But if I’d quit when I should have, I wouldn’t have this story, by Deb Katie

PhotobucketMy first job was working in my father’s office over the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school.

During this time, my little sister would come to the office after day camp and hang out in the back room, where the radio (office-friendly oldies, of course) played the loudest. I think one of my fondest memories ever is my seven-year-old sister walking around the office, singing to herself, “The man who shot — Liberty Valance… he shot — Liberty Valance…” And when I called her attention to what she was singing, she said, “Huh? I don’t know that song.”

Now. Let’s talk “worst,” shall we?

A terrifyingly true story.

(The employees of Company Z are gathered around the conference table. The smell of rock-bottom morale is in the air. That and maybe somebody’s post-lunch beer breath.)

BOSS 1: We gathered you all here because we want to come up with a mission statement, something that will really energize us.

BOSS 2: There’s enormous power in words. A good mission statement should jump out at people, like a bear jumping out of a cave.

(Morale is too low for anyone to laugh at this. Which is fine with Boss 2, because it was not a joke.)

BOSS 1: We’re going to start by going around and having everyone suggest a word that describes what they’d like to experience when they come to work.

(Boss 1 positions himself at the whiteboard.)

EMPLOYEE 1: Creativity?

EMPLOYEE 2: Happiness?

EMPLOYEE 3: Integrity?

(And so on.)

KATIE: Innovation?

LAST EMPLOYEE: Uh… Communication?

(Everyone’s ears perk up, because this dude seriously causes so much drama because he never wants to discuss his business with anyone, even when it directly affects everyone else’s business.)

BOSS 1: Now, let’s start crossing things off the list!

(Katie raises her hand. Boss 1 acknowledges her warily, since she is getting to be sort of cranky these days.)

KATIE: It just seems like there are a lot of interesting ideas up there. Why are we crossing them off the list when we should be talking about how we could implement them?

BOSS 1: I don’t understand.

BOSS 2: Well, because we’re writing a mission statement.

KATIE: Why don’t we just try to improve the company?

BOSS 2: A bear… jumping out of a cave?

KATIE: Oh, forget it.

(As a group, they go down the list. If someone says they can live without a concept, everyone is given the opportunity to defend the concept. If no decision is reached through discussion, it goes to a vote.)

BOSS 1: Okay, we’ve narrowed things down pretty well. Now, let’s see… how about “integrity”?

KATIE: Yeah, let’s keep that one.

BOSS 1: Hmm, okay. Let’s see. Who thinks we need “integrity”?

(Everyone raises their hands.)

BOSS 1: It’s just that given the nature of our industry…

(Awkward silence.)

BOSS 2: Oh, yes… I see where you’re going with this.

KATIE: But don’t you want your employees to have integrity?

BOSS 2: Oh, we’re not talking about us.

BOSS 1: It’s about the company.

BOSS 2: It’s a mission statement.

KATIE: But… seriously?

(Many other employees also speak up in defense of integrity.)

BOSS 1: Okay, fine, let’s put it to a vote.

(The result is: Everyone Else vs. Boss 1 and Boss 2.)

KATIE: Can we write our mission statement now? (“And go home” is implied.)

BOSS 1: Yeah, yeah, in a second. I just want to come back to the concept of integrity.

BOSS 2: You know, you’re right, Boss 1. This can be a cutthroat business.

KATIE: But you still need integrity, right? Because how else could you look yourself in the —

BOSS 1: Hey, let’s vote!

(The vote is: Everyone Else vs. Boss 1 and Boss 2.)

BOSS 2: We’re so close, everybody. I know we can come together and do this!

BOSS 1: Let’s just… let’s have one more vote about “integrity.”

(The vote is: Enough People plus Boss 1 and Boss 2 vs. Katie and the Other Troublemakers. “Integrity” is crossed off the whiteboard.)

BOSS 2: Awesome, guys!

BOSS 1: This is really a powerful exercise.

KATIE: Can someone please push me out the window?

(Katie didn’t really say that. But she did, once they had settled on an integrity-free mission statement, go back to her office and print it out on a piece of paper with a bear graphic at the bottom. The next morning, Fellow Troublemaker and Katie made a hundred copies and plastered the office with them. When Boss 1 arrived, he looked around in wonderment.)

BOSS 1: Wow! What’s all this?

KATIE: Our mission statement.

BOSS 1 (looking closer): Is that… a wombat?

KATIE: No. It’s a bear. Jumping out of a cave at you.

BOSS 1 (really worried now): It looks like a wombat.

(Another Employee comes in.)

ANOTHER EMPLOYEE: Hey, look at that! Our mission statement …And a picture of a rat?

KATIE: It’s a bear. Jumping out of a cave. To attack you with its mission statement.

BOSS 1 (shakes head sadly): I love the idea of what you’ve done, but I really don’t think the wombat is sending the right message.

(Katie and Fellow Troublemaker go around the office cutting the bottoms off the papers off to remove the worrisome wombats, even though they are clearly bears.)


Two months later, after enduring morning commutes where the desire to turn around and go back to bed is so strong it almost causes Katie to throw up, Katie quits.

