Chapter 2 – BOOT OUT BULLSHIT
I can say with almost certainty that there will be some things you’re doing right now in life or in work that you hate.
Go on, have a think about what they might be.
There is always going to be some bullshit that you might have to tolerate (or should I say, negotiate or navigate around), but if you’re putting up with self-imposed bullshit and you know it, have a very serious word with yourself. Or at least keep reading.
Let’s talk about other people…
I hate people, don’t you?
They’re always making life difficult, they’re never happy, and they don’t understand you…
Only kidding (generally), but it can sometimes feel that way, right?
Other people have the biggest effect on your life, mostly because you can’t control what they do, say or feel in any given situation. It’s important to remember that some people WILL NOT OR CAN NOT CHANGE – so, seriously, don’t waste your energy or emotions trying to make that happen or praying that one day it’ll all sort itself out.
Let me give you a couple of real examples from my own life.
Or rather, the ex-wife.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you the full, gory, and fairly horrendous story of a break-up and a divorce. That’s a private thing (no matter how much the process is glamourised on social media these days). But, what I want to explain is that there was a moment within the breakdown of my marriage when I realised, after about 18 months of trying/counselling, that the relationship was beyond repair.
We really had tried hard to make it work – but for the wrong reason. That reason was our son. I’m sure the ‘for the kids’ mentality is the main reason why most couples attempt to work through a marriage that’s otherwise unsalvageable.
How could kids ever be the ‘wrong’ reason, though?
Trying to hold things together for the sake of our son was going to eventually lead to a toxic environment where we couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other, so how could we do that to the child we loved so much? And why would we want to do it to ourselves?
We took the heart-breaking decision to call it, and what happened next surprised us both.
We both felt a sense of relief (and sadness, of course) but it was almost as if our focus immediately turned back to the thing we shared that we both loved deeply – our boy. Only then, in the midst of separation, could we see how we could best support him and work to provide a family unit and environment that would meet his needs and happiness.
We sat, we cried, and we talked about everything until we had a plan.
And the result?
There were some difficult times, obviously, but over-all, we have a happy, healthy kid who still has a strong and loving family. In fact, his mum and I get on better than we ever have. I didn’t boot her out (that’s just horrible), but I booted out the toxic situation from my life. From both of our lives.
The Family Member
You can’t choose your family, or so the saying goes, so you just have to put up with them, right?
If you had a really hateful, toxic and negative person in any other aspect of your life who was making you miserable, chances are you’d put them in the bin. If you had someone who let you down, stressed you out, or used and abused you time and time again, eventually you’d say, “I’ve had enough of this”. You’d do what you needed to do to either boot them out, or remove yourself from their path, at the very least.
Why should it be different for family members, then?
Over a period of about five years in my life, right in the middle of trying to run a failing business, learning to be a dad to a very small child, and trying to support a partner who was desperately ill for months, I had a family member who was constantly putting me under emotional pressure. I’m talking years of emotional erosion.
It was a time of unrealistic expectations, emotional blackmail, pretty horrible behaviour in places, and a shit-tonne of broken promises.
The final straw came after I’d invested a lot of time, emotion and money in supporting them through a difficult period. I was thanked, promised that it was all sorted, and told it wouldn’t happen again. Well, it did happen again, and it was ten times worse than before. I was emotionally and physically exhausted by the whole event. I got angry and ended up screaming down the phone at said family member. I’d lost it, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I told them not to contact me ever again.
That’s a tough thing to say to any family member, but when it’s your own dad, it’s heartbreaking.
I eventually spoke to my sister about it all, and she understood. She agreed I’d done the right thing for me, my family, and my health, and that she would manage things from that point onwards. I was lucky in that sense, as siblings can often be the toughest and most obligation-bound relationships we have.
There was a period of about 12 months where I had no contact with my parents at all. In a way, that does upset me, but it gave me the time to focus my energy where it was needed most – to look after the family that I’d chosen for myself, and to build the strength back up that had been sapped by the family I’d felt obligated to.
Eventually, my parents and I began to rebuild the relationship and things got back to a semblance of normal, but I never apologised for what I did because what I’d done was the right thing to do. I booted the situation and the expectation out – and not a moment too soon.
Over time we develop friendships. Some of these friends stay with us for a majority, if not all, of our lives, and we are lucky to have them.
But sometimes, people who you become extremely close to, end up being part of merely a moment in time. For example, attending university, living in a specific place for a period of your life, working at a certain business for years, etc.
I moved to Hastings from London in 1981, aged 11. I can’t say I was particularly happy about that at the time, but Hastings ended up giving me so many things before I left – a sense of identity, vivid memories, physical and emotional scars, but some of the best friends anyone could wish for. During the nineties, we were all in our mid-twenties and we had the BEST time. I’m not kidding, when I tell some of the stories to those that weren’t there, you can almost see this green tinge appear in their eyes. We had a group of friends who were thick as thieves, and one of our mates owned his own pub, so you can imagine what that added to the mix.
