Don't Resort to Dancing When Work Relationships Go Sour

When a person gets a huge promotion at a job they love, there is a boost to their ego unrivaled by anything else in life. You feel intoxicated. Blessed. Like winning the lottery, or, even better: finding a massive discrepancy in your checking account. You don't know why you're getting all of this money, but you keep your mouth shut and hope no one notices.

In my case, it meant that I would be co-managing an account with another motivated, confident individual, Sarah. The two of us were promoted at the same time and came in from different accounts. Sarah was the kind of manager I wasn't used to. She was tough as nails yet said so very little that when she did speak, I would hang on to her every word. She was impenetrable to trends and was the first person I knew who admitted having horrible taste in music. I remember how much I looked forward to working with her; how excited I was to pick her brain and share my thoughts and ideas.

She was a very sweet woman initially, probably because I came highly touted from peers. The only problem was, and I didn't realize it until a year later, Sarah thought I was a total douche bag. In fact, she may have only decided to head up this account with me because everybody else thought I was cool. To her, I was a Miley Cyrus record; something of appeal but with little substance that you look down at in line and go, "Why am I buying this?" 

And the worst part was, I was a douche bag. My jokes were terrible. I told stories of outlandish behavior and poor decisions during my collegiate years. I referred to my personal website constantly. I was stubborn and hard-headed.

Gradually, slowly, we began to disagree more and more. We butted heads constantly. Our varied managerial styles clashed seemingly every day. Witty quips would become snarled sarcasms. Constructive feedback became elongated sights and weighty pouts. 

So I hatched a plan: I would ask her to meet me out with friends for drinks and get to know her on a level consisting of things other than reports, staffing requests, and invoices. This, of course, is the curse of the insecure male. We simply cannot accept that there are people out there who won't like us. When we sense that we are not welcomed, we simply can't just be and, more often than not, our methods of survival are the very things that drive others away. 

It's like when you're at a fancy hotel pool and a bunch of girls take their tops off and it's no big deal. Well, I'm the guy running to everyone else, pointing and yelling, "DID YOU SEE THE TOPLESS GIRLS?!! THERE ARE TOPLESS GIRLS BY THE POOL!! C'MON!!!" That's not what secure people do.

My plan failed miserably, mostly because of my stubborn reliance on my terrible jokes, college stories of douche baggery, and constant asking if she had checked out my website yet. What killed me was that this was all working wonders on her friends. But I didn't care about them. So, as a last-ditch effort, I invited them out to go dancing.

(Now, a word about my dancing. It is what I call "mock good." In that, no, it is not good, but I'm so serious about it I've convinced myself that it is good, and others seem to be charmed by that.)

When we got out there, I started moving and everyone began laughing and having fun. Everyone but Sarah, who just stood there, like a bored, unimpressed sculpture.

"Wait, no, you're not getting it," I wanted to say. "See, I'm being ironic. Notice me and appreciate the spectacle I'm making!"

We worked together until July of this year, when I decided to leave my job to focus on my startup company. I told Sarah the exciting news and she showed little reaction, simply wishing me good luck before going back to her Outlook unread messages. It was perfect, really. The one person who never gave me anything, doesn't give it to me one final time. But what did I hope to hear? That I was obnoxious? That I was not invested enough in my work? That I couldn't accept that someone in the office didn't like me?

Sarah made me realize my greatest fear: that someone would see through my tricks. My own personal David Copperfield B.S. I'd honed to make other people think that I was special. I felt stripped of anything valuable I had to offer. And, more than her work ethic, tenacity, and ingenuity, what I wanted most from Sarah was her calmness. Her ability to sit still, stare, and feel numb. Granted, we were invested in an industry that welcomed chaos and, being a recently-inducted entrepreneur, I have come to learn that launching your own startup requires much of the same. I slay dragons every day, or more to the point, I run from them, but I keep moving. Waiting, hoping one day I can rest and breathe easy. I've come to realize that a lot of my close friends are like Sarah in some ways: smart, confident, a tough crowd. They also hate when I need to be the center of attention. The difference is, sometimes I don't listen to them. I walk around every day positive I'm a good dancer.