Taking Advantage of the Situation

My wife has always been a wonderful barometer of my connection to reality.  She makes me face things

that I don’t recognize I have been avoiding.  In particular the habit I have to try to get myself fired from a

position that I don’t want to be at any more but I don’t feel I can just leave.  When she first delivered this

gem of wisdom, I was caught off guard as to its truth about myself and the fact that she had been so

insightful.  But as soon as the statement had left her lips I knew it was true.


She said, “Your trying to get fired.”


I said, “No I’m not.”


She said, “You hate the job, you want to leave, but you have to provide for us (her and the two kids we

had at the time) and your guilty about wanting to quite so instead of just walking out your going out of your

way to do things to get them to let you go.”


It was horrible for me to admit but she was right.  Although the job was cushy and the money was pretty

good I had mastered the situation and was bored I was also disgusted with the company ownership and felt

that what I was doing had no greater purpose other then making money for them.  I was providing for my

family along the way but not all that well and not well enough to put up with all the politics and crap that

existed on a daily basis.  At the time, all I could think was I'm dyeing here, I wish I was back in the service.

Which was not the last time I would think or say those exact words.


When she had finished calling me out so to speak, I had to admit it, and apologize to her for the argument

we had just had and for my attitude about the job in general.  In her loving grace she set me free and said

that I didn’t have to stay there.  My spirited began to soar as I thought how I would tell them I quit

tomorrow.  In person, so I could enjoy it more, then my feet were set properly back on the ground.


She continued, “You can quiet as soon as you have a new job.  So stop playing around and start looking

for a new job.”


It smacked of a bit of family wisdom she had offered me when I had first met her.  I always felt that her

family interactions had been a bit cold.  On one occasion while I was spending the evening at her house

watching TV with her and her parents; her sister had come into the room complaining about a head ach.


Her mother had asked, “What was wrong?”  Her sister started to go on about it.


Her father asked, “What she had taken for it?”


She said nothing.  The whole family mother, father, and big sister cut off from her sympathetically.


Almost in unison they said, “Well then, go take some Advil or Tylenol or something.”


I thought wow kind of cold and I think the words came out of my mouth before I realized I was talking.  The

reason for the family’s response was a bit joking but true.


“In this house you don’t get to complain until you’ve taken something for it.”  Her father said.  More clearly

stated; unless you have tried to solve the problem you don’t get to ask for help or sympathy.


I had spent several months at the job I wanted to leave and had done a lot of good work.  I had made a lot

of progress and provide value for my efforts.  I had also learned a lot about politics and the political make

up of the company.  The closer I got, the more I knew of the details of the inner working of the company,

the less I liked it and the worse it got for me personally.  In a few months I had made their software work

and it was go enough.  I could go.  Had it been a year earlier or two years later I would have just left but

the dot.com bubble had just burst, the millennium hoax was rampant, and the economy was waffling.  Their

was just not a market for independent gui programmers any more.  I was in a safe little hole.  

Metaphorically it was a cold wet hole filled with snakes.  I didn’t want to be there anymore but I couldn’t

leave.  With the information I had about the owners and management, I developed a bitter moral relativism

and although I knew it was wrong I justified my actions as a sense of just desserts.  The big guys were liars

and cheats and were taking advantage of all the pee-ons that worked for them.  So it was ok if I took

advantage of the big guys and if they let me go it would not be my fault.


It was kind of like being in the service.  You see, within some sense of reason, if you are given a command

and you follow that command and something bad happens it’s not your fault; you’re just following orders.  

As a young loving husband and new father, I could not just volunteer to go off to a distant land because I

thought it would be cool.  I could not just leave my wife and young children alone.  I would in essence be

abandoning them for my own selfish desires.  I’d be a jerk. (I would be neglecting my primary duty, my

family) If on the other hand, I was ordered to go away and it was beyond my control.  If I was simply

following orders.  I would be fulfilling my duty.  I would be noble.  The same thing happens in a job.  If I were

to just quit because I didn’t like it or it was too hard. I am a jerk.  If on the other hand I was fired and it was

beyond my control.  I’d still be a good guy and even be a sympathetic figure doing me best and having

been let go.


Before I was made to face myself and to see and admit to my actions objectively, I had been on a figurative

joy ride.  I spent (wasted) hours on-line downloading music (Napster was still free) and perusing my own

interesting.  I drank coffee and took walks outside.  I had been given a company credit card to entertain

and get supplies, so I would began a systematic review of all the local restaurants.  I brought along a

coworker and justified it as a business lunch or dinner.  We talked about work sometime during the meal.  I

enjoyed the local book store and bought an endless library of computer programming and business books

many of which had nothing to do with my current tasks and were really just for my own person enrichment.  

This patter of abuse of company resources went on for weeks to no effect.  I didn’t get so much as a

comment for anyone.  I had already become brazen in my behavior but to no effect.   I had even gone out

with the general manger of the company and when he went to pay for the lunch with his card I said no let

me  He of course being the senior person put his down probably thinking the meal was too expensive for

me to pay for; someone might ask about it.  He did know that I had bought meals at double that price

already and no one had notice.


In my unconscious mind I knew I needed to do something bigger.  Then I found the answer.  The big one.  

The company had four locations and one was located in Redmond just outside of Seattle.  I loved Seattle.  

I had taken the family on a driving vacation there a year of two early on the way to visiting friends in

Spokane and when we had stopped in Seattle, I was ready to stay.  The wife pushed me on to the next

stop on or trip but I still longed to return.  When I discovered the office up there, I had to develop a plan, a

reason to go.    I began a political campaign to lobby the ownership for a need to visit the office up there

and discuss the software.  My efforts where initially rejected but with some time and a bit of support from

one of the owners I was on my way.  I would take my newly stamped mintee and we would befriend the

owner and the staff in Washington to make sure we had all sides taken care of with the new software.


