The Villain of the Story

 

Today I got one of those auto-generated notifications from LinkedIn, suggesting someone I might want to connect with. “Do you know Edwin Smith?” (Not his real name.) Well, yes, I know him, I thought, and no, I am not remotely interested in connecting with him.

Edwin was my boss for about three years, twenty-two years ago. He was a nice enough guy, I suppose, but I found him to be a poor manager. Twice a year he would deliver my performance appraisal, and the results were always the same: he would tell me that I was doing fine, he would offer no suggestions for improvement, and then he would give me a middling numerical rating.

Unfortunately, I failed to realize that several consecutive years of such mediocre appraisals had the effect of painting a target on my back, and so I got laid off in 2002. Later I found out that my performance reviews were not the only reason: I heard that Edwin had apparently been doing some creative accounting. Nothing illegal, but he had been diverting some funds from a different part of the department budget in order to pay for my position. In other words, my job did not technically exist.

So if I felt like I needed to blame someone for what had happened to me, it was easy to choose him. I wasn’t bitter or anything; I didn’t sit around plotting my revenge. But it was convenient for me to use him as the personification of the misfortune that had befallen me, especially if someone asked me what had happened.

But the thing is, there are several reasons why I shouldn’t bear Edwin any ill will, even halfheartedly. For one thing, it turned out that he got laid off the same day I did, so it might have been more fitting to think of him as a fellow victim of a corporate decision. More to the point, though, the layoff — as traumatic as it was in the short term — ended up being a very good thing for me. I was rehired before my severance pay ran out, ending up in a better job with a higher salary, and with more interesting work to do. So, in retrospect, I really should have thanked Edwin for forcing a job change that I hadn’t been smart enough to make myself.

I’m not actually sure what my point is with all of this. Like I said, I don’t sit around nursing a grudge about a long-ago event that actually didn’t do me any harm. I hadn’t thought about Edwin in years, not until that LinkedIn message. But I find myself wondering now whether everyone has a similar figure somewhere in their past. Do we need to have villains in our stories? Do we go looking for them, and hold on to them even when it no longer makes sense?

I’ve never crossed paths with Edwin again, and it’s likely that I never will. But if I do, I think I will say hi and ask how he’s been.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: But I find myself wondering now whether everyone has a similar figure somewhere in their past.

    I certainly have a similar LinkedIn recommendation story. “No, I do not want to connect with that useless sack of used food.” There was a managing consultant or some such title whom I wound up being exposed to. After the first time, I decided I never wanted to be on a gig he was leading again. All that he did was watch Porsche ads on the Internet and talk about his Porsche. In that first gig, there was one of the client offices where the guy had a Ferrari escutcheon in his office or office window or some such, and that started Mister Porsche to wondering why it only had the horse instead of the full Porsche escutcheon.

    In a subsequent consulting gig, it was a large group of eleven consultants. I didn’t know the gent who was leading it very well, but figured he had to be better than Mister Porsche. Except, since it was such a large group, they had an outside (customer-facing) lead and an inside lead. Mister Porsche was the inside lead. I was helping compile the report, and he decided one section was not necessary. It was the section he was assigned to write, of course.

    This was about four months with traveling to another city. Mister Porsche said, “Oh, only schedule the first four weeks. We probably won’t be going again until the end.” Come near the end of the fourth week, he said something about being there the next week. “I’m not scheduled for that.”

    “Why not?”

    “Because you said we would only be here up front for four weeks.”

    So, I got blamed for his miscommunication. I also scheduled the next week to be there from Tuesday to Friday instead of Monday to Thursday, since I figured to save the company a heap of money given the late notice. I was in trouble for that from him, but the clients loved it.

    Oh, another good story. The first gig mentioned was my first traveling with that company and also the first traveling in several years. I asked the other two on my team, “How much do you guys tip at hotels for the night?”

    The younger guy on the team looked poleaxed, “Tip?” He had never heard of tipping at hotels.

