Self Preservation

Back during a summer many years ago, I accompanied my wife to the summer outing of the office she worked at. During the outing she introduced me to Estella who was in a line of work I might be interested in. We talked a bit and she said there may be openings in her division so she’d get back to me. Eventually that opening fell through, but a year later she had changed offices and told me she was very interested that I join the new office.

So I took the offer and joined yet another rapidly expanding office. There was a bit of tension at the new place since it had been a small firm before and had practically doubled overnight. I had joined on the tail end of that expansion, yet the firm eventually doubled again over the next few years.

There was a bit of resentment between the old-schoolers and the new people who came in. Estella and a couple of her collegues were largely the impetus for the expansion. Their division was eliminated at their previous place and they all migrated to join this establish and well-reputed firm. But not only did they join the firm, they recruited all of their friends from over the years. Though I don’t think it was the expansion that annoyed the old-schoolers. It was that the new people brought in their own way of doing things and were quite adamant that it be done their way. They insisted that the old-schoolers way was antiquated and that in order for the firm to become THE firm in the city, things needed to be updated now. Plus they also brought a large firm mentality to the place. Expenses were made more freely. We went out for lunch on the office and computer programs were easily bought without much consideration. There was a rumor that even Estella’s morning coffee and drinks during lunch were expensed. In one or two instances this came back to bite people, but generally it was not much of a problem since business was very prosperous.

Although I had actually come in on the wave with Estella & co, everyone seemed to see me as neutral. And after a while I had established myself and very few knew about my connection with that gang. Not to mention that over time it was largely forgotten who had come in with Estella and her collegues. That said, Estella and a couple others continued to be associated with it. It was primarily because they did not change their ways and continued to be quite cavalier with the company’s money.

I was greatly endebted to Estella for opening the door to take my career in a direction that would have been quite difficult otherwise. She is quite a sociable person who has a great rapport with clients. Although I never worked directly for her, she would often help me get onto interesting projects including the biggest one of my career so far. So over time it became difficult as I began to see more and more of her negative effects on the firm I had grown proud to be a part of. I had also heard rumblings that although she was great in client relations, she was not a good manager. Largely it had to do with very poor communication with those working for her. Plus blame for poorly performing projects was passed down to the people below.

But then came the slowdown in business that followed both the bust of the dotcom boom and Sept 11. We went through one round of layoffs. Our office got a bit more top-heavy since they let go only the people down at my level. The people let go were largely very poor performers or those who certain people didn’t like. It was hard because some people who were let go because of a grudge took it as if they were poor performers. They were good people and their ego should not have taken a hit. There was also opposite where people who were poor performers (not necessarily because of inability) assumed it was because someone had it in for them. And this is unfortunate because in some cases it should have been a wake-up call to work to their abilities.

The slowdown continued and there was a second round of layoffs. But this one included a paycut for those of us who stayed on. Our salaries had really grown during those good years and it made sense to bring them back to reality (even if it didn’t jive with our mortgage). Plus it meant a few less people let go. This round of layoffs was different since some mid-management people were let go. Plus some truly good people had to be laid off. But it did start to irk many that certain people were still in the office. Estella was quite the lightning rod for criticism for the layoffs. “If joe-hard-worker has been let go, what is Estella still doing here having a double scotch and a beer with lunch on the company’s dime.” So in addition to becoming very concerned about our job security, there was now talk of who deserved to stay and who should go next.

Lastly there were a third round of layoffs that included all levels except the top. And Estella found herself without work. There was relief that we still had our jobs and some renewed confidence with the management that they knew what had been going on. Some of us wondered afterward if she understood the reason she was let go. Did she understand that it was due to how she conducted herself or did she feel it was due to the residual resentment from her early days with the firm? I’m quite certain it was the latter and that it’s a bit of denial and self preservation of ego that we all go through at times. The problem is that it may preserve the ego, but does no good if that type of behavior continues.

Now I hope I don’t find myself in this situation someday. Unable to accept reality and finding alternate reasons for why something transpired in the preservation of my ego. I’m quite sure it will happen at some level and likely already has. It has always been a concern of mine whether I’m seeing things clearly or has my view of reality diverged from what is real. In Estella’s mind, what she was doing was right. That’s what people do when they achieve that position. Just as they guy who cuts you off in traffic feels there’s nothing wrong with that action. In his mind it’s a dog-eat-dog world and you’re just not keeping up. That’s his reality and the honk of your horn will do nothing to change that. I suppose my fear of becoming like them has kept me humble and modest. Or at least in my reality I’m humble and modest.


~ by Frank on October 25, 2007.

5 Responses to “Self Preservation”

  1. Wonderful piece, Frank.

    My two cents is that a certain degree of ego/self-preservation is necessary and built into our biology – we can’t really refute that.

    That said, ego is not always preclusive to being able to give oneself periodic reality checks. In fact, I find that it is the people with a solid sense of self (like you, Frank) who are strong enough to withstand an objective (and critical) self-appraisal.

    I think where trouble begins is when we lose track of both elements – humilty-checks andthe need to keep ego intact – and they go off-balance. For example, it IS possible to be TOO concerned about staying a “good person”.

    I fall into this trap constantly – if I’m not careful my self-awareness devolves into self-consciousness and that does no-one any good. It comes down to a challenging judgement call on the continuum between ruthlessness and waffling self-abnegation.

    As an adjunct remark, I took a criminology course once in CEGEP and one of the central ideas put forth in that class was the extreme degree to which “psychopaths” rationalized their behaviour. They were completely devoid of self-reproach, and therefore unable to make those calls at all. It wasn’t so much that the were always right, but that they could do no wrong. Therein lies the distinction between mere arrogance – and truly misanthropic behaviour.

    Not to sound cynical but it seems that the ability to be kind to others appears inversely proportionate to the capacity to give ourselves a well-reasoned kick in the arse at regular intervals! 🙂

  2. Hmmm….or maybe not “inversely”… ?


    I need coffee…

  3. Not to be overly glib, but sometimes I think reality is over-rated. 😛

  4. Office politics are fun, aren’t they? And yes, you are humble and modest…in anyone’s reality. Getting fired or laid off is a reality of today’s corporate world. It sooner or later happens to everyone. I’ve been laid off twice in my career. Oddly, it usually works out for the best. An opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise found or looked for came along and my professional life got better because I was available. A lot of people have trouble handling being laid off and do take it personally. In some cases that’s alright because it was personal. But in most cases it’s a business decision and not tied to performance, as you said.

    I think what people have failed to do in recent times is to appreciate HAVING a job and being grateful to have the opportunity to do what they love. When I joined my current company, it was after having been laid off for a few months. My first experience with this company’s annual review (everybody gets reviewed at the same time) astounded me because so many people grumbled that the pay raise scale was 3%-4%. Here I was so happy to have a job, period. Perspective is an amazing thing, though. Sometimes it takes being laid off to appreciate what you have or are given.

  5. unslaked: I think I also try a bit too much to be a good person and that’s why I find it hard when I see people who are not even trying. That’s fascinating about psychopaths. That’s quite a fine distinction between being arrogant and being unaware.

    blork: Don’t worry about being glib. I do it all the time.

    cathy: yeah part of me is proud to have survived three rounds of layoffs, but another realizes that it was part what I was working on and who I was working with. But the layoffs did have an affect on me. It made me more aware of what I was doing and how well I was performing. But it did set up a bit of paranoia in me that I’m only now letting go.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: