“The best revenge is a life well lived.” I told myself this time and time again as I sat across the table from my companies HR reps and lawyers. It was 4 years ago and I was being interrogated by the corporate America equivilent of the Spetznaz. My trangressions were as follows: that I did knowingly and without remorse engange in extra-company revenue generating activities without reporting them to my cubicle overlords.
All of this was true. Also, all of this was false. Let me tell you a little bit of background before I continue my tale.
As soon as I arrived in Charlotte, NC in 2001 I learned that I was the last hire of the company closing their expansion at the end of the tech bubble. Being new in town, with no contacts of the same age, I did what any other sane man would do. I went back to college. At night and at the company’s expense, of course.
Majoring in Computer Science, minoring in Mathematics, English and beer pong I thought it best to diversify my education. I couldn’t see myself doing and MBA, I had just started my internment in the corporate dungeons and the best schools required several years of experience. Being young, stupid, and still largely confining my thinking to such self-imposed limitations, I decided that I would go for a MS in Information Technology. That should be a good buffer between the business world and engineering, I thought. Technical enough to keep my attention and ‘business’ enough so I wouldn’t have to break a sweat with any tough thinking.
Boy was I wrong. It was so easy I had difficulty making myself attend class. When I did it was only to argue with ivory tower professors that tried to teach business computing theory from textbooks that would never fly where I worked. I hated that degree but I was going to finish it.
My last semester there was a professor new to UNCC from Cal Tech. The guy was sharp. I loved engaging him. He would get so excited about every possibility technology provided. After the first week it became time for us to pair up in groups and select a term project. The project had to be phrased in a question that we were trying to solve.
One day we had to announce it to the class. The professor in turn read each of our names off of a list and asked what our project was to be and to name the team we were on. I was incredibly burned out on my post graduate experience by this time. After several years of going to school at night, to the labs and library after class both after working between 40 and 80 hours a week I answered “My team is myself. The question I am trying to solve is ‘How can what I’ve learned in the Master’s make me money?'”
Any other professor would have found this incredibly insulting. Not this one. He loved it. After warning me that I would still have to produce the same volume of work on a one man team as the three and four man teams, he agreed and sent me on my way. The supposedly extra workload didn’t bother me. For most of my graduate degree I had been saddled with a bunch of non-performers and I thought it would be easier to only rely on myself rather than having to teach, cajole, and marshall up to 3 other students. I Was right.
The work became easy as I was passionate about it. Finally, here was real world application that involved technology entrepreneurship and money! I studied all about e-commerce, order fufillment, blogging, SEO, Amazon services, newsletter marketing, etc. Where ever and however people were making money online in 2004, I was on it!
In the end I got an A in the class, graduated and moved on. The seeds were sown. I had to make an on-line mepire. But how? I found my start in Toastmasters.
Toastmasters is a public speaking club. You learn through self-discovery and practice how to create and deliver speeches of different kinds. I learned (well, I’m still learning) how to organize, verbalize, and share my thoughts. It was a very enriching experience. Interestingly enough, several of my fellow Toastmasters were also my colleagues at my company. We would often relate to each other about how the lessons we were picking up giving speeches to a small group of devoted self-improvers was helping us at our jobs. It was a good time.
At the tail end of my Toastmaster experience I had started a small website design company. Trust me, putting out your own shingle will teach you more about business than any MBA will. Ever one to try to kill two hundred birds with one stone, I started turning my speeches to focus on this fledgling side company that I was building. A small company that I had filled out paperwork with my cubicle masters to validate and approve of. (They really, really like to know what their employees are up to.)
In what ended up being a tremendous Career Limiting Move I blended one of my Toastmaster exercises and wrote a speech about the fictional website design company I was just starting and included (stupidly) the names of my coworkers at the cubicle company as officers in the fictional website design one. This error was compounded tenfold when I wrote it on a Blogging platform that was indexed by Google. I had never published that page to the public – it was a glorified fictional homework assignment, not a business page – but it got indexed because Google owned the blogging platform I ran it on.
For a moment, let’s look at this from the point of view of Human Resources. You are searching the internet one day Googling the names of every employee in your company. Or perhaps a worker bee who is disgruntled towards a young engineer who is making his way up the ranks and recently received a Master of Science degree (at company expense) is doing this. Either way it comes to your attention in HR world that there exists a webpage listing that young engineer and the names of several other engineers as officers of an incredible successful engineering company. Could this be interesting to the company’s legal and ethics review board? Could these engineers be stealing company resources? Who knows. Best to launch a full investigation.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details of the inquistion…. I mean investigation. In the end I relayed the same story as I relayed here. There were additional questions about other websites that I owned. One of those websites is a bodybuilding an nutritional supplement e-commerce store. They misinterpreted that to mean I owned a gym….. Anyway, lots of questions were asked and I answered them all. I am still employeed there today and it hasn’t come up again – at least not to my knowledge.
Eventually I learned a lesson about posting information under my name (and other friend’s / colleagues names) to the internet. I never learned who tipped HR off or if they actually spent all of their time Googling my name and investigating the hits.
For a long time I was obsessed with learning who turned me in to HR. I was convinced that it couldn’t have been a random occurance. I was never able to even come up with a Google query to find the offending page though I subsequently deleted it from my sitemap, issued redirects from the page, and performed all sorts of other technical wizardry to ensure that the page was buried and would never see the light of day again.
I had becomed obessed with finding this fink, this rat so I could extract sweet, sweet revenge. Barred of a name, I was denied a target. With nobody to satiate my frustration and anger on what was I to do? How could I get my revenge?
One night it came to me in the form of a telephone call. I was asking my friend why in the world someone would try to ruin my career with the company. If indeed a person turned me in, they certainly didn’t have my best interests in mind. Her reply was straight forward and simple. “Don’t you know?” she asked. “You are young, ambitious, good at what you do, and have a lot of fun living your life. People are jealous.”
To that point I never contemplated someone being jealous of me. Certainly I had started achieving some things but the price of those wins were exhobritant, I was always working. The times I was not working, I was flying off to London, Prague, Rome, Los Angeles, New York, etc. to blow off some accumulated steam. When that wasn’t possible I was at the gym working out like a madman to keep myself sane. As a result I was becoming well-travelled and in pretty good shape – 2 more items that this mysterious backstabber could hold against me. (And let’s say, perhaps, a touch arrogant!)
This is when I decided that while I may never know my unnamed assailant, I could still turn that knife of jealousy in them. I could continue to grow, do better, and live life to the fullest. That was their kryptonite. After all, they had failed in getting me kicked out of the company and I Was still doing everything as I was before. They must be reeling in the impotency of their attack. It stood to reason that the best way to get revenge was to live my life fully and well.
And that’s where I am today. I wrote this article sitting on a plane headed to Portland, ME and uploaded it from a 16th centurey farmhouse turned B&B. My professional career is better than ever and the website design company continues to bear fruit. Having just completed a 5.25 mile swim, I’m not in bad shape. This sounds like pretty sweet revenge to me. Wait til that SOB sees what I do for an encore.