Say. No. More.
At the back end of the nineties, however, things began to change. More of us were in long-term relationships, some got married and started families, and others moved away. I was one of the latter. I decided I’d had enough of Hastings and moved back to London, dragging one of my best mates from the group along with me for company.
Life has a way of sending you down a path that you want to follow, so you wholeheartedly throw yourself into it, but unfortunately for our relationships, it can mean that this begins to divert you from the path that your beloved friends are on. This means that you drift away from them (or they drift away from you) whether you want it to happen or not. I’m talking figuratively about paths, by the way. I’m not saying that these drifts happen purely with geographical differences.
This was the case with one close friend. We tried pretty hard over a number of years to stay in touch, and we were quite successful for a while, but it was clear that the threads were getting thinner and weaker. The only problem with this was that one of us felt the other one was directly to blame. Hint: It wasn’t me.
And so began a strained period of time, of accusations of “not making an effort”, of conversations getting back to me that this person “wasn’t very happy with me”. If we did bump into each other, it was often frosty and uncomfortable. This did upset me, and probably him as well, but no matter how much I tried to explain (with plenty of kindness and love), that although we would always be friends, our lives were just different, that answer didn’t appear good enough and the bad feelings just increased. I was now beginning to experience different emotions – frustration, bitterness and anger. How is that conducive to a friendship?!
What did I do, then?
This might not go down as my best advice ever, but I just stopped trying to make so much of an effort. I decided to focus my energy on the things that really mattered, right here, right now, instead of practically fighting to prove a point or to make somebody else happy. You can’t make someone love you, as they say.
I’m not saying I’m proud of booting out this type of bullshit, but it’s just one example of how we allow something – or someone – to alter our natural course, when it probably won’t do any good in the first place, anyway.
In some cases, you’ll ‘meet’ again anyway with those people, and it will be like you were never apart, but in other situations, it’s about having to let go. No animosity, and certainly not the end of a friendship, but sometimes, you need to boot out the feeling of forcing things to work or trying to hold space for people and things that perhaps wouldn’t offer you the same grace.
There will be other friends. Make room for them.
The Work Colleague
Okay well you’re stuck with those guys, really, so unless you use all the emotion and energy to boot yourself out of the bullshit and go elsewhere, I’ll just quote a line from Welsh indie-popstars of the 90s, The Super Furry Animals instead:
“You’ve got to tolerate, all those people that you hate…”
Of course, it’s not always that easy is it? But it’s a nice idea, and a great tune.
What’s that you ask? Who’s the worst person I’ve ever had to work with? Oh, I couldn’t possibly…
Okay then, time to name and shame…
Guffaw! Not! I’m still a professional, don’t you know. Plus, what purpose would it serve to bitch about someone behind their back? And how icky am I going to feel when someone shows that person what I’ve written in this book?
Guess what, friends. Whatever you say, however you say it, and whoever you say it to… it’s not going to change them. Venting works only to help you process things and get some release, so I’m all for it to support your mental and physical health, but in reality, nothing changes with that person. My great grandma used to say to me, “it’s better out than in”, and whilst I think it’s because she shared my sentiment to vent (my ventiment?), it’s entirely possible she was talking about something altogether more gaseous.
Mr or Mrs (or insert preferred pronoun here) Shitgibbon, is unlikely to change as a result of your venting. And trust me, no matter how lovely, persuasive, empathetic, clever, or a how much of a ‘people person’ you think you are, you cannot change who that person is.
*Reader hangs head in defeat*
Hold on for a sec, though. There’s a big BUT here (I like a big but, and I cannot lie). Let me explain…
Whilst working for a large insurance company in 2014/15, I had the absolute non-pleasure of working with a woman so toxic that we couldn’t keep plants alive in the office and items went bad in the fridge sometimes weeks before the best before date. Let’s call her Britney.
Britney was in a position of some power and I had no option but to work with her, but thankfully I didn’t need to work for her. My role was to help Britney create a training programme that would support a departmental strategy going forward. As the Learning & Development specialist on the team, you’d think that I was the expert here, y’know, having done this sort of thing for about 15 years?
Here’s how most of the projects ran:
- Have a meeting to discuss requirements and get agreement on the way forward (which usually went OK)
- Go away and do a stack of work developing the programme, run it past other experts, and fine tune it accordingly
- Send everything over to Britney
- Britney requests meeting
- Attend meeting where Britney gives me some ‘feedback’, which was code for being patronising, dismissive, and passive aggressive (sometimes just aggressive)
- Go away, change entire programme, bang head on table
- Repeat steps 1 to 6 for TWO FUCKING MONTHS
To say the relationship was a tad on the fractious side is an understatement. After the cycle had repeated itself once too often, however, I decided something had to be done. Surely I couldn’t be getting the work so wrong?
