When I was in high school I heard a saying that really stuck with me:
Be careful whose fingers you step on, on your way up the ladder because you just might meet them on your way down.”
I recall, years ago, the hard slogging, in-the-trenches days of prospecting clients one phone call and one meeting at a time when I was first started out as an independent speaker. These were the days before emails and websites and such. Back in those earliest of days the fanciest business electronics were fax machines and phones (well, the computer, too; I’m not THAT old!). Every day I worked the phone and my networks to secure opportunities to be of service to potential clients who were, indeed, looking for the kind of services I provided. I recall wooing one particular corporate connection, as I’d heard on good authority that this client may well have been looking for the kind of speaking service. Her name was Sylvia and when I called to make my initial introductions she was cool and said she couldn’t talk right then but, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to my follow up the next day. When I called back the next day, she gave me that same line and we proceeded with this game for a few more go arounds. After leaving things alone for two weeks I followed up once again (as every entrepreneur knows, in the early days of business the follow up is everything!). Now I was only ever able to reach her voice mail…no matter how many times I tried. About a month later still, I followed up yet again. Voice mail purgatory persisted. Apparently Sylvia had slipped into a fissure in the space/time continuum and I was becoming convinced she no longer really existed. Months and months later, I thought I’d try again. Sylvia finally did answer the phone–I was like a dog with a bone about the follow up back then, never understanding why people just couldn’t practice the concept of, “No means No”…just tell me “no” and I’ll stop!). Sylvia passively aggressively “blew me off”, as the expression goes, in a frosty and brusk fashion about being too busy to talk to me, virtually forever. I made a literal note to self and moved on finally, surrendering to the philosophy, “Some will, some won’t So what-next!”. Then came the day when a different saying came to be played out between us. The saying of, ‘What goes around comes around.”
A dear friend of mine makes her professional contribution as an executive coach. One day, years after my Sylvia experience, above, I received a call from my friend, asking:
“Nina, I’m working with a terrific ex-senior executive who has been downsized and has left the corporate world. She’s gone entrepreneurial now, and because I’ve told her of your own wonderful success transiting years ago from corporate life to a self-employed, entrepreneurial focus, I’ve encouraged her to have a chat with you…if you’d be open this, of course.”
Well, even back then, I was always very generous and kind sharing my time in this regard, and always available to do a favour for a client or any friend or acquaintance from my circle. So, of course, I said, “Sure, what’s her name?” Sylvia _____. Thud. Hmm. I was immediately transported back in time. It was the same person I’d come up against in my first year of entrepreneurial life.! What were the odds? And you know what? Even though today I would have risen above my old scabbed-over-wound and nose-out-of-joint tender professional ego and helped this Sylvia person (if only for my friend’s sake…because she’d asked me), back then I just wasn’t enlightened or forgiving enough, or whatever, to say, “yes”. I reneged. Couldn’t bring myself to help out a person in the now, who would not help me back then. Back then Sylvia demonstrated no common professional courtesy in her words nor manner towards my enquiries. No grace or kindness in her demeanor all those years ago. No concern then about how long another’s memory of her may last. I just wasn’t big enough back then to rise above, take the high road and help. Today I would, but not back then.
So, Lesson 1: “Be careful whose fingers you step on, on your way up your corporate career ladder, because you just might meet them on your way down.”
Lesson 2: “What goes around often really does come around.”
My advice: be professionally nice and helpful and giving and caring to others as best you sincerely can now because it’s the right thing to do–because you can and should. But if you can’t do that for all the right reasons, consider rising above personal pettiness and helping another for the self-serving/self-centered reasons of your own potentially challenged professional future. You just never know when it’s going to be your turn one day. And maybe on such a day–since we all have call display now–if you do choose to follow my above advice, someone who you hope will generously give you a leg up, will see it’s you calling and pick up.