A while ago, I posted about the Art of Underachievement, where I introduced a character called Mr Motivation, a conglomeration of a few people I have met in many years of suffering the ups and downs of corporate life in the seemingly inexorable rat race.
Mr Motivation is an arrogant man (or woman) who is so driven by the lust for money, achievement, material goods and power that he sacrifices everything, including his soul, and thinks that every other person should do the same. To him, I am an underperforming imbecile who simply must be unhappy, bored and depressed in my pointless dreary underachieving life even though I have found a niche in my career that I am relatively happy with. In other words I have found, for me, an almost perfect balance between work and life with benefits that make me comfortable and happy.
Mr Motivation considers me to be a loser and himself a winner.
And now Mr Motivation has struck again – and he has made me annoyed.
I have a thick skin and can deal with people like this. I give as good as I get and remain totally and utterly unimpressed with their so-called achievements. I don’t care whether they have a huge house and top of the range cars. The fact that their salary is bigger than mine is irrelevant.
In short, the only person who cares about Mr Motivation and his life is Mr Motivation.
However, this time he has gone too far and raised doubts in the mind of Mrs PM.
Mrs PM and I both do a similar kind of job (it’s how we met). We are both good at our jobs and Mrs PM is particularly happy in her chosen career – certainly happier than I am in mine. She is at a level where she can cope with the demands of the job and takes pleasure in her achievements.
She is not a high flyer who wants to dominate her chosen career, working relentlessly to climb up the ladder, achieve goal after goal, winning the rat race as a high flying manager in charge of hundreds of people; she just wants contentment and enough to be comfortable – just like me.
Last year, Mrs PM went to a university reunion and ended up in conversation with an acolyte of Mr Motivation. He simply said to her:
In other words, why are you stuck in a rut with no ambition to better yourself?
In other words, she was subjected to a typical quotation from the bible of Mr Motivation.
I have had discussions with people like this before; Mrs PM rarely considers this and these ill-chosen words pushed several buttons - mostly the button labelled SELF DOUBT.
Mrs PM is a very clever woman – far more intelligent than I am. She excelled at university and so far had been successful at whatever she has turned her hand to in her career.
Mr Motivation’s acolyte is a typical example of the kind of person who thinks:
“If you’re not earning megabucks or haven’t climbed high up on the corporate ladder then you are an abject failure. If you don’t work really hard to achieve world domination then you may as well be an amoeba.”
Mrs PM opened her heart to me and we had a chat about it. I had to stop myself from saying:
“He’s a complete arsehole”
I didn’t want to make her think that she really is a failure. She isn’t. She is far from it.
I just tried to give her some perspective.
First of all, Mrs PM earns a pretty good salary. Like me, the demands on her time can be quite high at times but mostly her position gives her an opportunity to balance life and work evenly. Her work, while it can sometimes be demanding does not take over her life.
Furthermore, unlike the motivational acolyte, she is in a happy relationship and has enough time to pursue other goals in life. I tried to emphasise the differences between the motivational acolyte and herself and made her realise that she is fact happier than he is.
I’ve met this guy before and I will again. And when I do, I will have a chat with him. I will point out to him that while money and career power are the most important driving for motivational acolytes, not everybody wants to reach the top of the tree. Some of us are happy where we are. I’ve had this conversation many times before.
I have to tell you the story of one person in particular I used to work with. I’ll call him Dirk (not his real name).
I met Dirk at a company social event. At the time I didn’t work with him but we actually got on well enough to become friends. A year later, fate intervened and we ended up in the same department and as I started working with him, I realised that he was a highly intelligent guy – but also very ambitious.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. However, his desire to climb the corporate ladder soon began to take over. He was more driven by promotions than his enjoyment of the job. And it worked. He was promoted.
Before I go on, let me just reinforce the fact that I don’t mind ambitious people. There are people I work with who have climbed up and up yet remained friendly decent people who I am proud to call friends and still get on really well with.
Dirk was different. Dirk relished his responsibility and began to work longer and longer hours, pushing his team to do the same, unnecessarily so in my opinion. As he climbed, he changed. He started looking down on people like me and often came out with quips, in meetings, like:
“This is exactly why you won’t be a manager, Dave.”
However, it was soon evident that his ambition did not match his ability. He was a classic example of the Peter Principle – a person who is promoted beyond his level of competence.
He had no clue how to manage people.
And it got worse. He rose to be a pretty powerful manager – but not a good manager.
One Christmas, on my last day of the year, we were all out on the annual pub crawl. He marched up to me and said in front of others, “I was so close to cancelling your holiday and sending you to Singapore.”
“Merry pharking Christmas, Dirk,” I said before walking away.
In the end, he was found out. Redundancy struck and he ended up on the list.
A couple of years later, he reappeared at the company as a mere project manager – a significant step down. Sadly for him, the Peter Principle still applied – he ended up being made redundant a second time.
I haven’t seen him since.
One thing I know is that I feel sorry for Dirk. I would still buy him a beer but I would chat to him about how his career fluctuated and failed. I would ask him whether he should have stayed at the level he was good at. I think I might still be working with him today if he had.
Yet somehow I imagine he will still be clinging onto the dream of ruling the world and working his fingers to the bone to do so – while looking at people like me and calling me a failure.
Thankfully, Mrs PM is happier now, content in the knowledge that she is brilliant at a job she really loves.
That, to me, is an achievement. I'm proud of her.