Recently, I was at a party and an old friend of mine was telling me about how she dealt with an unpleasant work situation.
My friend, Ellie (not her real name), is a quiet, kind and considerate person, who also happens to be very low-key and quite pretty, but what really matters to the story is her attitude.
This is the story: Her job in finance involves reviewing business transactions and checking for transparency and accountability, in short, noting human errors and reporting on them with the intent of tracking the company’s transactions. To do this, she had to report those making errors and holding them accountable for those errors. In addition, if she can’t pinpoint exactly who is responsible for the error, her job allows her to assign the errors to people. Everyone tends to make a mistake or two but if there should be a pattern of mistakes, then it can become a big deal. Her job makes her not exactly Ms. Popular among her colleagues, yet it’s a job she’s good at and she’s busy doing until she moves up the company ranks.
One afternoon a co-worker bought frozen yogurt for everyone in the office. Everyone except for Ellie. When she asked, “Where’s my frozen yogurt?” she was met with blank stares. Her co-worker hadn’t brought her any. He had intentionally left her out. Everyone in the office, minus Ellie, enjoyed their frozen yogurt.
That afternoon, she was finishing up her work for the day and caught a handful of errors. With the ability to assign errors to whomever she chooses, she decided to assign all the errors of the day to the co-worker who excluded her from his frozen yogurt run.
“What’s up with assigning me all the errors?” he asked, visibly furious.
She simply shrugged her shoulders.
Obviously, Ellie really likes frozen yogourt.
Was she being petty or immature? I don’t think so.
What she likes even better is not being excluded, which these days is considered a component of harassment. Yet, how do you explain to someone that someone is creating a poor work place climate because they didn’t bring you back frozen yogurt. It’s the exclusion that bothered her most.
Exclusion is a type of bullying and that’s exactly what her co-worker was doing to her by excluding her on the snack run. Instead of complaining about it, she took matters into her own hands and showed that she’s not someone you want to cross. He isn’t likely to exclude her again (although she might want to re-think if she trusts him with her order).
Her bold act really got me thinking that that’s exactly the kind of friend I want to have. It’s difficult to have friends who complain endlessly about a situation only to allow that situation to continue. I want the people around me who have the guts to stand up for themselves, who aren’t afraid of being unpopular because they spoke up and who have chutzpah.
Ellie definitely has it. Aren’t these the types of characters that are the most interesting in novels and even in films? We want protagonists to be bold, be risky, to take charge. Hiding behind passivity, fear and complacency doesn’t get anybody anywhere and it certainly doesn’t allow people to develop, not in fiction and certainly not in real life.
It’s important to remember that we need to be the protagonist in our own lives, even if that makes us a little bit unpopular at times. The leading lady doesn’t follow the crowd, and she has the ability to carve out a life for herself that is so much better than what others around her can see.
Nobody remembers what the best friend in a novel or in a film does. It’s the leading lady who makes a lasting impression.
Who would you rather be?