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Beware Your Inner Idiot


Self-sabotage at work and play.

Just as Tiger Woods' secret to golf supremacy is to "be the ball," the secret to working for an idiot is to "be the idiot." Perhaps disagreeable at first blush, it's a lot more plausible than being a golf ball.

Most therapists babble incessantly about embracing your inner child; my therapeutic model -- especially when coaching executives -- has always been to embrace your inner idiot. More specifically, control, curb, constrain, arrest, neutralize, suppress, tame, thwart and terminate that ugly little gargoyle before it rears its ugly head and blows up another relationship – or your career.

My inner idiot has been the force behind every failed relationship of my personal and professional life. He has a habit of appearing out of nowhere at the most inopportune times and making me say the most regrettable things, leading to the costliest of consequences. It seems my inner idiot enjoys seeing me start all over again – and again and again. Left unchecked, my inner idiot can become an all-enveloping outer idiot, smug at just having told off my boss. Smug all the way to the door of the unemployment office.

Idiotism, as we refer to it in Idiots Anonymous, is ultimately about cluelessness. The first step we recite, as we sit in our circle of metal folding chairs in the basement of the Methodist church every Thursday evening at 7:30, is to admit that we're powerless over stupidity in the universe. And that it will require an intelligence superior to our own to save us from our own cluelessness. To believe you're flat out smarter and more enlightened than the rest of the planet is to deceive yourself. Buying into arrogant superiority is a clear sign that you're a couple bricks short of a load.

Which side of the boss coin are you on? Idiot bosses usually consider themselves morally, if not intellectually, superior to their direct reports. There is, after all, a food chain in any organization. Employees just as often fancy themselves cognitive giants, thinking circles around their bumbling idiot bosses. I thought I knew everything about working for an idiot until I became self-employed. That's when the games really began.

Yet working for an idiot is far from life's worst experience. It's almost like an adventure. Idiots come in all shapes and sizes, and they can be as entertaining as they are frustrating. By and large they're innocent and innocuous. They don't mean any harm. They have no hidden agenda. They're not smart enough to hide anything.

When the boss's outer idiot meets the employee's inner idiot – it can be simpatico or it can release the dogs of war. The quality of your life in the workplace is a matter of perspective. Whether the idiot you work for is driving you to the point of suicide or making you laugh in the face of utter despair depends on the attitude you choose. In many organizations, the game of Idiot, Idiot, Who's the Bigger Idiot never ends.

Too many of us have wasted precious time, invested enormous energy and exhausted tremendous resources engaging in boss bashing just to act out unresolved adolescent rebellion issues on the target we've been socialized since early childhood to hate without question, to loathe with extreme prejudice – the boss. Any boss.

So be aware that struggles with your boss, especially if you're a serial boss-hater, are as intrinsic as they are extrinsic: It takes two clueless creatures to Cha Cha. When the orchestra starts to play, stop, get a choke collar on your inner idiot and stand down. Nobody ever advanced his or her career by making the boss look foolish. Bosses will do that well enough without your help. And bosses, when your employees' inner idiots start dragging wood up the hill to Golgotha, remember that they, in all likelihood, know not what they're doing.

We all know what it is to be the idiot. Ergo, we know what it is to not be the idiot. There will never be a magical moment when all idiots disappear. But the moment you and I do the world a favor and stop adding our own idiocy to the equation, the sooner we can focus on what's really important, like golf.
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