    But Mister Porsche at least had the decency to look embarrassed, “You know, my first job was in a hotel, and I hated it when customers didn’t leave a tip. But, well, I don’t tip.”

    That told me all I needed to know about Mister Porsche.

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: Do we need to have villains in our stories?

    No. In my own story, I probably am the villain, and my wife is the protagonist.

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: Do we go looking for them, and hold on to them even when it no longer makes sense?

    No, let ’em go.

    • #1
  2. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    Sometimes we can be that guy – especially in our younger years. I like to think that I am wiser and kinder than I once was – not necessarily wiser or kinder than the next guy, but wiser and kinder than I was. King David prayed “remember not the sins of my youth”. I don’t think that he was just talking about the stuff surrounding Bathsheba and Uriah.

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: Do we go looking for them, and hold on to them even when it no longer makes sense?

    No, let ’em go.

    I should add, I bless that fellow I mentioned and called Mister Porsche every time I think of him. I wound up with many stories to tell off him.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    JoelB (View Comment):

    Sometimes we can be that guy – especially in our younger years. I like to think that I am wiser and kinder than I once was – not necessarily wiser or kinder than the next guy, but wiser and kinder than I was. King David prayed “remember not the sins of my youth”. I don’t think that he was just talking about the stuff surrounding Bathsheba and Uriah.

    I’m the same way. I’m hoping “my youth” extends up to at least last Thursday.

    • #4
  5. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    “Edwin” sounds like one of those managers who got to the position without actually know about or being able to do the job of those he managed.  So how would you really know if you were doing it well, or not?

    • #5
  6. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Since there is a high degree of likelihood that this post is headed for the Main Feed, I will go short on the details.  Diane was a boss I had as a kid.  The summer I turned 13 was the only time I ever thought about running away from home, and all these years later I still have the occasional bad dream where Diane shows up and acts like she is my boss again.  There is no [expletive] way I would communicate with her, if she were to reach out to me.  If you’re out there, Diane, go to hell.

    • #6
  7. Juliana Member
    Juliana
    @Juliana

    I worked as a parish administrator for a priest who I found out to be a pathological liar. He would spend two weeks in Mexico with another priest and their girlfriends. “The girls stay in a different hotel,” I was told. I lasted less than a year with him, and when I tried to let someone know in the archdiocese about his behavior, I was told it was best if I resigned. 

    I eventually went back to school for post grad and had a successful career for my last 15 working years. But I  never felt like I was where I belonged like I  did in that little church before he came.

    If I were to see him again and actually speak to him I would say, “we all will answer to God for our lives. I am glad I am not you.”

    • #7
  8. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Maybe Edwin wasn’t a villain at all. Maybe he – or his predecessor – invented your job, kept you busy and salaried, and concealed it from upper management. Edwin found the money to keep your paychecks coming. Upper management was of course right to object to all that, but the artifice did work, for at least three years.

    • #8
  9. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    John H. (View Comment):

    Maybe Edwin wasn’t a villain at all. Maybe he – or his predecessor – invented your job, kept you busy and salaried, and concealed it from upper management. Edwin found the money to keep your paychecks coming. Upper management was of course right to object to all that, but the artifice did work, for at least three years.

    Hmm, yes, maybe Edwin was just keeping him in place until that better opportunity was ready for him…

    • #9
  10. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    John H. (View Comment):

    Maybe Edwin wasn’t a villain at all. Maybe he – or his predecessor – invented your job, kept you busy and salaried, and concealed it from upper management. Edwin found the money to keep your paychecks coming. Upper management was of course right to object to all that, but the artifice did work, for at least three years.

    I originally transferred into Edwin’s department to take the place of a woman who had gone out on maternity leave. But about a year later, she came back, and from that point forward there really was no reason for me to be there. Edwin and I tried a couple of times to redefine my job so I wasn’t surplus to requirements, but the truth is that there wasn’t anything I was doing that couldn’t have been taken over by somebody else.

