Lessons learned at the Social Security Office

A few weeks ago I went to the Social Security Office in downtown Oakland. Getting my maiden name put back on my social security card was the LAST thing I had to do to officially be JAMIE GREENWOOD again and I’d promised myself I’d get it done before the end of last year. And so on a unassuming Tuesday morning I ventured into the office that connotes only a hare’s breath less disdain than the DMV. And for good reason. With grey, cracked flooring, hard metal seats, florescent lights, obscene lines and hulking, armed security guards who refuse to crack a smile, it’s easy to see why you just don’t want to go there.

But I had to and so I decided that if I HAD to, I might as well have a good attitude about it. I decided to lay off the, “I should be working,” “This is SO unproductive”, or “I don’t have time for this shit”, thoughts and let myself be happy that the sun was shining, that my life is good and that I indeed DID have the time to take care of my business.

And so it didn’t bother me when the security guard gruffly grabbed my purse and pilfered through my things. “Just part of his job,” I thought. It also didn’t bother me that though I got there at 9:05 am (the office opened at 9) the room was already full. “Jamie, you knew this might take a while. That’s why you have your book, your phone, a pad of paper AND your computer. You’re OK,” I said to myself.

After going through security, I walked up to the check-in kiosk to enter my information. I’d just clicked on the English button when up popped, “Please type in your security code.” I pressed enter a few times thinking it was a mistake. Again up popped, “Please type in your security code.”

“Breathe Jamie. It’s OK,” I cooed to myself.

“Excuse me,” I politely said to the guard. “Is there a security code I need to sign in?”

“No,” he said quickly. “Just use the other one.” And so I calmly walked over to the other kiosk, only to find the same screen staring me in the face.

Turned out, the moment I arrived at the social security office, the check-in system went kaput.

“OK, everyone who just came in,” said the guard to the crew of 15 people who had just walked in behind me, “line up here and we’ll check you in one at a time.”

Let me stop here by saying, I’ve not been blessed with patience when dealing with crowded restaurants, my career and governmental procedures or breakdowns. (Though I’m a peach in traffic.) Before the guard could finish his sentence I’d already whipped out my phone and was trying to figure out if there was ANY possible way to get what I needed without needing to be HERE.

No such luck. I then weighed going back on my promise. “Do I really need to have this all handled by the end of the year? Is it really that important?”

As my impatience began to deftly woo my resolve and I pondered packing up and getting the hell out of there, I remembered the good attitude I’d promised myself.

“Breathe, Jamie. You’ve given yourself the entire morning and you really want to start 2016 as YOU. Be easy. They’ll figure it out.”

Which they did, 10 minutes later.

And so I sat down and waited my turn.

At this point I’m sure you’re thinking that patience is the lesson I learned at the Social Security office; that all can change in 10 minutes if you just stick with it. Yes, but there was something even better. Deeper.

I learned that I’m not alone. Any government office provides an important cross section of humanity and through the right lens you can begin to see how we’re all connected, all doing what we need to do to find a sliver of peace in our lives.

From the elderly gentleman who needed his son’s help to get to the counter, to the 75 year old daughter who was there to get her 95 year old mother’s Medicare reinstated, to the young mother trying to understand why her check hadn’t come, to me, a divorcee, closing the door on a life that was no longer hers, we’re all in this thing together and making the best out of it.

No one was yelling. (Which had absolutely occurred to me when the kiosk went belly up.) No one seemed impatient or even rude. (Which I really wanted to be when the guard made me line up to check in). People were being kind to each other. Cordial even. In fact, the employee that helped me started to make chit chat and wished me a happy belated birthday.

It was as if everyone was in on my positive attitude promise, as if we’d all pinky-promised to be cool, no matter what.

It felt heartening to know that though my fellow Social Security guests may not have all been there for the most exciting of reasons, we were there side by side, handling our shit, getting it done and being good to each other in the process.

And then it dawned on me. No matter what our life circumstance, we’re all just trying to figure it out, doing our best and when we can remember that it’s not you against me, or us against them but rather us, in this thing called LIFE together, we’re able to hold our personal struggles a little lighter.

For this new year, where do you need to go to remember that we’re all, ultimately, connected?

Maybe a yoga class, the woods or a walk on the beach, or perhaps, like me, all you need is an hour and half visit to the Social Security office to remember yourself, your humanity and your connection to all things.

Lots of love,




P.S. I still have a few Clarity sessions left for January. Clarity Sessions are a no-string attached, one-shot coaching session where we work through and gain clarity on one burning topic. If you’re having a hard time finding connection when life gets crazy and want to get closer to a sense of peace this year, simply email me and we’ll get you on calendar!

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