It used to be my description of not knowing what I did want, just knowing what I didn't want. That's all changed. The most important element is being in control. Doing what I think is right. Not being told to do things that I know are wrong. Things that won't work.
"Who pushed you around?" he'd opened with.
"People like you."
"What do you mean, people like me?"
"Supervisors. You think you know everything. You may have greater specialist knowledge than me, but that's all. The scientist generally is a specialist and can fail to see the big picture as he is entrenched in the narrow vision he has. The big picture is seen by those further away and can then be seen to show how different things interrelate." Well, I'd been asked, so I was determined that he should get the whole message.
"About life, you have a limited knowledge. I'm nearly twenty years older than you, yet you behave as though you know everything and I know nothing. The arrogance in your stance is quite breathtaking. And you imagine that you should be given respect? It's absolutely contemptible. You can enjoy zero credibility from me."
"That's not fair."
"Really? I've had to abandon a career. Can you really comprehend what that means in 'coming to terms' with my situation? Battle on for several years, putting up with all the arrogant crap I've been fed. I had to find another career track, though there was nothing particularly well suited to me. That survived for a few more years. The end was inevitable."
"You could have always left the company," I was helpfully informed.
"Comments like that demonstrate just how far you are from my reality. How little you really understand. You imagine it's so simple. I walk out of your office and the problem's gone away. Wrong. The problem is just beginning to grow. Spreading like a cancer. I couldn't leave the company, just like that. Your idea of a solution and you are in a management position, responsible for making or breaking careers. And you don't appreciate how complex that is. All the people involved. Those whose life is intimately linked with this one person: your supervisee. One individual whose wellbeing will influence dozens of others and it's patently clear that you don't care. Mess up lives and walk away. And you talk of responsibility."
"How do you make that out?"
"I'm not suggesting that you should make yourself responsible for all this, but you have the responsibility of being careful. To be aware of it. All the time."
"Partners. Children. Parents. Colleagues. Each of us has many connections. You as well, if you think about it. Worries about the mortgage, children's education, parents' health, Council Tax, running costs of a car. General living costs. And you can use that as a big stick to beat us all up with.
"Don't be ridiculous. Beat you up, indeed."
"Yes, beat us up with," I persisted. "You think I'm being unfair, I expect. But it's what you do. Maybe you're not even aware of it. And the worst part of this is you seem to enjoy it. The power you have over peoples' lives."
"I don't have that sort of power as you call it."
"Of course, you do. The problem must be revealing itself to you now. That you don't realise what you do. As though you have the right to have such a controlling influence over someone. After all, you're just another employee, you know. What do you imagine you will be in years to come when you leave work for good. When you retire, but without respect. You will discover you are nothing. You become more tomorrow of what you are today. That will more than likely wreck you. Will you be able to handle that. No more influence. No more power. Career ended. What will you do next? And I'm not particularly bothered by it. You see, I have learned to come to terms with this because I've had to. Can you understand that? Ask yourself how you would deal with that. Do you think you could handle it? And then put up with all that corporate crap as though it really matters?"
"A career has its downside, you know. The responsibilities that go with the position."
"I understand that, though I believe you don't. You think you do, but you don't. Not really. You push people like me around. Using me like a football. Well, you did before I realised a lot of things."
"OK. As an instance, consider what's important in life. Really important. What do you imagine is the most important part of your life?"
"Well, to be successful."
"Does that involve being influential and being in a position of power? Sorry. I mean leadership, of course." A nod confirmed the response.
"You see, you aren't there yet. Hopefully you never will be by the route I had to take. The road I walk is difficult because I have no shoes. But then I met a man who had no feet. It puts a whole new perspective on life and what's important."
"Success to me is about being a decent human being. Taking responsibility about the effects I have on others. Being careful. Being thoughtful. Learning about living, not just limiting my outlook to how far I can advance in a career. Careers end and don't I know that! Life is a 24 hour period for every day you remain alive. When you're dead only then can your success be measured. What you leave as your legacy. And it's only then when others start saying what they really thought of you."
"Consider a childless person. No kids of his own. When he visits family or a friend who has children, he may come away thinking he understands what it's like. But then he will leave it all behind after just a few hours and that's it. Leave the kids behind with the parent who has the children for 24 hours of every day for years. Parents get used to it. Come to terms with being responsible for their children. It's a way of life."
© Louis Brothnias v 1.3 (2005), Rev 2 (2008)