How 27 words from the late Irish Poet, Philosopher, and Catholic scholar helped me

The words of John O’Donahue helped me navigate the consequences from the behavior of a terrible colleague

Three months into a new job, a colleague, who happened to be a the company co-founder, started behaving inappropriately. You know the type — selfish with a skewed view of reality, and just a real bummer to be around. His inappropriate actions became problematic for company moral and the progress of the organization. In conversation he was talking out of both sides of his mouth, his decision making became a perpetual game of flip-flop, and he zig-zagged on his contributions to the companies direction. We were a distributed team so the remote working structure lessened the burden of his actions but once we started gathering for in-person team building and attending industry events, things unraveled. The dishonesty and manipulation escalated. The ideas and opinions of others were mocked or ignored as the team was being treated as a means to an end to serve his agenda.

After the shock settled, my initial response was to run and resign. But after taking with other team members and against the will of my family, the appeal the team we’d built and the potential to see the success of our efforts won. As an organization, we had invested so much time and resources into executing a plan for growth I just couldn’t let myself walk away, no matter how terrible the situation had gotten. I didn’t realize that the behavior was having an effect on my life outside of a professional setting. It was impacting my mood and outlook as well as my personal relationships. The behavior continued and unfortunately, worsened. At the same time, I had become blind to its effect on me when out of the blue, one of my philosophy advisors from my undergraduate studies sent me a snippet from John O’Donahue’s book, “Beauty,” with a note attached, “Something told me you could use this:”

“Against the world with all its turbulence, distraction, and worry, one should cultivate a style of mind that can reach through to an inner stillness and calm.”

I’d heard about moments like this — those that catch your attention like a lightning strike at midnight in the desert. This was the first I’d ever experienced such an instance and it made me realize I had a major problem. I’d allowed myself to slip into an ugly and rough place. The turmoil at work was stressful and causing me to experience a whirlwind of emotions. Anger and rage had become my go-to response to almost every event and everyone in my life. Something had happened that I’d never experienced — I had found comfort in a predictable yet difficult place in my mind — a dark room without windows. I had closed off reality and no longer could the light from outside penetrate and illuminate my life. This way of seeing and operating perpetuates misery.

The world works wonders and brings others into your life when you most need them. I only talk to this professor a couple times a year, but those 27 words were a much-needed wake-up call. I needed to find my inner stillness and calm. I had to make a change and my only option was to put the wheels in motion immediately. In times of struggle we often forget our purpose. Our default coping mechanism and reaction, it seems to me, is to push through and stay the course. The outcome is rarely positive. In my case, the situation worsened. It was stressing me out to a point of potentially running my relationships. My energy was zapped to nearly zero and my creativity was crushed — my writing had ceased to a grinding halt. In the end, I was left questioning my sanity and self-worth.

People with a selfish attitude that constantly take and never give should have zero space in your life. I took this moment of realization and found my inner peace with a return to nature. I began scheduling multiple daily walks. My relationship with nature has always been the source for my creative flow. It wasn’t easy — it’s grueling work to shift the way you think and see things. I hunkered down and found my calm and no longer were his actions affecting my behavior and outlook. Re-engaging with nature ignited my creative writing. I was back on track and up at 4 am with pen in hand scratching the eyes out of my Moleskines. Something as important to me like writing had totally left my daily routine as a result of my energy being bled dry from the dysfunction and turmoil at work.O’Donahue says:

“So much depends on how we see things.”

By narrowing and restricting our vision, our expectations and actions become predictable. He describes this situation and the results when we find ourselves there: “The way we look at things has a huge influence on what becomes visible for us.” In times like this, remember Jim Rohn’s realization, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Since we spend so much time at work, this implication is crucial, and each of us should force ourselves to examine our surroundings often to ensure we are in an environment conducive to our flourishing.