What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

“Opposition is a natural part of life. Just as we develop our physical muscles through overcoming opposition – such as lifting weights – we develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.”
~Stephen R. Covey

Several years ago, I made the stupidest career move in my life.  I took a promotion.

I accepted the position for what I thought were the right reasons.  The pay was higher.  The position involved more responsibility.  The area was struggling, and I believed I could fix it.  It looked like a good career move.

In fact, right after I accepted the position, I was visited by a member of administrative leadership, let’s call her Samantha.  She told me how excited leadership was that I would be joining that division.  Leadership truly believed I would be the person to turn around the division, and if there was anything I needed, all I had to do was ask.

My new division chair took me to lunch, and told me how happy he was that I was joining his team.  He asked me about my ideas for helping move them forward.  He told me my ideas sounded great, and that I had his support.  He also said if I needed anything, he would be there to help me.

Three days later, that same gentleman introduced me to his division.  “Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce Scott.  He’s here to fix all the issues we’ve been experiencing.  Take it away, Scott.”  The division was less than receptive.  I didn’t blame them.

Less than a week later, I was invited to meet with Samantha.  She asked me how things were going.  When I told her it wasn’t going as well as I’d hoped, she asked why.  As I explained the situation, she told me she wanted to meet with me regularly and provide her status reports regarding how things were going.  I agreed.   At the end of the meeting, she reiterated that leadership believed in me and if I needed help all I needed to do was ask.

The day after my meeting with Samantha my division chair came to my office and sat down in one of my visitor chairs.  Without any introduction, he said, “I heard you visited with Samantha.”

“Sure,” I said, “she wanted to know how my new job was going.”

He leaned in close.  “If you would like to succeed in this division, you will never meet with her again unless it is with my permission.  I would recommend you contact her today and cancel any other meetings you might have scheduled.”

Then he got up and left.  The whole interaction took thirty seconds.

I was stunned, but I did what he told me.  That day, I made some excuses about project work and canceled my next meeting with Samantha.  A week later, I did the same.  On the third week, I ran into Samantha in the hall.  She was a bit angry with me and asked why I had canceled twice.  I told her about the run-in with my division chair, and asked her for help and advice. She shrugged her shoulders and told me he was my supervisor and if my career was to move forward it would be in my best interest to listen to him.  Then she walked away.

There next few months were very painful.  Quite frankly, I got slapped around quite a bit.  And, I never did receive any of the support leadership had promised me.  I had been abandoned.

That wasn’t the bad part.  The bad part was that I quit.  Not the job–I still came to work and collected my paycheck–but I stopped trying.  Once I realized I was in a bad situation, I fully disengaged and joined the ranks of those that have ROTJ (retired on the job).  It has taken me years to turn my attitude (and career) around.  To be quite frank, I am not certain my career has completely recovered.

The situation was ugly.  It was unfair.  I wish things had gone differently, but I did learn several very valuable lessons.

First, before you accept a new position, make certain the job, by itself, is something you want and that you will fit into the team.   The sparkle of additional money, responsibility, and prestige last for a relatively brief time.  After that, the only things left are the people and the work.  If you aren’t excited about them, you’re going to be unhappy.

Second, if you are being sent to fix a problem, before you accept, make as certain as you can you have the authority to make the necessary changes.  If you are sent in as “second or third in command” make certain it is at the invitation of the first in command.  Never accept a position where you are being pitted against someone that will be your boss.  You might succeed, but it will be ugly and will likely damage your career.

Third, never give up.  I played the victim.  “Poor me, I was abandoned.”  It killed me.  Don’t do it.  Keep trying to succeed no matter what.  Get a mentor. Get a coach.  Find a disinterested sponsor.  If you cannot make things better then exit as gracefully as you can.  Just never, (let me repeat) NEVER give up and play dead.  Honestly trying and failing is much better than marking time and collecting a paycheck–especially if you ever hope to move your career forward within your organization.

Knowing what I know now, I would have made different choices.  However, I can say that the lessons I learned were very valuable and kept me from making even bigger mistakes later.  What doesn’t kill you does indeed make you stronger.

Image Credit: http://pinkvisions.wordpress.com/tag/adversity/
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