When People Destroy What You’ve Built

SticksAndStonesI’m always struck by a simple truth: our best examples of how business works almost always come from the life we experience.

When my son had surgery, I had two profound realizations. The first one was about building a great team. The second one was a little less pleasant to learn…

Over the first two years of my son’s life we’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices. (1.2 visits / week to be precise). A lot of that time has been terrifying. Some of it has been exciting. Much of it has been grueling. Such was the case during one of the surgeries he had in the spring of 2013.

The surgery itself was only semi-dangerous for someone my son’s age. But the recovery promised to be long and brutal. My wife and I learned early on that we needed to seriously consider our work-rest rhythms. We couldn’t both always stay awake when our son was sick. (Because he was always sick.) So we’ve learned to take shifts. We’ve learned to give the other person the freedom to rest, because soon enough that time resting would need to be converted into “work.” In this case, my wife lovingly agreed to “sleep” at the hospital, while I went home and slept.

So around one in the morning I packed up my things and headed home to get a few hours of sleep, and come back in the morning to help.

As I drove through the streets toward the highway, a pack of 5-7 teenage boys were walking along the sidewalk. As I approached them, one of them picked up a rock and threw it at my car.

With a loud “clang”, it smacked into the side of my car. And with the sound of success ringing in their ears - they laughed.

Breaking What You Don’t Own

Why did he pick up a rock and throw it? Because he could.

It’s not any more complicated than that.

You see, in everything that you do there are people whose sole purpose is to destroy. Even in the midst of suffering. Perhaps especially in the midst of suffering. So if you’re an entrepreneur launching an idea, prepare to see the kid who throws stones. Except in your case he might wear a suit and tie and drive a fancy car. If you’re a business owner, prepare to see the kid who throws stones. But she might look like a Mom of 4 and drive a minivan. If you’ve ever watched Hell’s Kitchen, it seems the whole point of that show is so “Chef” Ramsay can mock someone on national television. He revels in throwing stones.

Of course that’s a famous example. But being a person of destruction isn’t limited by gender, age, ethnicity. It’s something that reaches across all boundaries.

Fighting Back

When that rock hit my car I wanted to stop. I wanted to get out of the car and “do something.” But I chose to drive on. I chose to focus on my true priorities - resting so that I could provide care for my son. I chose to stay focused on my mission and not be distracted by the person of destruction.

And it was hard.

The world is filled with people who want nothing more than to distract you from your mission. If you want to be successful you’re going to have to take metaphorical, and sometimes literal, stones. And keep moving. You can’t fight with every single person who wants to ruin your vision. It’s counterproductive, and inefficient.

In all of the organizations I’ve worked for, or consulted with, I’ve always encountered these individuals. No matter how great the program I was developing or how wonderful the training had been - there is always someone who finds it more fun to destroy than to build. To tear apart than to cooperate. And while my heart breaks that the world works this way, I also have to say there’s a certain amount of freedom it brings. I don’t have to please everyone. I don’t have to make sure everyone likes my idea or product. Because I know going into a presentation that there are going to be people who will hate it whether the Pope, Alfred Hitchcock, or Gandhi gave the talk.

Offering Grace

Even as I write this, part of me wants to track down that teenager. I want to hold him accountable. To make him pay to fix my car. The urge to fight back can be overwhelming. But there’s already a lot of so-called justice in the world. There’s a lot of so-called justice within the workplace. Much of the internet is filled with people trying to “get even.”

Maybe it’s time we try something different? Maybe it’s time that we extend a little bit of grace to the people who would destroy our dreams. Maybe that’s really the best way, in the end, for our visions to truly live.

So the next time you take the risk of putting a new idea forward, remember to focus on your vision and not what the destroyers want. I think you’ll find that not only is focusing on your mission more rewarding, but it’s also more productive.

Photo credit: Terry Johnston


About Eric Barrett

Eric Barrett is an organizational psychologist who specializes in connecting the dots of work, life, and meaning. He has worked as an organizational psychologist for over a decade, and is most recently working on developing social media guidelines for a real estate company. He also teaches psychology at Xavier University. In his spare time he… wait, who are we kidding… he has no spare time. You can follow him on Twitter @MeaningToWork or his blog at Meaning to Work.

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