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Success Requires Being a Jerk

April 21, 2013 5 comments

It’s said that a good leader balances between business and people. Too much focus on people and you lead them nowhere. Too much focus on business and no one follows you.

A few days ago I came across an article about the nastiness that happens in the academe, and how such is actually an unfortunate necessity in getting ahead in said industry. I couldn’t help but think that such a requirement for nastiness also actually applies to other enterprises in life. Encountering jerks and dealing with them happens more often than not and can come up anywhere, whether virtually or in the real world.

Academic assholes and the circle of niceness (Excerpt)

By Thesis Whisperer

Like Sutton I am deeply uncomfortable with the observation that being an asshole can be advantageous for your career. Sutton takes a whole book to talk through the benefits of not being an asshole and I want to believe him. He clearly shows that there are real costs to organisations for putting up with asshole behaviour. Put simply, the nice clever people leave. I suspect this happens in academia all the time. It’s a vicious cycle which means people who are more comfortable being an asshole easily outnumber those who find this behaviour obnoxious.

Ultimately we are all diminished when clever people walk away from academia. So what can we do? It’s tempting to point the finger at senior academics for creating a poor workplace culture, but I’ve experienced this behaviour from people at all levels of the academic hierarchy. We need to work together to break the circle of nastiness.

It’s up to all of us to be aware that we have a potential bias in the way we judge others; to be aware that being clever comes in nice and nasty packages. I think we would all prefer, for the sake of a better workplace, that people tried to be nice rather than nasty when giving other people, especially students, criticism about their work. Criticism can be gently and firmly applied, it doesn’t have to be laced with vitriol.

It’s a sad reality of life that if you want to get ahead in your career, it does help a lot to be a jerk about it. The aggression is part of the job, even necessary, to get things done. You won’t be successful and you won’t go very far if you won’t be pushy about your own agenda.

Life is too short to add stress and negativity in an already broken world. It makes things only worse if this is done in the pursuit of worldly success. It’s dehumanizing not to care for others, to step on other people to achieve one’s goals. Life is too short to put up with such jerks, but the unfortunate reality is that we have to – there’s no choice, people like these are not going away any time soon.

There is more to life than just success in this world. Whatever success one earns in this world will all come to an end someday. No matter how important it seems now – and it could actually be that important at this very moment – when the time comes, none of that will really matter when faced with the prospect of what’s waiting for one on the other side of eternity. Success will not mean anything and it will do no good when it’s time to render an account of one’s life when the time for judgment arrives.  And if you’ve been a jerk for a good part of your life, and persist to be such until the bitter end, then it shouldn’t be surprising what’s coming for you in the next life.

What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? (Matthew 16:26)

Granted that there is worldly value in being a jerk, it is one thing to be a jerk just because, and it is another thing to have the right to be a jerk (be one of the “noisy people”). Know the difference. And only if necessary, strive to be the latter. But if you can help it all, it really is best not to be a jerk in the first place!!!

The price of success, if it means one has to be a jerk, is too much to pay to the point that it’s not worth it anymore if such success comes at the cost of bitterness, resentment, the loss of goodwill and any respect people have of you. Getting what one wants is definitely a bad thing if it hurts or worse ends one’s relationships.

We live for more than just this life. If this is the only sure way to success in this world, then I’d rather stay where I am now, for this kind of life is not for me.

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Categories: Ideas and Philosophy