It was 2009. I was several months into a new job — my first job as a manager — and I was miserable. Miserable to the point of insomnia. Depression. Anger. Constant self-doubt. And even bouts of tears.
I won’t lie. I made a lot of missteps as a first-time manager, and those missteps led to their own stresses. But the misery I’m writing about today came from people I didn’t manage, people in my circle who, for some reason, targeted me (and others, I’d learned) with gossip and rumors and all-around nastiness.
I had just moved from one area of the organization, where nearly every day was full of fun and I had great friends, to an area where I felt attacked and was put on the defensive. Day after day, tension built. I hated going to the office and I questioned whether I’d made the right decision.
Finally, I reached out to a friend of mine from church — a wonderful man who became one of my go-to mentors. He managed a local radio station and led a staff of advertising salespeople. His salespeople had to hustle to make a living. Much of their take-home pay relied on commission, which is very demanding.
I’ve never had a desire for sales, but in desperation to leave my situation, I kinda sorta wanted to beg my friend for a job.
He and his wife invited me and Corinn to their home for dinner. I broke down in front of them and shared my woes.
My friend listened. Then he smiled one of those knowing smiles.
He knew I was a people-pleaser, and the last thing I’d want to do is hurt someone or make an enemy in my workplace.
But my friend, with years more experience under his belt, knew something that I didn’t — that no matter how hard I’d try, I wouldn’t succeed with everyone.
“Eric, I know you,” he said. “And I know what I’m going to say next is going to be hard for you to hear, and it might even hurt.”
Then he paused a fatherly pause, making sure I was ready to take the hit.
“Not everyone is going to like you.”
I stared at him and thought about the statement.
He was right. It was like a gut punch. It hurt.
At that point in my professional life, I didn’t feel that I’d done anything — that I knew of anyway — to intentionally damage a professional relationship. So why would someone genuinely not like me? Even hate me?
It made no sense.
But it was true.
My friend’s words helped me realize that, for whatever reason, there will be people who don’t like me. Maybe it’s something I’ve done to them that I didn’t know I’d done. Maybe I was mean and didn’t realize it. Maybe it’s a perception — right or wrong — they have of me. Maybe I remind them of someone who’s hurt them. Maybe it’s some hangup that I’ll never understand.
It’s hard to explain, but my talk with my friend made a difference. I began walking into the office as a changed man with a new mission. I’d continue to be me. I’d continue to do my job. I’d continue to learn to be a better manager. I’d continue to do my best to be positive and happy. And if people didn’t like me? That was on them.
And you know what? I actually found true happiness for the next two years in that position. (Well….stressful happiness. It was a tough job!)
Now, when I look back on that time, I see where God stretched me as a man, as a professional, as a coworker, and as a manager, more than I’d ever been stretched in my life. I learned more about myself and about God and about capacity and about the need for a strong support system. I ended up making a few great friends in that position. We did great work together, were innovative and really moved the needle.
I guess we just need to accept that we can’t please everyone. The best we can do is continue to work to be the people God calls us to be.
People will let us down.
Even the good ones, the ones we think will never hurt us.
Fathers included. Just ask my sons.
This weekend, we honor our fathers and stepfathers and grandfathers and guardians and mentors. We thank them for their love and support, their advice and their provision.
And at the same time, we remember that there’s only father who is perfect. That’s God the Father. The one who never lets us down. The one who is always there for us. The one who always points us in the right direction. The one who is always truthful. The one who is always faithful.
This Father’s Day, and every day forward, be sure to talk to the Father. Let him know how much you love him. And thank him for his goodness.
How do you plan to honor God this Father’s Day?
Have you ever put faith in a person?
If so, did that person let you down?
I’ve let people down. I’ve failed. As a husband. As a father. As a son. As a friend.
Unfortunately, despite my hopes and prayers to stay the course, I will continue to fail. So might you.
No matter their position, their amount of wealth, their influence, their authority, their political power, humans — all of them — will fail.
How many promising politicians have turned into punchlines? How many amazing athletes have been caught cheating? (Remember Mark McGwire?Lance Armstrong?) How many actors are caught in scandal? Executives? Pastors? Doctors? Teachers? A family member? A friend?
Even our heroes of the Bible were terribly unreliable at times. David was an adulterer and a murderer. Paul persecuted Christians. Moses killed a man. Thomas doubted. James didn’t believe. Peter rebuked Christ — to His face! — then later denied Him.
In hindsight, we look up to these Bible heroes. But we should never put our faith in them.
