I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!
As the Jefferson Airplane once wisely said: “Life is change.”
Something disturbing happened to me last week. My lovely wife Donna and I booked a flight from San Francisco to New York to visit family and friends. We were scheduled to arrive at Newark Airport on a Tuesday evening. Not wanting to drive into Manhattan during rush-hour, we thought about our options: hotel, Air BnB, maybe just grab dinner and get into the city after the traffic subsided. I remembered that I had some friends who lived in New Jersey, not too far from the airport. One of them even lived a few blocks from the beach!
The first person I thought of was my old high school friend (Let’s call him “Ignacio”). We were best friends since we were fifteen, and stayed in touch ever since. He got married, had twins (now on their own), got divorced and remarried. I called Ignacio and he was, as always, glad to hear from me. I asked him if my wife and I could spend one night at their place ( 12-15 hours at most); it would give us a chance to meet his (relatively) new wife and catch up on life. As soon as I finished asking, he said “NO, NONONONO.” I said “Oh.” He explained that his wife hates houseguests and, anyway, the house is a mess. He had worked for Deutsche Bank for many years and asked me if I had been following the news. I knew that DB was laying off around 18,000 people; I didn’t know that one of those people would be Ignacio. When he told me, I expressed my sorrow and asked him what was next. He said he was enjoying “retirement” and was travelling a lot with his wife. When I asked if he was going to seek more work, he said that, at this juncture in life, it was probably a good time to step away from the work world (I figured he was OK financially).
What’s real? The theory of Occam’s Razor states that the simplest and most obvious solution to any problem/issue/obstacle is likely the correct one. So, the theory would posit that Ignacio was living with a wife who hated house guests, and anyway, it would be a bit much to get the house in order. Maybe he felt a bit awkward being laid off after so many good years. I wasn’t going to let this get in the way of our 43-year friendship, so I told him that I would be around for about a week and if he had some time, I’d love to see him.
The next person I thought of was my friend (let’s call him “Slim”). I’ve known Slim for about 20 years. We met when he was managing a small executive search firm. We hit it off. He was in the process of leaving his job for a managerial role in a newly formed search firm, and he promised to bring me along, which he did. Long story short, he played drums and I played guitar, so we periodically got together at his house and jammed in the basement with two of his friends. This went on for a few years. Slim got divorced and moved to a place on the Jersey Shore. We stayed in touch even after I relocated out West.
I reached out, leaving a message on his cellphone. No response. I emailed. No response. I left a message on his work phone and sent a LinkedIn note. Nothing. Finally, I contacted one of the guys in “the band” (let’s call him “Shorty”) to find out if Slim was OK. The response I received knocked me out! Shorty wrote “Maybe Slim doesn’t feel like responding to your self-serving desire to invite yourself over.” WOW. Cold. Now, let me say that Shorty and I probably spent a total of no more than 150 hours together, over the few years that we made music. We were not exactly bosom buddies, but we always got along like gangbusters. So I responded (wanting to make the best of it and hoping Shorty was just trying to be funny) “Yuk yuk. I would do the same (let you stay at my place) for Slim, and even for YOU!” Shorty writes back “Slim is alive. He hasn’t brought you up in years.” Once again, WOW. I thought, after all these years, that Shorty would be happy to hear from me, but NO, apparently. It couldn’t have been anything I said or did, because there had been no contact for years, and we weren’t really close enough for him to feel slighted because I hadn’t stayed in touch. Obviously, something had changed.
EITHER TELL ME WHAT’S BUGGING YOU OR GET OUT OF MY WAY
QUANTUM PHYSICS ALERT! While it may seem that things are static (even boring, sometimes), the reality is that nothing ever stays the same. Even in “stale” marriages, both parties are going through changes that they might or might not be aware of. Our bodies and brains are ever-evolving. Our relationships are in constant flux. A good friend goes through a life-changing event that disrupts the (what seems like) long-standing connection between us. It may have nothing at all to do with ME. (EGO ALERT: You mean not everything is about me?)
Oh, the passive aggression in the world! I know honesty can be hard to dish out, but I’m a grown person and I can take it. If you go from bear-hugging me to giving me the cold shoulder, then something changed. If it’s something I said or did, you need to tell me. If something has changed in your life, I’d like to know so I can adjust. If this is just too much for you to handle, then I need to move on. Have a nice life.
DIGRESSION ALERT! My wife and I know a couple that we have been very close with, whose partner had been unemployed for some time. This gave the four of us lots of time to spend together; barbecuing, going to shows, etc. Then the partner found a full-time job and, lo and behold, he just didn’t feel like going out at night anymore. We don’t see them as much as we used to; that’s just the natural, changing nature of life.
CONUNDRUM? THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SOCIAL AND WORK INTERACTION
We can walk away from just about any social interaction at any time. If a good friend goes bonkers and we can’t be of any assistance, we can end the relationship. Not so at work. We are “stuck” with our colleagues whether we like it or not. If one of our colleagues (possibly our boss) goes bonkers, we cannot just walk away. We have to deal with it like an office sitcom.
ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES!
If we recognize the ever-changing nature of life, we can equip ourselves with the tools to handle it. Relationships DO change all the time. WE change all the time. Perhaps our relationships are changing because WE are also changing. If we don’t go with it, it will inhibit and possibly kill us (at least emotionally, if not physically).
We cannot go back in time. We cannot change the past. We can perceive the future and possibly plan for the contingencies ahead. What we CAN do is live in the present moment. I don’t know what happened to my (former?) friend Slim, but I know I can’t control it. I don’t want to obsess over it; life is short and I’m not getting any younger. I guess I just have to let ol’ Slim go his own way (cue prairie music). I hope he’s happy and I wish him well.
We all encounter difficult, abrasive people at work and in life. It’s a fact. There will always be one person in the office that will make your life harder than it should be. My experience tells me that if you just focus on your tasks and yak it up with those office-mates that enjoy your company, you will be fine. In life, we will always make new friends and lose some old ones.
Roll with the punches.
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David L. Reitman, Esq.