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Everybody Plays the Fool

It seems like “the year that must not be named” brought with it plenty of role changes and career transitions. Whether it was due to certain statewide pandemic mandates and their impact on businesses or due to the inability of an organization to pivot into other types of product or service delivery or just a desire for change, many people have transitioned to a new role over the past year. And a deliberate theme I have heard often in these transitions – “I had enough.”

Hearkening back some years, I can recall being in a role where my amenable disposition was leveraged to keep systemic broken process relationships in place. Conflict simmered throughout the organization and it was my job to help fix all the issues. Knowing that I would want to do an exceptional job, the CEO continued to put me into positions of “coaching” with staff members to get them to feel better about the work they needed to do and the people involved in getting it done. This CEO didn’t specify this as the plan, but as the months and years progressed, it all came to me one night with such clarity that I was dumbstruck as to how I could have missed it for so long. As such, I reached the “I had enough” threshold fairly quickly and transitioned to a new organization.

In The Fighter, Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) realizes that his boxing career has been stunted by his family. His brother and mother are his trainer and manager respectively, and they have worked Micky over more than any of his boxing competitors. They have had him fight out of his division (get pummeled rather than fight, more like it) and sacrifice his future for their desires. Micky wakes up to the reality through his new girlfriend’s help. He breaks from his family’s dysfunctional influence in order to do his best work in the ring.

And that’s what each of us must get to. OK, fine, you’ve been a fool in the past. Maybe you’re a fool now. But you can stop. If the “professional” environment has you playing a role that you did not sign up for, then it may be time for a change.

Flippant as these words may seem, there is only one chance you get to live the life you have. Listening to the pained stories of the past year where highly seasoned professionals “woke up” to see their organization’s misaligned values and toxic culture was sad. It’s not as if these professionals were impaired from seeing it sooner, but often the desire to perform work well blinded them from some of the signs. Many of you are fixers. You want your work to be more than mere tasks, but also, about transforming organizations. There are times you are able to do that. There are times it’s the right thing to do. And there are times enough is enough.

And don’t worry about what others may say. They don’t know what you’ve been experiencing. You know the path you’ve had to travel and the circumstances surrounding it. So what if some people on Facebook “talk” about your seemingly odd decision? Social Media is distracting plenty of people from facing their own “enough” thresholds. It’s much easier to judge others from a distance than to deal with the miles you’ve been walking and take action.

Who are those you could turn to and talk out what’s going on at your company? Where are those business guides in your life? Do you know what to look for?

Finding yourself playing the fool is not a crime. Once you realize it, you may need to forgive yourself. You may be tempted towards depression over how foolish you’ve been or towards disbelief as to how you could have missed it for so long. Offer yourself reprieve. You now know better and that makes today the start of a new approach, a new direction or a completely new chapter. Put those gloves back on and get into the ring on your terms. There is still fight left in you. It just needs to be focused in a better direction. You may be down, the ref may be at 6 in a 10-count, but you can get up and get out of that fight. Find the championship role for you.

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