There’s only one Rock on Whom to cling. That’s Jesus. If we put our faith in Him, He will never let us down. He will always be there for us. He will always point us in the right direction. He will always be truthful. He will always be faithful.
Do you believe that?
If so, tell others about Him. People need to know.
A few years ago, I ran across a graduation card with a handwritten note from David Fortney, one of my journalism professors — a man I knew as a mentor, a very talented writer, and a friend.
David was a Vietnam veteran. Prior to his years teaching journalism at Truman State University, he’d worked as a journalist for The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Stars and Stripes, and Radio Free Europe.
He was a robust man. An unkempt white beard framed his face. He had big, sometimes flaring, nostrils. He wore buttoned down shirts with his sleeves rolled up. David wasn’t the best classroom teacher. In fact, he was a very “last minute” kind of guy — often asking us students to run copies of that day’s assignments just before class began. I rarely received any of my graded assignments, so I never really knew what my grade was until I received my report card.
All this aside…the man could write! His fingers danced across a keyboard and the resulting words were poetry.
In addition to being a professor, David was the director of student publications — overseeing the student staffs of the yearbook, the weekly newspaper and a regional travel magazine called Detours. I served on all of those staffs — including time as sports editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the magazine — so David was a constant presence in my life during my four years of undergraduate work.
In 1998-99, David helped me during a trying academic year. He mentored and encouraged me through a time of indecision, a time when I had little confidence in myself or my abilities to be the editor-in-chief of Detours.
After several months at the helm of the magazine, I wasn’t having much fun. Any fun, really. I didn’t feel like much of a leader. I didn’t feel that the staff respected me. (In fact, I know they didn’t.) I thought, “This is no way to enjoy my final year of college!”
I wanted to quit. Continue reading “Thank faculty mentors while you can”
EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this blog in 2012 when the United States was still stumbling a bit from the downturn of 2008. While that dates it a little, much of this still rings true today.
I’ve been working for universities since 2004. Each spring, I watch thousands of new graduates leave the comforts of college life to launch the careers for which they’ve been planning and preparing. I’ve learned a few things since I entered the post-college, professional workforce in 1999. If you are a new graduate, here are a few things that might help you land that first job.
Proper writing is key.
For those of you who slept through English class and didn’t care about learning proper grammar, you’re already at a disadvantage. You are competing for jobs in a bad economy. Open positions that once brought in 30 resumes and cover letters are now bringing in hundreds. You need your application to rise to the top. If your application packet is littered with grammatical mistakes and improper spelling, the prospective employer only “sees” someone who doesn’t take pride in his or her work. I have a friend who applied to be an auditor. The employer asked him to submit a writing sample. He won the job partly based on his writing sample. The employer told him that the applications he had received from recent college grads were terribly written. (Watch out for “your” and “you’re,” as well as “their,” “there,” and “they’re.”)
Do your homework.
Know everything you can know about the job and the company. Read the website. Learn what you can about the supervisor. Read her online profile or his LinkedIn page. Know the structure of the company. Know how your job will fit in with the rest of the employees. During the interview, be able to say things like: “I see that you encourage your employees to be involved in community service projects” or “I read where you are taking a lead role in the mayor’s new initiative” or “Congratulations on the promotion!” I once worked in an office where we were hiring someone to improve and maintain our website. In every interview, we asked: “What did you like about the website?” or “What improvements would you make to the website?” Half of the people we interviewed hadn’t taken the time to even look at the site before the interview.
Show. Don’t just tell.
If, in your cover letter or during an interview, you tell the employer that you are creative, then you must back it up. Give specifics about a project you completed. Show examples from your portfolio. Show the employer how you have met deadlines. If you have led a staff or a group, give some specific examples of your leadership. You might even mention a small failure or two to let the employer know you’re human. Then come back and show her how you learned from the mistake and made adjustments to keep from making the same mistake twice.
If this is your first job, you are not an expert.
When I was in college, I worked for the school newspaper and the magazine. I was a reporter, a sports editor and an editor-in-chief in college. The stories I wrote, the layouts I designed, all helped me land my first job as a copy editor at a small daily newspaper in Iowa. But once I was in the “real world,” that meant very little. I was the newbie, the rookie. All thoughts of grandeur were quickly stifled. I was the fourth person on a four-person copy desk (aka, the first to go when there’s a budget cut). When you go into an interview, you need to be confident, but you also need to be humble. Be willing to learn. Unless you are being called to lead the team, you must let the employer know that you will be a good member of the overall team. When the hiring party tells you something about the job, don’t say, “I know…” You don’t.