Sometimes I wonder if I’m the Bad Guy
Not all bridges are fireproof
A long, long time ago I learned a lesson about sending e-mails. A few months after I left a job, I got an e-mail from a pouting boss. He’d gotten access to my work e-mail account (which shouldn’t be surprising) and found one of the few angry e-mails I sent to my wife while at the job. This particular e-mail was sent after I’d given my notice and some unpleasant miscommunication had been, not so much resolved as completed. I should have sent the e-mail from my personal account, or better yet just not sent it. But I slipped and didn’t do the wise thing. I’m not perfect. And I forgot we have no secrets anymore.
Initially I couldn’t figure out why this guy sent me the e-mail, not only mentioning the note I’d sent to my wife, but also copying it at the bottom of the e-mail. You know, so that I could relive my stupidity. He told me that the e-mail was proof of all his suspicions, that the e-mail justified his aggravation with me: how I didn’t work hard enough or late enough or was distracted with other things (ie, anything outside of his needs). It actually didn’t, but clearly he wanted to see what he wanted to see.
A few days after I read the e-mail it dawned on me…the e-mail was a break-up note from a megalomaniac. Our business was concluded, but he needed to tell me we’d never work together again. He needed to let me know that he was in charge of our futures, that he had the power and control. Typically at the end of a business relationship you each say some pleasantries and conclude with “maybe in the future we can…” or “in a few months…” or “if you ever need…”. Whether or not you both mean it, it’s an easy way to end what is typically an awkward conversation. A normal person would just not offer the work, would say there is no work if asked, would say it’s not a good fit, would just move on, would end with the white lie. A normal person could say those pleasantries and then just move on with their life and not worry. I get it now. Some people don’t operate that way.
Some bridges are bound to be burned
I have one ex-boss out there who thinks I’m a liar that tried to milk him out of money while doing as little as possible (see above). I have another who thinks I’m a lazy dud (that’s a great story for another post: it involves a full scale model I built of a monument to George H.W. Bush. Seriously. It even included an eight foot statue of our 41st president).
You can’t please everyone. And even if you try to treat everyone with dignity and do your best to be truthful and honorable, too much is left up to the interpretation of others. And sometimes you just fail to do the right thing. And other times you forget that we live in a digital panopticon. And therein lies a trap. If someone is looking for an excuse to justify their opinions, or needs an outlet for their frustration (related to you or not), anything you say or do can be turned against you.
So there’s two options here. One, never slip up. Never write a note to your spouse on a company e-mail account. Never let your personal life affect your attitude at work. Never be grumpy about a stupid task. Keep your personal life 100% segregated from your work. Turn off the social networks, unplug the digital persona. Never get tired. Become a robot. OR…do your best and don’t sweat it. Accept that the sum is what matters, not the individual bits. Work hard, be proud of what you do, and strive to be a good person. Know that the overall picture of your worth will emerge. There will always be people who think you’re a monster. Especially if you’re in the process of becoming, of discovering the potential you have. To do that you need to take risks. To do that you need to sometimes say no. And if you’ve got a personality type like mine, it means you speak about your risks and think out loud and say and write stupid stuff sometimes. And over share. Enough people will get it and that’s going to have to be good enough. Having people who don’t get you and let you know (directly or indirectly) that you are a failure in their eyes is actually a good reminder that you are doing something right. If everyone gives you the thumbs up it probably means you are not taking enough risks, trying hard enough, or sharing your most interesting ideas.
Sometimes I know I’m the Bad Guy
Back in Minnesota, I played D League softball with a bunch of friends. We were the Thunderbats and we were HORRIBLE. In the five seasons we played (three summers and two falls), you could count the number of wins we had on one hand. Well maybe two hands, but you wouldn’t need all your fingers on that second hand to be fully attached…and many of those wins were because of friendly subs. We were there to have fun, so our losing record wasn’t all that demoralizing. Though of course everyone likes to win, so it did wear on us.
There’s a weird phenomenon with city softball leagues. Teams like to play in a worse league than they technically can be in. This wouldn’t really be an issue, because if everyone is doing it, then it’s just like grade inflation and the average shifts. But the worst teams (us) can’t sink any lower. So we ended up playing against too many teams that were way better than us. Instead of D League being filled with D Leaguers, it was filled with C and B teams and the few D League teams who weren’t driven away by the unreasonable competition. Season after season you get used to this. And as long as everyone has a good attitude, there’s still lots of fun to be had.
During our penultimate season I came across a challenge to my sanguine outlook of this scenario. Playing against better teams wasn’t new. But we played against one team with a player that hit out of the park home runs at his first three at bats (even when the pitcher intentionally threw horrible pitches). This guy, I’ll call him The Mountain, didn’t belong in D League softball. I don’t know where he should have been. But I’ve never seen a player hit like this. He’d crush a home run, then just walk back to the dugout.
The game ended and we lost 8 to 24. Everyone lined up to slap hands and say ‘good game’. Regardless of whether it was a good game or not, this is what you do. After every game. To remind each other that we were there to have fun and that everyone tried their best. That it was just a game (again that white lie). But I am a monster. I slighted The Mountain and didn’t slap his hand or say good game. He pouted and said something passive aggressively (he was a Minnesotan). I said something back aggressive aggressively (I am an East Coaster). He got indignant. I said something more enraging to him. And then another thing. At this point I’d said my piece (that he didn’t belong on this league) and walked away. The altercation continued for a little longer because one of my teammates didn’t know I was the jerk who started it and just thought the biggest guy on the other team was picking on the littlest guy on our team (The Mountain was easily almost a foot and a 100 lbs bigger than me).
I’m an asshole sometimes. And I need to grow beyond that. I see it manifested at times when I prod people on the Internet, too. I try to do it in jest, but I know it can become mean spirited at times. Especially when people, like The Mountain, are easy marks and I’m hurt or angry. I need to remind myself of three things:
- Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.
- Calmness is harder than aggression. Being an asshole is easy.
- Do my actions bring me closer to my wife and daughters. If they don’t, why am I wasting my time?
There’s a post script to this story. The following week our team was short on players. The typical route to get last minute extra players is to ask the team playing before you if anyone wants to stick around and play a few more innings. There’s always someone willing to stay. After all, who doesn’t want to play a little more softball and be a hero? Anyone want to guess who was playing before us? That’s right. The Mountain and his team. I did the right thing. I walked right up to him, gave a genuine apology, shook his hand and said “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” I then invited him to join our team for the day. He, his wife, and another one of their friends joined us. Turns out he was a super nice guy. He taught our team a number of great tricks. And guess what? We fucking CRUSHED our opponent that night.