks down? How are you going to negotiate with a provider if you don’t know how to talk on the phone? In order to be the complete Mariana, you have to leave your comfort zone and learn what you don’t know. You don’t know how to answer the phone!”
Then she repeated slowly, and in a very loud voice emphasizing, “Giving up isn’t going to solve your problem. It will just make it worse and worse. Every day you will be more afraid of answering the phone. From now on, when the phone rings in the store, you have to run to answer the phone.
The more times you answer the phone, you will experience less fear and you will understand a little more each day. In time, clients will get used to your accent and you’ll recognize more words every day. It doesn’t matter if they shout at you, if they speak badly to you. You have to remember that your only goal is to learn to answer the phone!”
What a lesson my dearest Elaine had given me! How many ‘telephones’ do we have in front of us in our daily life, and, instead of running to take care of them, we flee for fear of failing or being rejected. “From now on,” I thought, “every time something scares me, I’m going to run towards that something. Fear will be the signal to indicate I am faced with something new to learn. It will be difficult, it will take time, but I will grow for sure.”
Mariana Konsolos is the Author of "Say Yes. Ask Questions Later." Mariana’s story is one of overcoming obstacles and pursuing happiness. From bouncing back after a failed marriage, raising her daughter as a single parent and opening several companies to uprooting her life in order to move from Uruguay to Canada to be with her true love, Mariana’s story is bound to inspire and captivate.