The Measure of Character

You were hired by your company with great fanfare, straight out of college.

Expectations were otherworldly when you arrived at your new job. There were detractors, though – not everyone thought you were the best choice for the job.

You did your homework and your research. You worked late nights and early mornings. You were a team builder and a leader. Your bosses, bumbling managers all, destroyed the personnel infrastructure around you, continually hiring subpar subordinates.

You kept going. You stayed focused. You worked as hard as you could. It was becoming apparent you were a underachiever. You did not possess superstar talents in your field, but you had the unqualified support of the company’s owners. They believed in you. They had your back.

5 years passed. The company was not performing . The media and your company’s customers were clamoring for a change. The criticism was withering.

You married a beautiful young woman and took care of your relationship, nurturing your partner in spite of your work schedule and responsibilities

You remained silent, mostly. When you did speak in front of a microphone, you were positive. You never criticized your bosses’ blunders. You never responded to the shots you were taking on Twitter. You kept a smile on your face.

In your sixth year, however, something changed. The company hired a new boss, also with great fanfare and lofty expectations.

The company suddenly turned things around. You experienced a rebirth of sorts. There was a new culture in the company, and they had finally hired some capable talent to support you. In year six you brought out your best performance with the company, and you were praised for it – but not universally. You had enemies. You had critics.

You had recognized the truth by now – there were others in your industry who are more talented than you. By all measurements of performance, you were good…you were okay…but you were not great. You accepted this fact. You worked as hard as you could, you stayed on course.

Your young wife gave birth to your first child. You were with her to witness it.

You never blamed anyone else for your setbacks. You always carried the weight of leadership. You were accountable. The company had one of its most successful years in a long time. You were given some credit for the turnaround – you and your fabulous, driven new boss.

But then something happened. Your boss turned on you. He interviewed a superstar candidate for your job!

The media went crazy with speculation. You remained silent. You didn’t rip anyone on Twitter. You stayed away from live microphones. You laid as low as you could. You were temporarily seduced by a rival company, and you rightly considered their overture, for a short time. After all, your boss was wooing a famous big shot right under your nose. What are you supposed to do?

The company ultimately passed on the candidate, for reasons you’ll never know. They brought you back into the fold, back to the “family”.

You forgave, but you didn’t forget.

You kept working, kept toiling, and kept moving forward.

You did something really cool. You wore the logo of another (non-competitive) company at a public event and were willing to represent them as a supporter. Your industry frowned on your behavior, and even threatened to punish you monetarily for sporting that other company’s logo. You said you didn’t care.

Then you had to conquer a new challenge – you needed to be away from work for a short period to deal with a health issue. While you were away, your boss promoted a man to your department, in your position.

Did you spout anger on Twitter or in the media? No.

This new employee was savvy and flashy – many of the traits you didn’t have. The media fell in love with your rival instantly. So did your company’s customers.

Controversy was ignited. When you returned to work after your rehabilitation, the flashy young man was sitting in your office, sitting at your desk!

You were ready to work, but they didn’t want you – at least it seemed that way. Your boss said neutral things about you to reporters, but the fact remained that the new guy was on the rise.

You stayed within yourself. You comported yourself with grace (at least in the public eye) and maturity. You showed up at work, demoted and dejected, but you put on a good face. You represented your workplace with dignity.

You focused on your wife and child. You stayed close with your inner circle of friends. You, this fierce competitor, competent but not exceptional, had every reason to whine.

Whining would have been expected; it’s what many of your contemporaries did in similar situations.  But you chose not to do that.

You were secure. You knew who you were. You had made your family and friends your priority. You recognized that the young rival your company chose was probably representing the future, and although you didn’t love the notion, you were able to deal with it with class.

You were appreciative of the huge sum of money you have made over the years. You didn’t take anything for granted. You knew the job you held for these past 7 years was a rare one, a job that few people will ever get to experience.

You understand that another company may try to lure you away. You are not exceptional, but you are more accomplished than some of your colleagues in your field, and your promotion will be an upgrade for a company who has a lesser talent in your field of expertise.

You are Alex Smith, pro football quarterback, San Francisco Forty Niners.

I don’t know how you behave when no one is looking, but as a professional, I’m in awe of how in control of your world you are.

You are a case study in exceptional character, and I’m a big fan of yours.

John Scott is a media instructor, national online education coordinator and the career services manager at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels individuals and groups in the art of reinvention. John’s debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be available during the holiday season. 

Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.

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