..Ellen Goldhar..

How to Ruin Your Life

Want to ride the road to workplace ruin? Have your ego do the driving.

As a consultant, coach, human resources professional and previous employee of various companies, I've had the unfortunate privilege of witnessing some pretty deplorable behaviour. Managers disciplining employees by ridiculing them in front of their peers, staff having sex in their offices -- or worse in other people's office's, employees swearing at their boss, and even an employee making photocopies of his rear-end. And, I've also experienced hard-to-take arrogance, egos the size of elephants, and employer attitudes that I don't think even a mother could love.

I have asked myself why? What are they thinking when they're behaving that way? Could it be they're sick and tired of success and want to try something new -- like failure?

Well, if that's the case, there's a book written especially for them -- How to Ruin Your Life by actor/comedian/writer, Ben Stein who prides himself as a failure desperately trying not to happen.

Stein has appeared in over 30 movies and TV series, but is best known for playing the role of a teacher with a monotonous tone of voice in the classic comedy hit Ferris Bueller's Day Off. What most people don't know about Stein is that he's also worked as an economist, graduated from Yale Law School, was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon at the White House, and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, all before moving to Hollywood to become an actor, screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, and syndicated columnist.

As he says in the foreword, "You may ask why I'm qualified to write this book, and you should. I've been following failure intently since I was in elementary school (and maybe earlier)...I've been privileged to observe failure in the Ivy League, in the field of law, in the world of finance, in the White House (and oh, what a failure!), in Hollywood circles, in academia -- just about everywhere."

"It's been fascinating to me to observe that while successful folks have all kinds of different routes to triumph, failures have a lot in common," notes Stein.

Should life be going too uncomfortably well for you, the following list shares some of Stein's suggestions to reverse the positive cycle:

  • Don't learn any useful skills
  • Don't learn any self-discipline
  • Convince yourself you're the center of the universe
  • Never accept any responsibility for anything that goes wrong
  • Criticize early and often
  • Make the people around you feel small
  • Live as if truth is relative -- a distant relative
  • Remember that no one else counts
  • Show everyone around you that you are holier than thou
  • Fight the good fight....over everything
  • Do it your way
  • Think the worst of everyone
  • Whenever possible say, "I told you so"
  • For those of you not ready to throw in the "success" towel, even though some of the worst bosses, friends and colleagues may have been hard to take at times, they do have one legacy to leave you -- showing you what NOT to do. One of the best teaching tools is failure -- and the best part is, it doesn't have to be your own mistake in order for you to learn from it.

    "Failure is often a virtual road map to success -- in reverse. Trace the route to poverty, loneliness, obscurity, and despair...and then go in exactly the opposite direction...and you can wind up with comfort, good company, a fine reputation and high self-confidence," says Stein.

    Reversing failures can be simple -- it starts with pulling the wool off your eyes and admitting things didn't work. Then taking time to reflect on what could be done differently. Another way is to list the things that bosses or colleagues have done to you that you didn't like and then turn that list of what not to do's into a list of what to do's and now you got yourself a performance improvement guideline.

    So, if you are still dead-set on a course of self-destruction, according to Stein, "The key in every case is to be obsessed, selfish, and immature. When you find yourself acting with kindness, generosity, prudence, or common sense, you're probably way off base and might even be wandering into the rules for making your life a success. That would be a grave error."

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    Ellen Goldhar is a professional business coach/consultant and can be contacted at ellen.goldhar@rogers.com.

    Links to her previous columns:
    Managing in Grey.
    Listen to the Customer.