Biggest fuck up?
Being the villain in my workmates’ story, thinking I was the hero. More of a long story arc than a pissy one-off event.
I’m Andrew Sidwell, known as Bag, and currently paid to be Head of Content & Strategy at 3rdspace, Sydney, Australia.
Context: A few years before this job, I co-founded an agency that grew fast but stalled around year 3. We were fully owned by a big media company who just brought in an ex-agency CEO to oversee all the agency and creative businesses and teams owned by the parent holding company. We knew the clock was ticking, so I was pushing everyone to work harder. I was in survival mode, thinking, how am I going to feed the kids, pay for the schools, and the annual holiday overseas? It was all disappearing in slow motion, and the worst of me kicked in.
Don’t know about yours, but my survival mode is buttfuck ugly. The combination of never running a business before, a boss who was kinda awol (renovating their home with money from their last jobs redundancy), and my really fucked saviour complex that manifested as – most of our people are really shit and can’t do their jobs – I need to show them.
I also had a tight crew of people I’d hired who were hardworking, collaborative, and brilliant. Problem was I’d fucked off the other half of the business, and they didn’t want to work with my staff because of me. In fact, they actively went after them.
I was at war with the boss and creating real division, undermining him but also calling him out to his face. Creating my own clique but bitching about the other cliques.
Eventually, my role was made redundant, along with a bunch of others. My boss framed it as out of his hands and nothing to do with performance. Obviously, they can’t tie redundancy to performance or behavioral issues, but I knew that I was on the go list because of how badly I’d lost my way.
Lessons from this fuck up.
When I lost the job, a mate said, “do you have options?” I said two at the moment, he said, “you have more; you just don’t know it yet.” He was right, and more options came. Here’s what I learned.
- Work no longer turned up looking like a big role, job, and salary; it was projects with people I wanted to work with.
- I have a really broad mix of skills and an abundance mindset which means money comes in, bills get paid, and there’s opportunity all around. This reality taught me to never ever compromise my values so deeply by working somewhere so misaligned with them. Conservative media is the dogshit on the heel of humanity. I wish I didn’t have to learn this lesson the long way, but at least they paid me to leave.
- I never want to treat people like shit. I’ve taken two years, and countless coaching and therapy hours to get even remotely close to feeling like if I was tested again in a big job running an agency, I’d know my warning signs and be more than prepared.
- Quit the moment I realise the boss and I aren’t the same page from a leadership ideology perspective and when I realise they don’t walk their talk.
- Ask better questions in interviews, do my research about people, and avoid ever working for someone who doesn’t have a leadership ideology, a core capability, or who is an incompetent man promoted way above their ability.
- Work hard to develop myself not to be another incompetent man promoted way above my ability again.
- Work for women leaders.
- There’s always an upside. Thanks to the redundancy, I got to drive my eldest to school every day for her last year before she passed the IB and went overseas to university. That time was unexpected and special. Considering I’d missed so much for all of her schooling prior.
- Everyone only has room for one hero in their lives, not a douchie boss who thinks he knows better. I know my role is to be the guide to help them be the hero in our clients lives.
- Being the villain at work is a role that deserves redundancy and permanent retirement.
Men. The ones who condescend and pretend that inequality isn’t their problem. The ones who’ve weaponised their incompetence – “I don’t know how to speak to women anymore for fear of offending them.”
Just man babies in general. I have a deep suspicion that there’s a lot of male leaders talking about equality but who go home and don’t know how to get the period blood stains from their daughters or wives undies. They’re comfortable living with pink and blue jobs at home but believe they know how to implement meaningful change at work.
Follow the teachings, not the teacher.
It led me to quit Buddhism when I felt the audible click of organised religion asking me to worship the local guru who turned out to be a sexually deviant woman harasser. But the advice was true – our best teachings can be found anywhere, irrespective of the teacher. At a u2 concert I saw a flashing sign on the screen, it said “everything you know is wrong.” I learned a lot by turning that over in my mind and applying it to scenarios. What if that sign was right, what does that mean?
Also Carlton Ridenhour aka Chuck D from Public Enemy wrote a line in his solo album that really stuck in my head as advice to live my life by – “If I can’t change the people around me, I change the people around me.”