When I was about 10 years old, my father said, “one of these days, your sharp tongue will get you into trouble”.  I wanted to find out more about what he meant, or perhaps I saw an opportunity to lock horns with the family alpha male, so I asked “what, you want me to be less honest?”.  The conversation descended into an argument, and I was dismissed to another part of the house to reflect on my bad attitude.  I don’t know about my father but, at the time, I did not appreciate the simple fact that my sharp tongue proved his point about getting myself into trouble within minutes of his original warning.

My father was partly right in his observation.  I did not get myself into trouble on just ‘one of these days’; I did it with a frequency that could be labelled as ‘reliably regular’ which over the years accumulated into hundreds, if not thousands, of occasions.  I did not choose to take this particular route in life, my factory setting was wired that way.  I am still searching for my manufacturer’s warranty to claim compensation.

Let me digress for a minute and tell you this short story.  If you have been reading ALL my blogs, which I very much doubt, then you might remember a specific blog I wrote way back in August 2018.  The blog title was ‘Frogs’ Business School’.  Here is the short story I related in that piece:

“A frog is swimming downstream of a river when it is beckoned over to the riverbank by a scorpion. Aware of the deadly habits of the waiting arachnid, the frog swims towards the bank, keeping a safe distance from his caller, and asks the scorpion what it wants.  The scorpion asks for a ride on the frog’s back to the other side of the river.  The frog is naturally reluctant to do as requested because it is fearful the scorpion may have evil plans on its mind.  The scorpion argues that it would be foolish to cause the frog any harm because by poisoning the frog it guarantees its own death by drowning shortly after.  The frog finds the logic of the scorpion’s argument persuasive so, it invites the scorpion to jump on its back.  As the frog makes its way to the other side, the scorpion strikes!  As the poison begins to work its deadly magic, the frog mustered enough energy to ask the scorpion why it acted so foolishly and brought about their certain deaths.  The scorpion nonchalantly shrugs its shoulders and says: I couldn’t help myself, that’s my nature.”

As I grew older and more experienced, I became more discerning by assessing situations before deciding whether to call on my sharp tongue to go into action.  However, whilst I became more adept at the skill of ‘reading the room’, I left a myself a wide margin of flexibility to ignore the mood of the room and went into battle to correct what I saw to be wrong, stupid, pompous, or downright criminal.  I never saw myself as a superhero who was destined to put the world to rights nevertheless, I felt duty-bound to speak out when I witnessed wrongdoing or cretinous utterances.

Just as my father predicted all those years back, this attitude proved to be a career-limiting indulgence, or got me into social trouble.  Although I never set out to upset anyone, I naively assumed that the truth must be spoken and everyone would eventually appreciate this simple principle.  Far from being appreciated, human nature is such that people harbour resentments and determination to avenge their honour, reputation, or position.  As a result, over the years I cultivated and nurtured a strong base of enemies.

It would be disingenuous of me to say I was unaware of the people I crossed or upset.  I knew what I was doing and appreciated the potential ego bruising I might inflict on them, but I did it anyway.  My naivety was to think that sooner or later, people would come to appreciate there was nothing personal in my full-frontal attack on them.

Over the years, I unwittingly created and populated a gathering of people who considered me to be ‘the enemy’.  The majority of this collection of people were content to harbour resentment and a strong dislike for me and I could tell who they were and why they actively disliked me so.  However, unbeknownst to me, there was a small number of people whom I considered at worst neutral and at best friends; a kind of frenemies, if you will.  They proved to be more potent and damaging to me than the others.

As I look back on my closed down career now, I am staggered by both the size and diversity of the wounded-by-me group.  God, I must have been a right royal pain in the backside for so many people.  I can think of so many opportunities that I missed out on because of what my father called ‘sharp tongue’.  Two standout examples are particularly hurtful; engineered by my frenemies whom I must have upset so badly and, by way of exacting revenge, made sure I missed out on what I would have relished as a career move.

The first opportunity was to be promoted to head a large department at the company headquarters in Maryland, USA.  This meant having to relocate with Claire, who was pregnant at the time, and our two children.  All was set for me to have a final discussion with the Group HR vice president who arranged for a conference call between the two of us and the regional HR director in the UK.  Given that we were 5 hours ahead of the USA, the call was arranged for about 13:30 UK time.  Half an hour before the call, someone in the UK called the Group HR vice president and gave him a chapter-and-verse about my attitude, behaviour, divisive personality, and propensity to cause mayhem.  The VP concluded that smoke signaled certain fire and altered his plans, with me written out of the new scenario.  A couple of years later, I changed jobs and happened to come across the regional HR director who told me what went on behind the scenes on that fateful day.  I also met the Group HR VP who confirmed the story.  To this day, I still don’t know why this colleague made that destructive call as I could not recall a single occasion where I might have wounded him so deeply.

More recently, an international organisation which I was involved with as part of my job, fired the CEO and were looking for a replacement to be based in New York City.  At the board meeting, at least three directors proposed me as a candidate and urged the board to approach me.  After all, I was a known entity, I had worked with a number of individuals on the board and within the ranks of the organisation. I was vetoed by the Chairman of the board because over several years, I unwittingly convinced him to join my ‘enemies club’.  Since then, three board members told me what happened, and I was both flattered and angered by the lost opportunity for a job I would have loved to have taken on.

Do I regret my seemingly patrician attitude all those years? Well, yes to some extent, I do.  But not fully.  What I do regret is the many, many lost opportunities to experience a more fulfilling career and with it, contribute more to the organisations I worked for.  You see, I am the scorpion who could not help itself because it was in its nature to behave the way it did.

I am still looking for the manufacturer’s warranty but, who knows, maybe one of my many detractors might have stolen it out of spite.