At times I feel that the more I interact with people, the less I understand them. Especially when they behave poorly. Or perhaps it’s just that my hope that people will act with honesty and integrity supersedes any other considerations. That too may be an oversimplification though, for honesty to others requires honesty to oneself first. Of what do I write? Of insecurity, that insidious state of being that sabotages one’s thoughts and actions and in turn perplexes others. Let me clarify with a few examples.
It has happened more than a few times that in my work I have encountered a supervisor or a manager who did not possess the qualifications I do. However, in all of those situations I always went into the arrangement with the attitude that this person must be more skilled than me overall, for him or her to have earned the managerial designation. And so, with that perspective informing my behavior, I opened myself to being tutored and guided.
In many instances, I found myself at the receiving end of a nearly continuous stream of unconstructive criticism from the supervisor. At first, I would try harder to improve the quality of my work. That wasn’t enough. Then I would put in more hours than necessary to refine my work. That wasn’t sufficient either. I would try different permutations of the trying harder and working longer. Even that didn’t meet the supervisor’s standards. And so the next stage was to begin doubting my own abilities, gingerly at first, but then more vehemently as the criticisms kept coming.
There were times when my self-confidence became so eroded that my heart would literally palpitate at the start of every workday. My blood pressure would rise, my throat would become dry. And I would simply sit there, feeling so inept that I wouldn’t even attempt to do the work assigned to me. And that is the moment in which I would turn to my colleagues to ask them if they had any advice on how I could improve.
“It’s not you,” one of my colleagues told me once. “It’s David. He couldn’t do that project he asked you to do in 10 hours in three times as much time.”
“Really?” I asked perplexed. “But then why is he so harsh all the time? Why does he never say anything positive about my work?”
“He’s afraid of you.”
“Afraid of me?” I began laughing. “You’re joking. Why would he be afraid of me?”
“He’s afraid that you’re going to take his job.”
“But that’s absurd! He has ten years more experience than I do.”
“The guy is just insecure. And he takes it out on everyone else.”
And there it is: insecurity. This nagging voice in people’s heads telling them that they’re not good enough, that they won’t be able to do it. There are at least two ways to react to this nagging voice. The first is to simply admit that perhaps one doesn’t know something and then be prepared to learn it with humility. The second is to conceal one’s inability, or unwillingness to learn, with arrogance and lashing out at others. It seems that many people choose the second option. Why, I don’t understand, when there is so much pain and frustration associated with that choice.