Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The best gift of 2012 - A lesson in life

The saying goes something like this: "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" and I now know this to be true.

I don't have a lot of enemies, in fact I don't think I have any. But I do have one or two people who are not on my Christmas card list. For those who know me well, they'll tell you that I get along with everyone. From the bus driver to the prime minister (if we ever met), I really like everyone until I have a reason not to. Miss Congeniality? That's me. 

Except this one time.........

I didn't get along with a colleague. Neither of us liked each other and try as we might to mask it, it was evident to all who knew us that there was no love between us. A lot of barbed wired, but absolutely no love. 

A few years ago I was sitting in a coffee shop (theme of my life) ranting to my husband about my colleague who I really didn't have much respect for. At the time, this particular person was making my life hell. She was actively bad mouthing me and spreading vicious rumours attacking my credibility in the workplace. It was toxic. She lied about me, and seemed intent on making sure that my career with that company was not longstanding. I really didn't like her, and it consumed me. I felt bullied and prejudiced because she had friends in higher places than I did who listened to her without questioning the validity of her venom.

During my coffee shop morning rant to my husband, another caffeine loving patron overheard and gave me some advice. "She is your teacher - let her teach you something."

At the time I didn't appreciate his Buddhist views on my nemesis, but now - two years later - I am thankful.

While I may not have had much respect for the way she behaved, I was able to admire some of her successful attributes from afar. She had presence. She could walk into the room and immediately be noticed. It didn't matter what she said, it was how she said it that commanded respect. She also dressed the part. Her interior was tough and toxic, but her exterior was soft. She wore bright colours and soft fabrics which absolutely contradicted who she was. It was like a little trick to give her more appeal. It worked. 

Once, we were sitting in the board room and she was being yelled at by the managing director about something she had done. The MD was a scary alpha male and his ferocious public attack would have made most people run crying from the room. But not her. She kept her composure by looking him directly in the eye - no emotion and no facial movement. She just looked at him and said nothing. It was the most powerful thing I have ever seen another person do. And she pulled it off. The MD stopped his rant and moved on to the next topic. 

When she had presented other peoples work claiming it as her own and was publicly "outed" for it, she maintained her stance and moved on. Her love of plagiarism was accepted because she refused to let it be made into a big deal. I personalised it, its not something I would ever do and it infuriated me that she got away with it. But what I did like was that she didn't react. Not openly anyway. 

She made mistakes. A lot of them, but she glossed them over or blamed other people. I discovered the finger had been pointed at me many times for her errors, and I raised them to the MD directly - on reflection with too much emotion. I will always own up to a mistake I've made, I'm like that - so I wont follow her lead in blaming others. There is still a lesson though, sometimes we learn from others in what they do "wrong" so we don't have to make the same mistake.

The MD gave me a pep talk once and told me that there will always be people in my life that I don't like or get along with - I just have to learn to work with them. Its true. 

These are the gifts she gave me that I am eternally grateful. 

 - Actions speak louder than words. 

 - Be true to yourself. 

 - Crucial confrontations and crucial conversations are my new mantras. 

 - At work, the best interest of the business comes first.

 - After work, there is a life to be lived. With people who matter. 

 - Say it with conviction. Confidence is king

 - Leave emotion at home. Passion is good, but emotion can be damaging. 

 - Maintain eye contact in the board room. Even when you're being called names. 

 - Dont play into the hands of politics. It only leads to tears. 

 - A job is not the be all and end all. If its toxic and cant be changed, move on. 

And if ever another person ever tries to discredit me again, I will stand my ground and it will be professional. 

Through these lessons I have kicked much better goals in my new job, and I am reminded everyday that my old colleague who had made my life hell has paved an easier and much better road for my future. For this I am thankful. 


  1. All our lives we're taught about the right thing to do. But when it comes to business the right thing to do has nothing to do with it. Sometimes what you have to do & the right thing to do intersects, & that's nice, but that's all it is. This is a very hard lesson to learn, particularly if you take personal pride in your own standards. I like your tips. Especially about emotion. If you get emotional you've lost. Instantly. & that's all there is to it.

    1. Thanks id - I absolutely agree.

      I refuse to lose my passion over what I know, but have learnt to control my emotions in expressing it.