I took things personally, though, so the first thing to do was try and do better in my role and in my work. I considered and watched my behaviour, assessed the tone of my voice in meetings, examined the tone of my emails, and paid attention to my body language. I put myself in Britney’s shoes (metaphorically speaking), and I tried to understand her pressures and rationale. I engaged the Golden Rule of ‘treat people how you would like to be treated’. I smiled more. I laughed at her jokes. I paid her compliments. I was willing to sacrifice ANYTHING to get this work delivered and make both me and our department look good
Everything changed…stayed exactly the fucking same. Actually that’s not true, because it got worse, as Britney took a dislike to my shake-up and went and complained about me to my boss! I was fizzing with anger, but she was high up in the company, so I didn’t feel like I had a leg to stand on. Game over.
But, I had to do something. I’m a punk, after all. So, I sat down with my boss and we talked through everything that had happened both originally and since I’d tried to tackle the situation by addressing my own behaviour. I was surprised by the meeting’s outcome. My boss got annoyed. Really annoyed. Not with me, but with Britney. She agreed I had done everything by the book, shown flexibility and reflection, and done my very best. She was furious with what I was having to put up with and the lack of respect I was being shown. Plus, she was getting feedback from people all around the business about Britney’s ongoing toxicity, so it turns out I wasn’t the first person to say something.
All I know is that a day later, there was a phone call. Britney then came in for a meeting, signed off the programme I’d put forward, and… wait for it… apologised to me. So, here’s the big BUT when it comes to a person like this. Do your best and use the opportunity to grow, but do not try to approach a resolution all on your own. Someone else helped me boot out the bullshit in this ugly situation, so when you can’t see the wood for the trees, look for your allies and ask for help.
People rarely change, remember, so it’s probably no surprise to you that Britney continued to ruffle feathers in the workplace and her reputation began to proceed her. A few months later, she left the business rather abruptly to “seek other opportunities”.
See, these fuckers don’t aways win. I might have done a little a little dance when she left. Just a little one, though. I’m not a monster.
In (a very short) summary?
Let me say that again in shouty capitals.
To you (yes, YOU), your family, your friends, your children, your cat/dog/fish/bearded dragon.
When you remember that, identifying the bullshit becomes easier – and the decision to boot it out becomes more obvious and attractive.
Go on, find the bullshit, and boot it out.
Good stuff! Deep exhale of breath and relax. I feel your pain. Hard to kick some stuff – especially when you’re in the middle of a huge f***ing project. like me 🙁 There’s always next year.
That’s the thing isn’t AG, know when to step back and take a breath, then decide what to do. Not always easy when life is so busy, but that little bit of time and effort can REALLY make a difference in the long run. Glad you are keeping busy though!
I kicked my Dad and his toxic family to the curb when I was 20. Almost no contact for almost 30 years. He died 2 years ago. I found out from his sister. My half-brother sent me a Facebook message after he died, to tell me he died…thanks bro.
Toxicity is everywhere. I am at an age where I just don’t want to deal with it. Unfortunately, I live in a place where the provincial gov’t is actively trying to kill us, but hey… what are you going to do. Great chapter.
Wow Tamra, that’s a whole book in itself! It sounds like you’ve really grasped the importance of putting yourself first. You are right about the level of toxicity, I’m not sure if it’s got worse or if we are just more exposed to it through social media and the news. Perhaps I should have added a section on knowing when to boot out things like Facebook! Actually, I might for the when the book is physically published next year. Appreciate your comments, thank you 🙂
Thanks for sharing Simon and letting me have a read of the chapter which I enjoyed – it may be a feature later in your book but something that I learned as I removed bullshit from my life is that it creates space for amazing things to grow. Bullshit is like weeds in your garden – there is plenty of it around if you allow it to grow – so make sure when you do root it out that you make time to replace it with love kindness and compassion for yourself and those who matter. Thank you friend !
This is what I’m loving about releasing it chapter by chapter, how everyone is bringing something new to the story. I really believe that when it comes to actually publishing the book, I’ll be adding people’s quotes and ideas, I just know it will really bring the book to life. Thanks Leatham!
Really, really good stuff, Simon – THANK YOU! Excellent storytelling, and very, very good advice! I feel your pain, but it was also a relief to read this (in the “Thank God, it’s not just me!” kind of way). Keep it up – can’t wait for the book to come out!
Aww, thanks Victoria, that means a lot!
I could relate to your story about struggling with a colleague and then doing everything you could do to change your own approach and it still not having an effect. (I laughed out loud when I came to the line It Everything changed (crossed out) stayed exactly the same.) I have done this on a couple of occasions and had the same result as you. However, I still think it is the right approach to better your own behaviour to see if that is the issue. As you said, we are human and therefore we can always strive to be and do better.
P.S. Love the word ventiment.
Ha! Made me giggle too, at my own jokes though, I should be ashamed!
Thanks Mary-Ellen, it’s nice to hear from you! Glad it’s bringing you a bit of learning and humour at the same time, that makes me happy 🙂