Several years ago, perhaps more years than I care to actually count, I worked at a marketing agency with a man. Several, really, but one in particular. Nice guy, was dating a dancer who was part of the crew of So You Think You Can Dance. He’d had some trouble earlier in his life and was picking up the pieces with what seemed like a job that was kind of beneath him. I could have learned a lot from him if he had cared enough to be a mentor or if I had been a little more engaged. He left after a year, more or less.
I ran into him again about six months ago in North Sydney, because eventually everyone working in North Sydney runs into each other on Miller Street or in the Greenwood. He told me I am a people person.
I had worked with another man - quelle surprise - at the same place. One day, after a couple of years, he vanished. Just never came back to work. The boss asked me if I had heard from him and at that point I hadn’t really even noticed he wasn’t there. Turned out he had been doing ice for the past couple months with another human, also working at that agency. I didn’t find this out until much later after he reconnected. I don’t fully know what actually transpired; maybe his wife found out, maybe he just checked himself. But he never came back to work at that job and so far as I know never officially resigned. I don’t recall if the leadership of the company ever managed to reach him. The man who called me a people person was hired to replace the man who just never came back.1
The human he was taking ice with? He was not an ok guy or a nice guy. He was, in fact, an arsehole. I don’t know what happened to him. Might have quit, might have got the sack.
The man who vanished was working on a product for this agency we both worked for. It was a big dream of the company’s leadership, this product. Or rather it was the big dream of some men that the company’s leadership met one day, agreed to do business with, fell out with, and unashamedly stole the big idea from. There were lawsuits. The company I work for now would be all over this product, and to some extent are, but in 2004-ish2 it was right on the ragged edge of doable with the kind of technology and resources at the fingertips of a small digital agency in North Sydney constantly on the precipice of no longer being a digital agency of any size anywhere. Which is why they were all for it. It was software as a service back that was merely a thing rather than a Thing. If they could have got it going it would have fueled the true big dream of all agencies, revenue-to-expenditure growth mapped by an exponential function.
They didn’t have the revenue to fund the development. It wasn’t really going anywhere because of the lack of investment but they had to have something to justify their rank theft. They had to beat the idea’s originators to market. So they applied pressure on my friend to perform a feat that was beyond a single person at that time. Cracks began to appear: he loathed the people directing the work; he was frustrated with his peers; ice. Then he bailed. I was a little hurt at the disappearance. With hindsight I completely understand, and if I dwell on it too long and am filled with empathy and a little shame3.
It was vastly unfair what happened to him. But that’s what employers do. Because they don’t care about you. What are you gonna do?
Escaping is a logical outcome of the pressure and one that you should choose. I have chosen it before and am awfully tempted to do so again. Not disappearing though; disappearing is an extreme expression and one that while I find emotionally soothing to ponder in the abstract, would find emotionally searing to ponder after the implementation.4 Leaving that kind of situation behind by gracefully exiting with notice is the act of a rational human. You have to ask yourself, just what are you getting out of the relationship. Yes, you’re getting paid. Just getting paid is fine when you’re a kid. When you grow up, you need more.
Your employer will never willing give up more. You have to take it. You have to treat them like you might a demon you have summoned up from hell. You have to bind it and then extract a bargain for which you must offer something in return for what you want. So make sure what you get is worth what you’re offering. Don’t over-commit in return for a pittance. Because your employers don’t care about you. No, not even in your hip little company where there’s only two layers, the boss and everyone else, and you’re going round to his place for dinner on Saturday night and even if she’s your mum. When the ROI from you dwindles and ceases you will be put onto the ice floe. Your boss is a servant of a legal construct designed to limit the liability of its directorial body while feeding from society. Banks are not the only vampire squid5 and your manager is Renfield.
Me, I’ve got some of those symptoms I mentioned earlier, except for the ice, mum. To a lesser degree. I’ll never win awards where I work because I suffer fools poorly. I’m not brimming over with respect for the management team. I can be very snippy with peers if I don’t make an effort to chill.
I’m where I am still because of the possibilities it offers: working at scale; riding the leading edge of new mediums; thought leadership on something big. Those possibility ebbs and flows in my perception day to day as I observe the flailing attempts of the inept cowards executing the company6. I think the best you can hope for is being proud that the thing being exchanged is valued by the victims, and even then, you really should value it as well.
I help provide companies send SMS notifications to you when your commercial exchange is about to get to the point of personal interactivity. Your taxi is almost there, you’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow. On the other hand, I also help attention leeches send you SMSs you didn’t want.7
Anyway, the guy who I ran into several months ago, he told me “You’re a people person.”
My neighbour across the street, who I’ve never actually met but was the recipient of a gen-u-wine knitted cap from D for her 2-months-premature daughter, she smiled and waved at me over the weekend while backing her car out of the driveway. I had to ask D what our neighbour’s name is, and you know what…..I have forgotten again. People Person of the Year right here.
And seriously, fuck that human who gave my friend the ice. Hope he’s miserable.
1. Turned out okay. Runs his own company now. Great guy.↩
2. Shit! I counted it. sigh↩
3. For having bailed on him, both in terms of the project and as a friend.↩
4. I would be ashamed to leave friends to pick up the pieces. I’ve been the left behind. It sucks.↩
5. Just the ones who have the fewest shits to give about everyone knowing it↩
6. What’s the opposite of ‘brimming over’?↩
HILARIOUS PRANK: USE MILLIONS OF YEARS OF EVOLUTION TO SWELL AN APE'S BRAIN UTIL ITS CAPABLE OF FEELING DISAPPOINTED IN ITSELF— gregory erskine (@cat_beltane) October 22, 2012