“Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.” W. H. Auden
Today is Halloween and I’d like to share a scary story with you. As you read it through, think about being in a similar situation and what YOU would do.
Jasper* recently contacted me because he is frustrated. He is frustrated to the point of wanting to resign from his nice teaching job—he has tenure–at a small college. He knows it would be a bad idea to quit; for his career and for his family but he is ready to, nevertheless. Why was he ready to resign? Because he works with an impatient person in power who gives the impression he is much more important than Jasper. Jasper is ready to scream. Let me explain.
Jasper is the director of choral activities at the college. Pete* is the band director and Mort* is the orchestra director/department chair. All three are full time, directing ensembles and teaching a class or two. There are also three part-time faculty, private teachers mostly, and usually about four adjuncts, give or take, who teach theory and music history. Jasper gets along with everyone except for Mort, the department chair; he is insufferable.
Mort is not able to wait for Jasper to finish a sentence before he interrupts. He is SURE he knows what Jasper is going to say before he says it. Often, it is NOT what he was going to say. When he tries to correct Mort or to finish his thought, he is belittled. It has gotten so bad in the last two years; Jasper rarely says anything, outside of faculty meetings or concerts, to Mort unless he needs to.
Mort knows everything and everybody and Jasper is just a choral director and should be grateful for his insights. The implication is he knows nothing. Mort never seems pleased with Jasper, but doesn’t criticize his repertoire or the quality of his choirs. It really seems to Jasper, Mort NEEDS to be “the smartest person in the room” or he’s not happy.
In faculty meetings when Jasper gives his report about the choral organizations or talks about repertoire for coming semesters, Mort drums his fingers on the table. It is the physical manifestation of Mort’s impatience and is embarrassing to Jasper with the rest of the faculty present. Pete, the band director, once told Jasper Mort treated the last choral person the same way. He had hoped it would be different for Jasper.
Jasper wanted my advice; should he stay or should he go? I told him; it depends. He needs to think about what is truly best for himself and his family. He could start looking around for another job if he really is serious about leaving. He could ask his choral friends to keep an eye out for a position similar to his present one. He could plan his “escape” rationally and methodically BUT, no matter how impatient Mort is with him and how much it bothers him, he should NOT resign in the heat of anger.
Jasper could also think about speaking with someone in the HR department at the college. If what Pete says is true, he is not the only person Mort has treated this way.
Another alternative is to wait Mort out. Jasper tells me Mort is within five years of retiring so, “waiting him out” is not a bad option. If he is able to remain calm, keeping in mind the end is near; he should be able to get through the next few years.
How many people like Mort have you known in your career? People in control, who use their position to bully others? Some folks can only feel important or competent by making other people feel unimportant and incompetent. It is not always obvious what we should do. But If we understand what they are doing in a rational and unemotional way, we can choose the best path for ourselves.