Tracer Rounds: When Positives Become Negatives
Possibly the most raw column I’ve ever written ~
Brant, 05 September 2016
Some of these columns are a lot easier to write than others. Some days I feel like I’m forcing it. Some days I honestly feel like I’m mailing it in (see the column about professional sports from last Spring). Some days the column just flows and before I know it, I’m at 2800 words and feel like there’s a lot left to say.
Some days, there’s a lot I want to say, and just not sure how. Many of those turn out to be kind of personal, like the column about the Imposter Syndrome. Today is one of those days, and it’s going to be hard for make this as coherent as it deserves to be, particular since I’m not quite ready to name names and potentially ruin lives. But I also said back when I first started this whole endeavor that I was going to do this without a net (i.e., no editor), so you’re getting an unfiltered look at the insanity that ping-pongs around my head as I write these things.
Character traits are funny things. There are so many that we claim to admire, but a surfeit of any trait can swing into a very counterproductive place. But those same traits are the building blocks of personalities we admire, are attracted to, want to emulate, and extol to others.
I was once asked by an employee (back when I actually had people working for me – let that sink in for a second before you start chuckling your way through this) what character trait I prized above all others in employees. I was taken aback, since that was a rather serious and heady topic, and not normally the kinds of chats we had on a Sunday afternoon over the endless clacking and ka-chunking of the production DocuTech cranking out 120 impressions / minute in the background. At the time, I answered honestly – “flexibility.” He was surprised I didn’t say “loyalty” but the truth is that I’ve seen plenty of ways to motivate employees around loyalty. What I prized above all others was flexibility, because I needed employees that were willing and able to adapt to changing circumstances as I needed them to. If I needed someone to cover the self-serve computer area because someone was out sick or off at training, I didn’t need an endless litany of whining about that not being their area of expertise, or that they were hired to work front counter, or whatever other “I-don’t-want-to-do-it-so-don’t-make-me” excuse they were going to uncork. I had a job that needed doing, and I wasn’t concerned with the level of perfection being brought to it, just that an honest effort was being made to do it.
I’ve long treated my own personal flexibility in the professional world as a badge of honor. I joke that my resume just makes it look like I can’t keep a job, or that it looks like I haven’t decided what I want to be when I grow up. But I also had a hard discussion with a recruiter recently that pointed out that to some prospective employers, my flexibility is going to be seen as a detriment not because it indicates a lack of expertise in a focused area, but that it’s indicative of a restlessness that’s going to cause anxiety on their part wondering how long I’ll be around before I get bored and start looking for the next challenge.
And that’s a fair criticism, given my background growing up. Even now, in the house we’ve owned for 5 years, I still get the itch to rearrange the furniture every so often just because you supposed to be changing things every two years or so. That restlessness has probably carried over at least a bit to my professional life, but it served me well in the Army, where officers are expected to bounce between commanding a line company this week, or running the battalion logistics operations next week, or planning brigade operations the week after that. It’s certainly helped me in the educational world, where I’ve been able to find ways to relate our topics being discussed to a real-world scenario for many examples in class.
But traits we normally associate with admiration turn around and bite us in the ass when we least expect it. We claim to admire honesty until we get too much of it. We want audacity until it makes us uncomfortable, as Colin Kaepernick apparently has for many people lately. And sooner or later, we hang onto our loyalty a little longer than we should.
We all talk about wanting total honesty in our lives, and how much easier it would be if we did. Let’s face it – no more Santa Claus would suck. But more than that, we all want people around us to be honest, until we’ve hung out with a high-functioning autistic, or someone with a high degree of Asperger’s syndrome, and they’re suddenly asking a beaming and proud new parent “why would you dress your kid in that?” There are times when yes, that dress does make you look fat, and no we’re never going to admit it.
Loyalty, though, is a really tricky one. At what point does loyalty become a negative? At what point does your loyalty to a person, an organization, an idea, become such an anchor that it drags you down. To whom do you owe your loyalty, and under what circumstances does the debt go away? If anything, an overabundance of loyalty in my life has nearly ruined me, several times.
Once was in the workplace, where I remained loyal well beyond what the company deserved, largely out of the sense of purpose and meaning that it gave me when I first started there. At some point, you realize you’re working with a lot of friends, and enjoying the hell out of it, and your loyalty extends from those friends to the company. You want the company to be successful because you want your friends to be successful. But when you look around 8 months later and over half of your friends have moved on, it’s a challenging and difficult mindset to suddenly turn off your loyalty to the organization you’ve identified with, and walk away. It’s not that the company is deserving of your loyalty anymore – on the contrary, it’s probably done a lot to push you away. But the cognitive dissonance you’ve put yourself through to maintain your loyalty has just reinforced it to the point where your Stockholm Syndrome makes you feel disloyal for even entertaining the idea of looking for something else. It’s a hard connection to sever, and it’s painful when it happens. And it comes from the most well-intentioned place.
Loyalty among friends is equally hard. What constitutes disloyal friendship in one relationship is shrugged off in another, sometimes by the same people. What you see as an admirable defense of key principles in a relationship is seen by others as irrelevant or trite or antiquated or just not all that fucking important. When your loyalty to a friend helps see him through a life-threatening illness, its oddly repaid with disingenuous concern for your personal life while he’s interfering with it behind the scenes, callously expressing concern for your continued well-being while simultaneously undermining it with some reckless behavior that tears apart 20+ years of friendships. When your loyalty to a friend through personal tribulations as a sounding board for his own relationship difficulties is reciprocated by not having your confidence kept over certain “please don’t say anything” actions, you wonder how much more time or effort you should invest in the relationship when clearly you’re more loyal to it than he is. When your personal relationships are treated very differently to your face than the moment you leave the room, you wake up every day with a headache the size of the Hindenburg (with a comparably-expected outcome) and wonder how you’re just going to make it through the day without being drunk by noon or driving off of a bridge because you’re so enraged you literally cannot see straight, and then wondering if anyone would actually miss you, or just eulogize you as “someone who didn’t know when to quit” – i.e., turn off your loyalty, the key character trait that made you who you were. And while you occasionally look around with genuine relief that despite being a staunch Second Amendment supporter, you’re thrilled there’s no gun in your house because you’d’ve already put a 9mm-sized hole in your head, you wonder if anyone would actually miss you, or if your loyalty is just the biggest one-way street this side of downtown Washington DC. If you faked your own funeral, what would the eulogy actually be from those you counted among your closest friends, and to whom you gave unwavering – and apparently unreciprocated – loyalty? And would you really want to know it ahead of time?
At what point can you disavow the character traits that make you who you are, even when the best of them have become dangerously counterproductive to the point of causing serious mental instability?
When does your loyalty to an ideal become an ideal that only you hold in your head, and no one else seems to give two shits either way? At what point do those hard conversations make you glad you had soup for lunch because you’re not sure it’s going to stay down? When do you cut bait, knowing that doing so cuts against every facet of your character that you’ve built all those years?
Character traits are what define us – good, and bad. There’s a healthy dose of good in every one of them. But we’ve got to watch out for the bad. Because it can get disappointingly, painfully, excruciatingly bad.
This week’s soundtrack:
Game that caught my eye:
Nothing specific this week, but I’m still playing Liberty or Death and trying (desperately) to finish the review before the 2nd printing ships.
What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:
Living through what you just read about above.
The best thing I read this week was:
As the father of a teenager, with another getting there in a few years, this article about their social media lives was eye-opening, concerning, somewhat relieving, and equally terrifying.
edit – I have to add this column from SB Nation about the intersection of the American Bison and football. Fascinating.
This week’s poll:
Signing off… Bayonet 06 – staggering off!