    Maybe I should have figured out how vulnerable this made me, but I was young and naive. And I was comfortable in that job, so it was easier for me to just stay where I was. But if I had understood just how unstable my position was, I would have gotten out voluntarily (and less traumatically). One part of a manager’s job is to look out for your career. I have had other managers that have told me things like “This project has an uncertain future. You should probably start looking around for something else.”

    Edwin’s lack of transparency did not do me any favors.

    • #10
  11. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    John H. (View Comment):

    Maybe Edwin wasn’t a villain at all. Maybe he – or his predecessor – invented your job, kept you busy and salaried, and concealed it from upper management. Edwin found the money to keep your paychecks coming. Upper management was of course right to object to all that, but the artifice did work, for at least three years.

    I originally transferred into Edwin’s department to take the place of a woman who had gone out on maternity leave. But about a year later, she came back, and from that point forward there really was no reason for me to be there. Edwin and I tried a couple of times to redefine my job so I wasn’t surplus to requirements, but the truth is that there wasn’t anything I was doing that couldn’t have been taken over by somebody else.

    Maybe I should have figured out how vulnerable this made me, but I was young and naive. And I was comfortable in that job, so it was easier for me to just stay where I was. But if I had understood just how unstable my position was, I would have gotten out voluntarily (and less traumatically). One part of a manager’s job is to look out for your career. I have had other managers that have told me things like “This project has an uncertain future. You should probably start looking around for something else.”

    Edwin’s lack of transparency did not do me any favors.

    Except maybe for lining you up for that better job?

    • #11
  12. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Except maybe for lining you up for that better job?

    Well, right, and I guess that’s how I’ve chosen to see things. The truth is that I got lucky; the fact that I ended up in a better place was despite Edwin’s mismanagement, not because of it. But ultimately I’m thankful for the way things worked out, even though I went through hell for a little while. I wouldn’t go back and change anything even if I could. So maybe that’s why I’m not particularly inclined toward holding a grudge.

    • #12
  13. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Except maybe for lining you up for that better job?

    Well, right, and I guess that’s how I’ve chosen to see things. The truth is that I got lucky; the fact that I ended up in a better place was despite Edwin’s mismanagement, not because of it. But ultimately I’m thankful for the way things worked out, even though I went through hell for a little while. I wouldn’t go back and change anything even if I could. So maybe that’s why I’m not particularly inclined toward holding a grudge.

    Well, maybe the key is, do you think you would have gotten an even better job, without Edwin “holding you back” until the one you got?  Maybe we’d all like to think so, we’d all like to think everything would be so much better for us if not for some particular event, but in the real world who knows?

    If not for Edwin, maybe you would have wound up in a job that was just enough better that you would have stuck to it half-miserable for years/decades.

    • #13
  14. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Well.  That story took a refreshing turn.  I can’t stand stories about whiny babies blaming others for all the things going wrong in their lives.

     

    • #14
  15. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Speaking of which, did anyone else see “The Villain” starring Ahnald?

    • #15
  16. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Except maybe for lining you up for that better job?

    Well, right, and I guess that’s how I’ve chosen to see things. The truth is that I got lucky; the fact that I ended up in a better place was despite Edwin’s mismanagement, not because of it. But ultimately I’m thankful for the way things worked out, even though I went through hell for a little while. I wouldn’t go back and change anything even if I could. So maybe that’s why I’m not particularly inclined toward holding a grudge.

    Well, maybe the key is, do you think you would have gotten an even better job, without Edwin “holding you back” until the one you got? Maybe we’d all like to think so, we’d all like to think everything would be so much better for us if not for some particular event, but in the real world who knows?

    If not for Edwin, maybe you would have wound up in a job that was just enough better that you would have stuck to it half-miserable for years/decades.

    I figured it out.  kedavis IS Edwin.  That’s what the E stands for.

    • #16
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