On the Importance of Self-Preservation
For the longest time, I’ve always thought that people care about me. I’ve always thought my manager would promote me because he cares about my well-being. I’ve always thought that my friends reach out to me because they want to help me.
Turns out none of this is true. There are a few people in your life that will genuinely care about you. You may not recognize it immediately, but eventually you will realize what you really mean to people.
I don’t mean for this to sound like a pity party. Honestly, I can completely understand the feeling. We only ever reach out to people anymore when we need something because the whole world practically works on the culture of quid pro quo. I’m glad that it’s this way. At least we don’t need to pretend anymore.
I learned this first hand when I started my own business. In the beginning, there were a lot of conversations. Everyone had an idea that there was a project we could collaborate on. Eventually, all of this fell away and the number of people who returned my calls became smaller and smaller. I realized that they didn’t have much to say and they were always under the impression that I was reaching out for help. These were the same people who I’d helped when I was in a position of some power. I wasn’t too surprised; I even expected it.
When I was younger, I always thought my manager had my best interests at heart. I mean, I was part of his team, how could he not? And then he would turn around and do something extremely political and it was hurtful. Unbeknownst to me at the time, none of it was about “me”. It was all about him and whatever he could do to get ahead in life.
I grew up in a military family so the values instilled in me were very different. I was taught the importance of principles and valuing your fellow teammates. I was taught all about having each others’ backs and the importance of brothers in arms. I still couldn’t accept that not caring for your team was the right thing to do.
So, when I became a manager, I decided to support my team. Well, guess what? That didn’t work out so well either. My subordinates had learned something about management that I hadn’t. Unlike me, they looked out for themselves and didn’t rely on their manager to have their best interests at heart. As you can imagine, the end result wasn’t all that great. I ended up being stabbed in the back by the same people I tried to protect.
When I entered the corporate world, I had the naive worldview that my merit and hard work would get me to the top. It did, to a certain extent, but I underestimated the importance of nepotism and politics. I spoke up for what I thought was right, and I valued loyalty. Loyalty to my boss, loyalty to the organization I worked for. Turns out, neither my boss nor the organization valued loyalty.
I have since learned that if I’m not going to put myself first, no one will. That’s just the way of the world. You always have to be number one and look out for number one. And you can’t be surprised if your boss turns on you. It’s a challenging world, and when someone’s back is against the wall, you can’t blame them for doing whatever it takes to survive, even if that includes throwing you under the bus. I don’t despise the behavior anymore because I’ve come to understand it, appreciate it even.
Sure, I wouldn’t compromise my ethics and I wouldn’t knowingly harm someone, but that doesn’t mean I won’t protect myself at all costs. Call it survival of the fittest or the law of the jungle; this is basic human nature. Remember the Lord of the Flies or Animal Farm? Simple stories with powerful messages. I just don’t know why I didn’t get the message sooner.