Broken (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

When I put the numbers 1 through 5 into the random number generator this week to help me choose a writing prompt for Mama Kat’s Writing Workshop, I got 5:  Describe a moment when you saw someone hit their breaking point.

It was me. I saw myself hit my own breaking point.

In 2008, our organization switched Third Party Administrators (TPA). A TPA (in our case) handles the computer system for insurance enrollees, along with eligibility, payment processing, correspondence, customer service (pretty much everything). The contract had gone to the lowest bidder, who also had scored the most poorly on the assessment tools. As a staff member, it was not my place to question why it worked out that way, but to make it work. As the staff member overseeing activities related to customer service, I was centered firmly in the eye of the storm as the transition from the old TPA to the new one unfolded, with problems galore. (All transitions have problems, but these were worse than “average” and I was the one getting much of the feedback from unhappy enrollees and legislative offices).


Several months into the transition, a typical day would find me with 20+ emails open, each one interrupted by the most pressing crisis. My seven staff members were valiantly trying to figure out a convoluted, sporadically performing system, while fending off hostility from our partner agencies who weren’t getting what they wanted (and needed), meaning they too were awash in dissatisfied enrollees and important stakeholders who were complaining that their constituents were complaining.


The day I broke, I had the 20+ emails open; our external consultant (who was there to deal with some of the technical glitches but also to make recommendations related to how our staff should function) was sitting with me discussing a project; my phone was ringing; I am sure I had some child-related (as in my children) issue on my mind. My staff member who asked frequent questions came to the door, asked me something about refunds, a situation that the TPA was supposed to have handled but had not, and I don’t recall what I said (I think it may have been something along the lines of “if they would just do their **?! job), but I know that the next thing I knew I was in tears, the consultant was beating a hasty exit back to her office to give me some space, and I had reached this point:


I realized deep inside that it was never going to be enough to be passionate about the cause of the agency I work for. As much as I love management and leadership theory, I had not managed to bridge the gap between what I knew and how I applied it.


The tears I cried that day were a mixture of frustration, anger, sadness, grieving, resignation, and probably a few other things. As Seth Godin wrote in his post, “Organizing for Joy,” there are companies out there that “give their people the … expectation…that they will create, connect and surprise.” When an organization lowers its expectations, the “chances of amazing,” says Seth Godin, “are really quite low.”


The day I broke was the day I knew we had given up on amazing anyone, especially ourselves.

Mama's Losin' It

11 thoughts on “Broken (A Mama Kat Writing Workshop Prompt)

  1. I think one of the most frustrating and difficult jobs is when you are trying to help other people. Your heart can be in the right place but bureaucracy and life's hiccups can make you wonder what the point is.

    Visiting from Mama Kat's

  2. Great post Paula. It's amazing sometimes how in the midst of total chaos, that a lightbulb can go off and things become very clear. Your passion is a great asset, don't ever lose it. Thanks for sharing and have a great day-

  3. Its okay sometimes to break down and cry. I don't think it says any less or more about you but it does say that 1 person cant do 3 peoples jobs without causing stress and fatigue. Thanks for sharing Paula. It helps to convey to others sometimes what were feeling and dealing with.

  4. I'm visiting today from Mama Kat's. I'm not really sure what to write. I didn't *enjoy* your post because of the sentiment you expressed, but I guess that should tell you what an excellent job you do conveying your emotion. I hope your company can once again change so that you all can amaze people and do the good that you had wanted to do.

  5. Wow. That was a really powerful piece of writing, especially the images of the email windows, someone sitting beside you, the phones ringing and all the rest of it. I could feel my own heart (and head) pounding reading it and getting angry that anyone has to be so, well, I don't even know the word.

    But yes, as another poster said, it's okay to break at times. I've felt that way very recently about work, and wondered what exactly I was doing this for (and had emotions of anger mixed with tears that I was being pounded down). I think that feeling that breaking is something that makes us more and more alive… I don't mean that cliched “character building” but instead alive in the raw way when things are stripped down to the real crux of it.

    ANyway, long way to say, I really was impacted by this writing.

  6. So then what happened? Did you stay with the company, and learned to enjoy it, even though you weren't passionate about it? Or did you leave, in an effort to find something more fulfilling? I enjoyed your story, I want to hear more!

  7. Pingback: If I had coffee with Sarah Sanders... - Big Green PenBig Green Pen

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