360 Degrees of Suck

The thing I’ve always both loved and hated about running is its empiricism. Either you run fast enough to win or place or you don’t. At times, when I was running well, that harsh reality was a blessing. During periods of lost fitness or mental regression, empiricism was an unforgiving judge. Yet I embraced both extremes because at least I/you knew where you stood.

Things weren’t so cut and dried out in the real world. By the time I was thirty years old, I’d already experienced the vagaries of working in different types of organizations and industries. There were revelations along the way. While working at the Kane County Chronicle, the company had us take a personality test. I was surprised at its accuracy and felt a bit exposed. Yet the test also noted, “Christopher does not reveal certain aspects of his personality.”

Looking back, I’m guessing that a hidden part of my personality was a resistance to authority, especially the false kind. Something in my nature fights whatever I consider injustice, and a portion of what drove me to run so much and “prove” myself after college was a response to some of the unjust ways that people treated me over time, including my own parents. I don’t think I’m alone in that reactive motivation among runners. Plenty of us seemed to “run made” to keep from going mad at the fucked up nature of the world and its occupants.

That defiance toward the “regular world” included those that did not understand or refused to accept the “hard, clean, severe” nature of honest reality earned through running. All the nasty calculations, backstabbing and selfish behavior in the work world disgusted me. The incidents of bad behavior were surprisingly frequent. In particular, I remember a co-worker sandbagging during an advertising sales contest to turn in just enough results to win. While it wasn’t “cheating” per se, it also wasn’t an entirely honest way to win the contest. I believed in being a leader and actually posting what I’d sold. That came from my running background.

I learned that kind of leadership isn’t always respected or appreciated in the work world. Nor was speaking your mind honestly on a number of subjects, especially the vagaries and weaknesses of upper management. I once questioned the judgment of a Vice President in how they were making an employee work overtime without pay and was told by the HR department, “You don’t have a right to question them. They’re an officer of the company.”

In defiance, I turned in her hours anyway. Because that was the legal and right thing to do. Acting that way has caused a number of problems. Perhaps a small shred of Howard Roark from The Fountainhead resided in my head after reading that book in my early twenties. The book is described this way: “The novel’s hero, a brilliant architect of absolute integrity. Roark has friends and colleagues, but relies on himself alone.”

Again, that radical independence is a distance runner “thing” for sure. Self-reliance is not beaten into us from all those miles of training and racing. More accurately, it is absorbed direct from the earth and sky, dust and rain, facing snow, sunburn, and sweat equally, with little complaint. You either get the miles done or you don’t. Either suffer to gain fitness or not. Improvement and a sense of self-confidence and righteous belief in hard effort go together. There are days when it call comes together and others when it all falls apart.

Sadly, those pure principles don’t necessarily apply in a world where people seek convenient compromises or easier paths to whatever someone wants to call an achievement. The finish line even moves at times, leaving hardened, honest souls to fight on as if trapped in a gauntlet of perpetual annoyance and emasculating pokes. Women branded as witches have in the past been hung and burnt in public for less than some people do in the corporate sector. Yet the VP sign on the door works as a talisman against all forms of perceived evil, but mostly against the truth that might contradict the accepted (or desired) beliefs.

In this maelstrom, a person like me that was accustomed to putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible is quite likely to get tripped up. Some call for “emotional intelligence” to navigate through the morass of conflicted employment. Inner doubts are the enemy there just like they are at the starting line of any race. Fear is the ultimate crucifix of false hopes. Either you’re ready to meet the challenges of the day, or you are not.

Some of us learn the difference between association and disassociation early. I recall the day I spent reading an inspiring book titled The Peregrine while sitting on a high school football stadium steps. My mind was lifted clear of all other considerations, and I ran to first place that day leading our team to victory over a team that had not lost a dual meet in sixty straight competitions. Perhaps it is the most successful people that can recreate that level of transcendence in all of their existence.

But some things can’t be transcended no matter how hard you try. And in 2005-2006, while immersed in stressful caregiving first for my dying mother and then for my wife sick with cancer and father compromised by stroke, the company where I worked put me through what they called a “360 Degree Review.” My boss sent out surveys throughout the company asking associates to provide feedback on my performance. Much of it came back critical, and the manner in which the supposed facts of my shortcomings were delivered sucked the life right out of me. After being named Administrative Associate of the Year in 2003 and taking on additional responsibilities in Community Relations to help out the company during a tight set of economic years, I was being stripped naked for faults a bit beyond my capacity to handle everything coming my way in personal and work life.

That was 360 Degrees of Suck, and I felt betrayed by many people that I’d helped in many ways those first five years of employment. I wondered, “If things were supposedly so bad, why didn’t people ask me about them?” Indeed, upon hearing the complaints, there were some legitimate concerns, but they were mostly that: concerns over communications and such, not lost revenue or bad public relations. It wasn’t failure, in other words. It was being overwhelmed.

That all felt much like the feedback one gets after a less-than-stellar race. “Listen, you seem to have lost focus somewhere,” a coach might say.

I felt like that would have been a constructive discussion to have at that point rather than conducting 360 Degrees of Suck. Find out, perhaps, if Chris is having issues outside of work that might be impacting overall performance? The associates I managed were all immensely helpful and supportive. But my boss had his own set of fears and resentments in that period, and those came through loud and clear in his assessments of me. Overall, that 360 Review felt like being loudly “booed” by a crowd. I didn’t know how to handle it. My emotions were already all over the place.

So I did the one thing I knew how to do in the face of strange realities. I kept on running to sort out the suck from the “fuck yous” and start thinking about what should come next in life. There were signs that the company itself was suffering in many ways. The Internet had sucked literally millions of dollars out of the newspaper industry and our company. While I loved it there and wanted to stay, I also recognized that belt-tightening was likely on the horizon on many fronts. The economy was getting shaky under George W. Bush and the insane wars abroad in the wake of 9/11 made the entire country feel like living with a crazy uncle possessed by an alcohol problem.

Perhaps the only thing to do, I decided, was to get a little crazy myself.


About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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