My Worst Colleague Ever

Written by: Christopher Sell

Primary Source: The Wednesday Wake Up

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We’ve all met them — those colleagues who seem to drive us to the workplace “brink”. They have an uncanny ability to push our buttons and leave stress in their wake. They might talk over us at meetings, openly criticize our work or simply suffer from a chronic negative attitude. They have a unique power to deflate our confidence and inject doubt in our hopes and dreams. We all have a certain brand of co-worker that “gets under our skin” — and we struggle to happily co-exist.

But I’ve learned something surprising recently.

The worst colleague I’ve ever had is me. That guy can be a huge jerk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with negative, talent-lacking people before, but never like this guy. It’s never enough with him. I blog, I tweet, I work out, I walk my dog in the wee hours of the morning when it’s still dark outside and my cheeks turn red from the cold crisp air. I’d like to think I work fairly hard at being a successful and good person. I’m a 29 year-old career educator and talent connector with nearly 5 years of experience and a master’s degree from an outstanding graduate program.

And he still thinks I should be doing more.

There’s always one more opportunity to chase, one more tweet to send, or one more moment to capitalize on. There’s seemingly always greener pastures that I should be pursuing. My LinkedIn news feed is constantly reminding me of my peer’s promotions and the job titles that are escaping me.

It’s exhausting and the worst part is, unlike every other colleague I’ve ever had, he lives with me! When I lay my head down on the pillow, it is him who chases me into fitful sleep. I could have written another blog post tonight, he will say smugly.

When I rise, it is him telling me I slept in too late. You should have woken at 6:00 AM today…there are leaders in this world that have run 7 miles or written an entire book chapter by this time, and you’re just waking up?!

He’s even there when I’m walking our ferociously clumsy black lab at twilight, shouting ideas over the sound of crickets and friendly neighborhood hustle, a long litany of tasks that I must finish before the day is complete.

His favorite word is “more.” More hours spent behind a laptop, more blog posts written, more miles on the treadmill, more monthly income, more home square footage. More. More. More.

The confusing part is that this relationship started off so well. We used to be friends. Years ago, when I was a wide-eyed college undergraduate with wanderlust in the soles of my shoes, he told me that the world was navigated best with passion, energy, and dedication. On the days I felt like I might not be able to pass my next graduate class, he cheered me on from the sidelines.

But the cheers have turned to jeers, the encouragement to discouragement. I worry that his narcissistic prodding has led me to worry so much about what is next that I’m no longer able to enjoy the right now.

What’s the solution?

I think I need to change the script. I’ll consider ways to help modify the tenor of the relationship for the better. I might explain to my terrible colleague how he makes me feel, or develop a response that could end the cycle. For example, I could say: “I would appreciate if we could discuss your problems with my work privately going forward…” or “I’m happy to help you out from time to time, but this isn’t possible when I have a deadline.”

Or maybe, “Hey colleague — you suck — I will still be an accomplished person even if I don’t double the square footage of my home this year.”

Whatever this might be, I’ll need to rehearse my response. When the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be more prepared.

Or maybe it’s a matter of ditching our crabby co-worker for a more supportive workplace pal. Maybe it’s about creating space for you to revel in your successes, your accomplishments, the things of which you should absolutely be proud. Because as Thoreau once said, “Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land.”

We must learn how to find eternity in each moment. 

I have a horrible colleague right now. As I type this, he’s swearing I should be focusing on something else. As I shutdown my laptop, I know he will say, “You should have written two posts today, not just one.”

Horrible colleagues are the worst. But I’m excited about changing the script going forward.

We deserve better.

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My name is Christopher Sell and I'm an educator in higher education. At my core, I'm passionate about creating synergy and connecting people to opportunity. I place tremendous focus on collaboration, strategic planning, forward-thinking, and teamwork in any professional environment. As an alumnus of Western Michigan University (WMU) and Michigan State University (MSU), I'm equally committed to leveraging relationships with industry and students/graduates to retain & attract talent in the state of Michigan and contribute to the economic revitalization of the "Mitten State" that I love so much. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the Pure Michigan campaign.

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