In her subsequent employment opportunities, Katie seeks out companies where nothing is expected to jump out of a cave at you and the importance of “integrity” is considered above debate.

And there are no mission statements.

~ Deb Katie Alender

(Okay, so maybe it looks a little like a wombat.)

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24 Replies to “But if I’d quit when I should have, I wouldn’t have this story, by Deb Katie”

  1. Oh, Katie! This part is the funniest:

    “BOSS 1: It’s just that given the nature of our industry…

    (Awkward silence.)

    BOSS 2: Oh, yes… I see where you’re going with this.”

    I don’t suppose you were working for Enron, were you?

  2. Eve, thank you! One more vote for bear sanity. As for your question, you know I can’t answer that!

    Danielle, my pleasure. It’s funny… NOW. It was so unfunny at the time. Amazing how that works.

    Kristina, it was certainly a company that had some philosophical similarities with Enron, but nope, not Enron.

  3. What a funny story! I love the wombat/bear, and how no one went for integrity. Is anyone surprised we’re having a corporate meltdown these days?

  4. I’m sorry, but it’s clearly a wolverine standing on its hind legs about to push over a small tree. Get with it people….

    PS: Meetings of any kind are a waste of time, because the majority of people “running” them, don’t know what the heck they’re doing. Maybe that’s why I’m a stay-at-home dad now. There are no meetings here. My home is purely a dictatorship. ;D

  5. I agree with Eve…it is a bear. And why can’t you tell?
    I won’t even go into the bad, bad and badest jobs I have had…medical horror stories, drug abusing doctors, and I just finished working in a prison(I gave myself a suspended sentence after a year)…but then I am attracted to drama(so says Eve and my therapist) and have a big mouth(so says everyone). I once helped close a bad nursing home and put the administrator in jail. That was fun. NOT!

  6. Larramie, amen to that!

    Jason, I couldn’t agree more. I hate meetings with every fiber of my being. Everyone at work knows not to invite me to a meeting unless there’s no way it could possibly happen without me. As a result, I go to very few and I am a very happy camper.

  7. I spent an entire day in a meeting debating if we should call the people who came to our hospital clients or patients. AN ENTIRE AFTERNOON of my life gone. If only we had spent so much time debating how to treat them instead.

  8. I hope you got a lot of doodling done at that meeting, Katie — I would have. I remember a place I worked once where we were required to ‘brainstorm’. It never went anywhere, but it gave me great doodling opportunities. Yoga breathing — I got a lot of that done too.

  9. Dear Deb Katie…Eve would rather get poked in the eye with a sharp stick.
    The very idea that we are somewhat alike gives Eve hives. Writing, gardening, pottery making,cooking, being funny, and saving the world have been more then hobbies for me…but I really can not compete with Eve…she actually “finishes” things…is smarter then I am, a better student, and has St. John…which shows how smart she really is.

    Anyway, I have started several memoirs…one is actually called…”What is a Nice Boy like you doing in this Book”…but I wouldn’t want anyone to read it until I was dead…and then some. I do dabble in poetry…some stuff on Gather.com…but writing has always served me well, and I think it is a great tool in anyone’s life.

  10. Eileen, I’ve sat through many meetings that felt like that… but now I’m curious as to what was decided on!

    Mary, it would have been very conspicuous and frowned on, I’m afraid, since we were “team building.” But you can bet I played “count the number of times the trendy management words are used” and all of those fun mental games.

    Eve’s Mom, well, she learned it from somewhere! And the humor gene definitely seems to have passed down from your side. Not saying anything about the other side, of course. Maybe Eve has two humor genes… I’d believe it after reading her book.

  11. Hmm…seems to me that someone in your group might have worked those experiences into the sitcom “The Office.” Not quite the same as the show’s plots, but perhaps inspiration for the characters’ maladroit handing of certain situations:0) Or maybe you felt like George Constanza was one of your co-workers, and the rest of your team the type of group he had to deal with (don’t you wish you were an architect?).

  12. Oh, there is a lot of humor on the other side too…we are a bunch of funny people.
    Deb Eileen…when I worked in the hospital and the drug rehab…we went from patients, to clients, to…get this…consumers…it was so funny. And we had to change the way we wrote our notes to reflect the changing political correctness…of dealing with the homeless and other “consumers” of what was really charity. I really to this day, do not know how I feel about this. But to call the people I helped get methodone so they wouldn’t shoot up…consumers…geeze.

  13. Tom, if someone from that company had ended up writing for “The Office,” I would have totally understood!

    Eve’s Mom, that’s wild. Technically, they were consumers. They just consumed, you know, heroin. 😉

  14. Is this the same job where you would refer to coworkers and the bosses as things like Baron Von Douchebag and Lord Incompetent — of course, yours were far more witty than that.

    And in what industry is integrity not a good idea? Did you work as a pimp? Drug lord? Crime ring? Have you ever been on COPS?

  15. Oh, yes… Lord VonTansalot or something like that. Can’t quite recall. Sister, you were there when things were ugly! Thank God those days are over.

    I know, right? Even drug dealers are supposed to have integrity within their organizations. Sheesh.

    Well, to restate–thank God! On to happier times (and saner bosses).

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