The travel and everything was arranged through the company secretary.  The IT manager would go up

there from time to time to work network issues and they had a standard package set.  A single room with

two double beds at the Red Roof Inn in Redmond and if they couldn't arrange for someone to pick them up

a small compact car.  Meals at the local Mickey D’s if possible a local sit-down restaurant as a splurge on

the last day.  I of course had another thought.  From the start it was purposeful and free.  Upgrade to first

class at the gate to the plane, upgrade to convertible Mustang 5.0 for the rental car.  Moved the room to a

big hotel in downtown Seattle.  And of course meals wherever we liked.  On one day out with a local

manger, as we were looking for a place to eat and we noted a restaurant.


She said, “Oh, no.  That’s too expensive.  The owner (who had approved the trip) ate there when he came

up.”


I said, “Then that sound good, let’s eat there.”


Thinking that we were joking she passed it off and I think we ended up at Coco’s for stall fries and a

cardboard burger.  From that point on the theme of the visit now was, “Where would the owner eat or what

would he do?” and that’s what we did.  I say we because I brought my mintee with me but in truth I was the

driving force to it all I was going to take advantage of it as much as possible.  Upon my return I was sure I

was going to be free.  We did the market place, we did the aquarium, and as an event toper we did the

world fair park ending with dinner at the restaurant top on the Space Needle to the tune of about three

hundred dollars for two people.  Of course there was the first class upgrade for the return flight and then…

the wait.  The bill did not come in for a another two weeks during which I had managed to max out the card

and show up to work for about twenty hours in each week which was great since I was salary and got paid

the same whether I work twenty hours or fifty hours.


On the day the bill came in I got a call from accounting.  I was called to speak with the accounting

supervisor and directed to the accounts payable girl.  A nice prudent upper middle aged lady who had

been ingrained with a sense of purpose and propriety that shielded her from any sense of reality and

made it possible for her to reconcile the amazing expenses that the owners would make while scrutinizing

the two dollars spent by a stocking lead for an extra coke.  She called me to ask about my credit card

statement and to verify the charges.  She knew that they had to be wrong.  I looked at the bill with a sense

of wonder wow had I really spent that much but it was a good trip I thought.


I carelessly gave the bill back to her and said, “No, it looks right.”


She was shocked and questioned, “Are you serious?”


I said, “Yeah.”


She said, “You spend so much on dinner how many people where there?”


I said, “Just me and the other guy.”


I thought she had stopped breathing until she said, “Well, that’s just inappropriate.”


I have to admit that this word pissed me off and I asked in contempt, “Why?  That’s were the owner eats.”


She said, “Yeah but he's the owner.”


I did not get into the whole peasant aristocracy debate and just said, “That’s the bill.”  She said that she

would have to show it to the owner for approval as if she was going to tell my mommy.


I said, “Well then take it to him for approval.”


Then I walked away.  Two days later I got called in to the owner’s office.  He had the bill and a look like he

was my mommy on he's face.  He stared into it and was ready for me to deny the situation or make and

excuse.  I didn’t.  He was somewhat dumb founded.  He asked about the dinner and I said I was told that it

is were he ate so I did the same.


“In fact,” I said, “I just did what I thought he would do.”


He seemed caught.


He said, “Well yeah but when it goes over I just pay the difference on the bill when it comes in.”


I said, “OK, let me know how much I went over and I’ll pay the difference.”


I smiled because he could not do anything by his own standard I was following the rules.  He said he didn’t

know the exact amount but accounting could get it.  He signed off on the bill.  I walked out stating that I

needed to get back to work.  I went out for coffee and a doughnut.  A week later I still hadn’t heard

anything finally the general manger visited me in my office and with a smile and a laugh in the

understanding that I had pushed it hard passed the edge.


He asked, “Are you going to going to pay the bill?”


I said, “Sure, how much was over the prescribed limit?”


He said, “There’s not a prescribed limit.”


I wrote a check for a hundred and forty bucks and called it even.  After that I made it a habit to max out the

card each month and drop check for a hundred or so in with the bill.


Now you might think that would have done it but not at all.  I was there for several months after this.  In fact,

I would have been there longer if I had not stumbled over myself politically.  The money meant nothing to

them.  It was more a matter of attitude and perception.


In the Disney movie, A Bug’s Life, a group of good for nothing grasshoppers oppress a group of hard

working ants.  One day a single ant stands up to them and causes trouble.  


Later, the stupid brother to the aggressive leader of the grasshoppers asks, “Why do we have to go back

anyway?  It’s just one ant.”


The leader replied, “One ant… its not just the one ant.”


He took a seed and said, “This is the one ant.”  And threw it at his brother. It bounced off.  “No big deal


right?”


“Yep.”


Then he opened the jar and hundreds of seed covered the brother and the others at the bar.


Then he says, “If you let one stand up then they will all stand up and there are more of them then us.”


You can’t let them see or feel as if they are equals if you want to stay on top and oppress them.  OK, I am

paraphrasing but you get the idea.           


The Point:

Life is a struggle.  A struggle to survive.  A struggle to get to the top.  A struggle to stay there.  It only ends

when you die.  You have to ask yourself do you want to spend your life struggle on the bottom, in the

middle, or at the top.  Each has its benefits and perils but there is a reason why they call the top the top.


The Lesson to Learn:

You can make the best out of any situation and you can turn that situation to your benefit.  It takes effort

and planning but it can be done.  The results may not be what you want but you can defiantly have an

impact.


The Brutal Truth:

You are not a gofer.  You have to raise your head up and take a look around in order to know where you’

re going.  You have to get out of your perspective and test the bounds of your cage in order to find a way

out.