Updated: Dec 6, 2019
By: David Warden
A few years ago, I was in a meeting with a vendor of support services. This vendor provided critical equipment that my business relied heavily on. The equipment was prone to frequent breakdowns and was causing me regular anxiety due to missed deadlines and lost clients. To them, equipment breakdowns were to be expected, just part of the business. To me, I was of the opinion that breakdowns shouldn’t happen as frequently, if at all.
I could feel myself getting more and more agitated as I sat there listening to them describe their recovery plan via their support services team. They rambled on about this and that, and made some of those vague apologies where they never actually took ownership of their mistake. All I could think during this time was, “No, this is unacceptable. These things should not happen.” I tried to stay calm, but I could feel my heart beating faster. Finally, I blew my stack.
“Figure out how to get the equipment to work, or come back here with a broom to sweep up the parts after I push it off our loading dock,” I said. My tone wasn’t quite a full red in the face shout, but it wasn’t delivered with a smile either.
The meeting ended with the vendor telling me they would do their best to keep the equipment running.
I shared this story with my brother a couple of weeks later while we were watching a football game. I thought he would commend me for being a tough customer. On the contrary, he looked at me, shook his head and said, “Don’t be that guy.” He told me about a meeting he was in where a senior person, who should have known better, showed the same lack of restraint, and how this response became how he was identified by his co-workers. I nodded my head in agreement. I’d seen plenty of those guys throughout my professional career. Managers who used this emotional, bullying approach in their interactions. But what I had lost sight of was the fact that I used to remember their outbursts as unacceptable and silly. I realized in that moment, sitting there in my brother’s living room, that I had done the exact same thing to that equipment vendor and—if my brother hadn’t checked me—I would ultimately suffer from more of these overly emotional responses to common business challenges.
In our careers, we interact with coworkers of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, ages, and personality types. Some coworkers we take a liking to, and some we have difficulty working with for any number of reasons; cultural, age difference, and professional background. During those times when we are having difficulty productively collaborating with a colleague, we sometimes ask ourselves how that person got angry and frustrated; what caused them to become so difficult? Did they have an event in their work history that caused them to become bitter and angry? Are they naturally like this? Or did they just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, maybe ate a bad hamburger for lunch?
The demands of today’s business climate require that we must always focus on achieving positive results. At times, we find ourselves unable to accomplish positive results due to difficulty in teaming with colleagues. It is not uncommon for the reputation of the difficult colleague to precede them throughout the company. In many cases, this difficult colleague was once the career-minded middle-aged worker who now finds themselves in a professional rut.
The first elements of the eventual rut are cut into the path early and grow deeper as the career progresses. It all leads to a high level of frustration and disillusionment.
Organizations are paying a steep price for having such disenchanted employees in the form of harassment lawsuits, employee turnover, poor quality, and other drains on the bottom line. It behooves both the individual and the organization to constantly strive for a better focus and a more positive outlook.
The message of this book is to stress the need to identify the root causes of the “professional rut” and look at ways to fill in the ruts early and stay on a productive path throughout one’s career. The book will show three individuals at three different career points:
Early career: Typically a recent college graduate, relatively new to the full-time working world. The early career worker is oblivious to the stress of a job, at least so far. Blissfully ignorant, coasting through life and as yet unaffected from years of the work grind. Becoming comfortable interacting with coworkers of more varied demographics than they had in college. Observing more senior workers and their approach to the working world. Making subjective judgments on the approach of the older, more mature workers.
Mid-career – Exposed to more of the stress level that the older worker talks about. Shows the signs of many years on the career treadmill. Family/personal issues are more frequent and often more serious. Frustrations rise. The mid-career worker often questions his career direction and believes other skills are more in demand than his specific specialty.
Late career - Anger and frustration begin to manifest themselves. Dissatisfaction with career choice and career progression. Negative outlook is noticed by coworkers.
The issue of career progression is complex, especially from the standpoint of those of us who have progressed to a point where we can look back and reflect. From the time a young professional begins their career to the later more senior stages, a professional passes a number of career mileposts. While the career fortifies the professional with experience that enables them to progress and assume more complex responsibilities and collect more rewards, a significant amount of “mental clutter” also accumulates. If this mental clutter is not acknowledged and an effort made to rid oneself of that clutter, the professional will ultimately be rendered much less effective, and the organization employing them will lose out on much of the expertise that this person has to offer. “Don’t Be That Guy” is the story of professionals at three different career stages, and how their life experiences shape their “career personality.” I hope this book allows you as the reader an opportunity to recognize yourself—or parts of yourself—in one of the three characters and then ultimately take steps to prevent yourself from getting stuck in the ruts that so many professionals find themselves in.
One that I found myself in.