You gotta be, cruel to be kind, in the right measure

I am still pondering the question that I was asked by Patrick OShaughnessy on his podcast “what is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you” that I wrote about recently.  I came to the realization that the kindest thing that anyone had ever done for me was actually painful.  Made me think of the Nick Lowe lyrics, “You gotta be, cruel to be kind, in the right measure. Cruel to be kind, it’s a very good sign”.  That has been bouncing around my head for days.

So, in the end, the thing that I keep coming back to is when I was fired.  I was running a clothing manufacturing company.  We parted ways.  When I left I decided that I should take a job vs running something again.  I had two young daughters and had it in my  head that if I was running something that I wouldn’t be present in their lives and I did not want to be that parent.  I’d end up thinking about work 24/7 and that would not be good.  If I had a sales job, it would be just 9-5 and work would not take over my entire being.

I had multiple offers and landed in a company that had a sales team that all sat in one big office together.  It was awful.  I was absolutely bored out of my mind.  That was not well suited for the sales team.  The guy I reported to realized that I had run a garment company before and knew most of the answers he didn’t know.  He would ask me stuff all the time….that was until he fired me.

Culturally I did not fit into the place but that isn’t why he fired me.  It was just one of the reasons.  He told me that not only should I not be in just sales, that I should be running a company and that I was way above his job, that he should report to me, not me to him.  I was devastated.  We had just bought a home in the burbs and I was the bread winner many times over.  I called Fred, he told me to come home and never get off at that subway stop again, that I needed to get out of that industry and I should now concentrate on our move, our girls and rethink my career.

Financially it was tough but those years where I was home every day with my kids (eventually having a third) until I thought I would lose my mind, was a gift.  Firing me put me on a new trajectory that I wouldn’t have necessarily found myself on.  In many ways I can point to that boot out the door that started my journey to where I sit right now.  So as cruel as it was, it was the kindest thing that anyone has ever done for me.

Comments (Archived):

  1. LE

    If I had a sales job, it would be just 9-5 and work would not take over my entire being.Interesting to note that today in sales I don’t think it’s 9-5 anymore (with many sales jobs) given text messages and email!!

  2. LE

    But how was it kind that someone fires you because it was in their best interest and not your best interest ie We had just bought a home in the burbs and I was the bread winner many times over.After all when he fired you he didn’t think ‘you know I am going to do a solid for Joanne because I know she will make it through this and be better off.”.My point is isn’t ‘kind’ when someone does something for a reasons that is primarily in your best interest rather than their best interest? Like if I make my stepkids clean the kitchen floor every night and do a good job of it or when a parent makes a child earn what they want to buy (even if they help out).Look anyone who has ever been in a relationship which the other person ended (but is now in a much much better place) is not going to thank the person even though in theory they should. Why? Because the breakup was probably done hurtfully and there is no way to get around that rejection emotion even if it is. And even if the person on the other end knows it was the right thing to do.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      There is a lot of truth here too, though I understand Gotham Gal’s point as well. There are people who practice deliberate kindness and then there are people who don’t. I like the idea of trying to think of who is the person who did the kindest act on my behalf?

  3. Shala Burroughs

    This has been your best piece yet. I so often hear the phrase “love your failures because you learn from them” without the story of what actually happened. More often than not these days articles are centered around building someone’s brand out of their prolific accomplishments. I wish there were most posts like this which focused on what didn’t go right, why, and the nature of the struggle that resulted to eventually engender success.I believe a profound struggle for my generation is reconciling the cognitive dissonance that results from the Facebook/Google twenty-something overnight millionaires that we have seen rise with the fact that success, by and large, takes much more work over an extended period of time. Thank you for writing this.

  4. Jeremy Robinson

    Great paradoxical response to this very evocative question. For some of us, real empathy comes from people and events who are challenging us the most. Sounds like Fred helped you with that kindness by supporting you emotionally in that moment. There’s a famous illustration from Margaret Mahler’s work in world of child/infant development about a Mom being able to push the toddler into the world- similar to the Mommy Bird pushing the baby bird out of the nest. Those moments of being pushed out of our own nests [comfort zones] often end up creating who we choose to become as we realize we can fly.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I like that. Pushed out of our comfort zones.

  5. Donna Brewington White

    Really appreciate this post. I often find myself resonating with your experience and the conclusions drawn. Your stories have been instrumental in helping me understand my own career and business journey as a woman and mother.I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced anything meant as cruelty being translated into an act of kindness. I have experienced cruelty that has helped me to be stronger and more resilient so the end result was good but sometimes the recovery from those situations has eclipsed the actual value. More helpful have been the times that someone has said or done something that seemed harsh at the time (but not cruel) and I later realized that the person had done me a great service — I would even call it a kindness.When I hold back a truth from someone that would benefit them, I feel like this is more cowardly than kind. Of course, I have to gauge the situation and my relationship with the person. Dropping a truth bomb on someone is not always the right thing to do. The concept “truth spoken in love” is the guideline.I think about this a lot as a recruiter — when do I tell the candidate the whole truth about why they are not being considered for the job? Or tell the client the full reason that someone has withdrawn from the interviewing process when it is based on the person’s own biases or perceptions? When is it helpful, and when does it do more harm than good? (Very rarely does a candidate turn down a job because we get everything out on the table before reaching this point, but I would always give the whole story to the client in that instance.)I was well into my career before I received my first real career advice — less than 10 years ago. Bob, the senior HR exec of a private equity firm and a friend of a friend was helping me through a time of (voluntary) job transition when I had resigned after giving a three-month notice that happened to coincide with the “great recession” and all my job prospects disappeared — harrowing times. As part of his guidance, Bob pointed out that my work experience did not represent a series of strategic career decisions in recent years. I realized that there was no way someone in his position in life could understand the acts of survival I had taken over the years especially as the primary income earner (married to a fledgling musician) while bearing and raising young children. Yep, it looked a little crazy to an onlooker. However, that feedback made me think hard (and more strategically) about my future, helped me to see how I might be perceived by a potential employer, and was catalytic to the discovery that I am at heart an entrepreneur and looking for a “job” was the wrong course of action. The result was a process of Reinvention. Harsh feedback, but kind. Very kind. I think about this a lot and how I can be a “Bob” in someone’s life.Sorry for the long comment — almost as long as your post. But I haven’t commented here for a while so maybe it averages out? 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      It averages out!Being truthful is difficult but I am a big believer in it as painful as it sometimes can be. No doubt there is a balance between in your face brash harsh truth vs tempered honesty