Danger and Opportunity

Posted on April 13, 2020


Twenty four years ago, I did a brief stint working for a bank[1] in Northern California.  It was the only time I have ever lived outside of Southern California.  It was also the most oppressive corporate culture I have ever experienced.  I reported directly to the president of the bank who would tell you himself that he scored zero in empathy on a personality inventory.  His boss, the CEO of the parent company was actually a worse boss.  Fortunately, I did not have to work for him directly.

Professionally, I had gone from being a regional manager with a lot of authority and autonomy to this organization in which I was continually micromanaged.  Further, I had moved my family to take the position.  From a lifestyle standpoint, it was good times.  We were living about 10 minutes from my office.  Since one could not be alone in the bank, my hours were limited to how early or late anyone else was in the office.  We had good family time and we made some friends that we still have.

At work, things were rough.  I was getting some accolades for turning around the performance of one of my direct reports.  The one and only thing that I did for which I could take any credit is that I insulated him from the pressure from above.  The man could actually do the job if you just quit beating him up.

As for me, I was told I was spending too much time in the office (as opposed to out talking with clients and prospects) in a week in which I had 22 outside appointments.  The response to my pointing this out was “All I can tell you is that I am seeing you around here too much.”  I was told that the businesses I was talking with were too small when my average deal size was above average for the bank.  Perception was more important than facts.  After one of these conversations, which included the president and the HR director, I came back the next day to ask, “Am I on any sort of corrective action here?”  The president said, “No.  You would know if you were.  I just lack empathy.”

All of this may be way too much information, but I tell it to provide a view to my mental and emotional state at the time.

Meanwhile, we had not sold our San Diego home yet.  We had some friends renting it from us with the intent that they would buy it.  Homes were actually slightly cheaper in the area to which we had moved.  We were looking at homes, but my wife started getting eyes for buying a higher end home than what we had.  That would be fine as long as I continued to earn what I was making.  A disruption or reduction in income would be problematic.  I was the sole breadwinner.

One morning, I was in the kitchen packing my lunch and Carol came in from her morning constitutional (i.e. her walk with the dog).  She took a look at me and asked, “Are you okay?”  I broke down in tears.  The gist of what I said was, “I’m not okay.  I feel trapped.  I hate what I’m doing.  And I feel like I can’t make another change so soon without looking like I am job hopping?”  She said, “You’re not trapped.  And if you want to go home, we’ll go home.”

We met for lunch that day and started talking about all of the options of what I could do for employment.  It was like a weight lifted off of me.  I went from a feeling of tunnel vision and like I was carrying the weight of the world to a feeling of freedom and possibilities.

I reached out to some contacts and within a couple of weeks, I had a job offer in San Diego.  We ended up moving back into our old house.[2]  I took a cut in salary to get home, but it was totally worth it.

A minor point I would make here is what my friend Nick calls “YAHOO,” you always have other options.  Sometimes problems seem so daunting because we get so focused and committed to the current course of action, that we don’t recognize the myriad of other options that we have.

The second minor point goes along with the first one.  As the great philosopher, Shawn Mullins, once sang, “Everything’s gonna be alright.  Rock-a-bye.”  My usual default setting is that everything is going to work out.  In this case it wasn’t my perspective and I needed someone to remind me.

A more main point is that being securely attached to your partner can be a great buffer for the stressors of life.  Human beings were made for relationship.  We do miserably in isolation.  The research has demonstrated that human beings bear up under suffering much better if at least one other person knows they are suffering.  Secure attachment has been demonstrated to be analgesic.  That is to say, we experience less pain when we have someone with us with whom we have an attachment relationship.

When I was in grad school the last time, I took a crisis intervention class.  As part of the class we were asked to share about our worst moments.  I shared the story you just read plus a couple of others.  My professor pointed observed, “Your wife is your therapist.”  To my thinking, this is as it should be.  If you have a mate to whom you can turn for care, comfort, and support when you are in distress, what do you need a therapist for?

My faculty advisor in grad school was a native Chinese speaker.  He would sometimes point out that the Chinese character for “crisis” was made up of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.”

We are in a time of crisis for many.  Relationally, there can be both danger and opportunity in that.  The stress can drive you apart or it can bring you closer together.  This can be something that you face together with mutual support and commitment.  It can be a time of being there for your partner, and having your partner be there for you.  Letting your needs be known in constructive ways.  Allowing yourself to be seen.  This can be a time that defines your relationship in lasting, positive ways.   My hope for you is that you can seize the opportunity to make your marriage a safe harbor for both of you against the stressors of life.  This may be a scary time, but you are in this together.

[1] I will leave out the names to protect the guilty.

[2] The friends we had rented the house to actually ended up splitting up so they wouldn’t have purchased it anyway..