A friend’s role as storyteller

One of my blog followers and someone I consider a great friend is going through a tough time at work. His relationship with his manager has soured over the last few months and he now finds himself in an unsettling quandary. As a friend, my initial reaction was to help solve the problem. But I know how I am when I’m down or in a funk—I don’t want anyone around me, let alone trying to cheer me up or analyze the situation—and I certainly didn’t want to make a situation worse by providing unsolicited advice. The fact of the matter is that all we can hope to do as parents, colleagues, mentors, coaches, and yes, friends; is to provide anecdotes, stories, and other recollections that we hope will shed some light on the issue.

Priests are wonderful at this. They listen to your problems, worries, and sins; but they don’t answer in a way that ties up the solution into a nice little bow. Instead, the priest quotes the Bible and, through years of studying the Holy Book, along with all that the Church represents, can find the perfect story or the perfect character that will shed the ideal amount of light on your predicament. Coaches do the same thing. They are notorious for using a war reference or talking about a player or team from years gone past in order to paint a picture that helps their current players maximize their potential.

I’m obviously not a priest. And even though I’ve helped the occasional athlete once or twice, coaching does not pay the bills for me. But, like all of us, I do have stories and experiences to share. And in thinking about my friend’s dilemma and subsequently searching through my mental hard drive, two in particular come to mind. Whether they are helpful or not, serving the ultimate purpose of shedding some light on my friend’s issue, is yet to be seen. But I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

My first job out of college was as an Account Manager for a company that tested semiconductors. My boss was what you’d call old school. His management style could have been summarized as intimidating. I had never been intimidated in my life. Even as an athlete for thirteen years, where coaches yelled and, on occasion, embarrassed me; I never felt discouraged. Even living under the roof of a 23-year Army veteran who was (actually still is) a diligent perfectionist never broke me. But this was different for some reason. Maybe it was because for the first time I was earning money that, as the weeks and months progressed, I needed. Each new toy (a car, a tv, a computer) or pair of jeans or sneakers brought with it a dependency on bringing home a paycheck every two weeks. Or maybe it was because I was doing something new for the first time in a long while. And I was being judged and measured daily. Or maybe having such an ass as a boss so early in my career made me think “Is this what it’s going to be like for the next 30 years?” Whatever it was, it left me feeling unsettled. And little more than a year later, I was gone, moving on to my next, and first accounting and finance, position.

I’m a tough guy. At least I pride myself on that. So when I know deep in my heart that something has gotten the best of me, that I’ve backed down to something or someone, it really bugs me. I justified my leaving my first job so early as something I had to do to move on with my career. After all, I had studied Business and Economics in college and wanted to use it. Being an Account Manager didn’t qualify. So it made perfect and logical sense for me to move on. But I knew there was more to it than that. I knew at some level, my horrible boss (great movie, by the way) had gotten the best of me. So like I’d do whenever I got beat on a play in football, I was determined to not let that happen again. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you choose to look at it), I got my chance right away. My next job, as an Accounting Assistant, was fun. It was with a small startup that developed workflow applications—something, as you can tell by the nature of my blog, also excited me— and the environment and company culture fit me perfectly. My boss, the Controller of the company, was a pleasure to work for and from her I learned a lot. So much so that about a year and a half into my tenure, management decided to let her go, giving me oversight of all Accounting and Finance functions. Well, kind of. A few months before my boss was relieved of her duties, management had brought in another business partner. And even though he wasn’t my direct supervisor, his previous experience in Accounting meant that the leadership team depended heavily on him to make sure things ran smoothly from an Accounting and Finance standpoint. Well, whether it was his need to establish his role with the company, my sensitivity to having some new person tell me how to do things, or a combination of the two, things quickly turned tumultuous. We disagreed on many points. He disliked my approach and I absolutely abhorred his. But with the feeling of giving up in my previous job still fresh in my mind, I dug in my heels and stood my ground. I spoke my mind on decisions about which I was passionate. I fought tooth and nail to institute policies, processes, and systems I thought were important. And when it was all said and done, and I’d felt like I’d proven my value—partly through the battles won and, sometimes, lost—with my “manager”; I asked for more money. Negotiations lasted a couple of months. Amicable concessions were made by both parties. But at the end of it all, I realized it really wasn’t about the money and that it was time for me to go. This stop in my career lasted about two years.

As I’ve mentioned time and time again, our lives are cumulative. Everything that happens to us leaves an imprint on our lives that will forever alter who we become. When I look back at my first two jobs out of college, I realize that I learned a lot. I know now that I probably left the first one too early; and that I probably left the second one too late.

But more importantly, these lessons have confirmed three things that I’ve come to strongly believe. First, I’ve learned that situations are not inherently good or bad. With every moment, every outcome, every event in our lives, we have an opportunity—a choice, really—to filter it in a way that is beneficial. What we learn as we get older is that all of those things that happened to us, even the bad ones, have helped shape who we are. The trick is realizing that truth, as difficult as it may be, while you are in the moment—not years later. Secondly, this thing we call life is a series of calibrations. Just like with a boat at sea, you can and will never be able to take your hands off of the many gadgets that keep it going in the direction you want. The wind and the waves of life will always force you to change something to keep you going “straight”. Acceptance of that fact, allowing yourself to make mistakes, and forgiving yourself when you do; is critical to not only success, but having peace at mind. And that leads me to the last thing these lessons have taught me. We are always hearing things like “listen to your gut” and “follow your heart” or that your “soul will tell you what to do”. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, and I do, in fact, subscribe to the belief that every answer we need is inside of us. But I also understand that sometimes our hearts, guts, and souls speak a slightly different language than do our minds and that the translation is not always perfect. Translation: we don’t always quite understand what our hearts and guts are telling us. But that’s okay (See Lesson 2); it’s not necessarily a bad thing if we’re a tad bit wrong (See Lesson 1).

Ultimately, I don’t know what my friend will, or even should, do. I hope, though, that a quick view into two of my life experiences can and will help shed some light. And if it does, than the time spent writing this post is time more than well spent.

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

3 Responses to A friend’s role as storyteller

  1. Kristen says:

    Profound Bobby….to say the least! I LOVE LOVE this story. It makes me reflect!!! Love you guys!!! xoxo

  2. Bobby,
    I’ve been traveling for several weeks and just catching up on all my fave blogs/sites. This story is fabulous! Thank you for sharing and Horrible Bosses was a hilarious movie! I’m finally back on track here at home and hope to catch up soon…

    • bbluford says:

      Thanks, Julie. Good to have you back and I completely understand. I am actually trying to take my own advice (see post on the importance of recovery) and took my family to Hawaii 🙂

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