Getting over it
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Imagine a bell curve. You know what one looks like, right? A snake that's just eaten a hippo. Small numbers at the bottom. Small numbers at the top. Big fat bulge in the middle. Like most of senior management, I guess.

The curve represents, I think, the way most of us feel about our jobs. On one end, the occasional burst of blue, ecstatic flame, joy and light everlasting, except they don't. In the middle, the mix of pleasure and aggravation cooking along together on a slow boil like gumbo in a stewpot of our own devising. And finally, at the rag end of the serpent, the dark days--the ones where we want to smash a window and throw something out, and not ourselves either. The days of despair, of untrammeled rage. The days when if we do not get out, we will most surely kill or die.

God give us the strength to endure such days, for when they come, they eat the rest of the world in their deadly power, drawing a curtain of misery over that part of life which we know as work but which, in the end, is so much more than that. They make us question who we are and why we do what we do. Those are questions not only best left unanswered but in truth better left unasked.

Why? Because some things do not bear scrutiny. Some things should be left alone, allowed to scab over, because what's protected by the scar is too tender and in the end too immutable. Some things must be lived with, even those we couldn't live with if we looked into them far enough.

It's a smart organization that never makes us gaze into that dark pit where monsters dwell. Not all organizations are that smart. Many are not. Okay, none are.

I had lunch with my friend Hal the other day. Hal is a sweet, brilliant fellow, and industrious too. He's the kind of guy you would take a problem to, because he's decent and capable of giving useful advice. A wise man, in other words.

Hal was at the table when I got there. I could see something was wrong right away. His face, usually pale, was dangerously suffused with blood that had spread up to his hairline and down to his neck. A small vein pounded in his forehead, and his hair, always full and unkempt to the point of being on the borderline where business meets self-expression, stood on end. His look, usually wry and amused, was concentrated to a point just south of the bridge of his nose--eyes narrowed, brows down as low as thunderheads, mouth pursed, jaw clenched in rage.

"Hey, Hal," I said, sitting down. He said nothing. "What's up?" I said after a while, when it appeared that he might not be capable of independent speech. And so he told me, a little at a time, extruding a bit of information here and there, until I sort of got the picture.

The particulars are unimportant. Something about a project he had favored being assigned to another person. And being yelled at by a boss stupid enough to let egocentrism drool out all over my friend, who, it turns out, has a temper ignited by one thing alone: disrespect.

They say pride is a sin. If so, it's not one that any businessperson can live without. It's one of those necessary sins, I guess, conferring not damnation but power.

Hal wanted to quit is what it was. And looking at him, I knew that he might. Whether it was good for him, or wise, or appropriate, didn't matter. Sometimes you've just got to say "up yours" if you ever want to cast a reflection in a mirror again.

"Where will you go?" I asked my friend.

"Across the street," he said, and I could see the pleasure washing over him at the prospect.

I remembered ... a lifetime ago ... passed over for a promotion I deserved ... dissed ... enraged beyond tolerance ...

And yet? I stayed. For me, it took three months behind a closed door mostly playing Tetris at full salary to restore my feeling that I owed the company more than it owed me, that I had showed myself who was boss for long enough. I just felt better after a while. Daily festive lunches didn't hurt my process of regeneration either.

The corporation had earned a big dis from me to it. When I'd given it, I was ready to emerge, refreshed and energized after my long winter's nap.

"Take the rest of the week off, Hal," I told him. It was lunchtime on Wednesday.

"I will," he said. And he did. The following Monday I e-mailed him at his office. He was there. I was glad. You can't let the bad guys get you to do something you don't really and truly want to do just to show them what's up. There are other ways.

"How you feeling?" I asked him.

"Like getting even," he replied. And I knew he was back to stay. That's a healthy attitude toward senior management even in the best of times, don't you think?