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.