Why You Won’t Catch Me Eating A Giant Ball of Wasabi For $100 In Corporate America Ever Again

Ever since I remember, I’ve always liked making people laugh and smile. If I said or did something that got a laugh, I’ve gotten a huge shot of adrenaline and it’d make my day way better. And while I’ve never seriously considered acting or stand-up comedy, making people laugh had, in a lot of ways, become a pretty big part of my persona. Even throughout my twenties, when my friends have gotten older and more mature, this didn’t change.

But while making people laugh, itself, is not a bad thing, there’s a time and place for everything. And even around other people with a good sense of humor, you need to always be cognizant of how you’ll appear (and be judged) by coworkers, friends, and family. Being liked is not the same thing as being respected, and while playing a fool may get you liked, it will more likely than not come at the cost of respect. And maybe even your taste for wasabi.

Back in my earlier days with the company, our Managing Director had sushi catered in for lunch. Near the end of the meal, only a golf-ball sized wad of wasabi remained. Our Research Manager challenged me, stating, “If you eat that entire ball of wasabi without water or milk, I’ll give you twenty bucks.” Before I could say anything or react, another person chimed in “I’ll add twenty”, “I’ll throw in ten”, “I’ll do twenty”. Here we go.

Soon enough, everyone was gathered around in our common area to watch me down that ball of wasabi. And surely enough, I did. It was as horrible as you would imagine. Chewing seemed to not move the process forward, and the harsh, green paste would barely go anywhere. As I consumed it, I knew exactly where it was in my body at all times. I wouldn’t eat anything for a day and a half after that because I felt so sick.

After 90 seconds of excruciation, it was all over and I had solidified my legend as the “fun guy” at the company. I would be branded as an extrovert who wasn’t afraid to put himself out there and do something hilarious with no shame.

So, time went on after that. I learned more about my industry and I gained different skills and expertise as I developed a liking for what I was doing. I wanted to grow within the company and take steps forward. But as new hires joined our team and current teammates were also looking to progress within the company, it became difficult to really gain the respect that other leaders in the organization had. I had become the “Wasabi Guy”. Could anyone take the “Wasabi Guy” seriously?

No one was overtly “mean” to me about it, but it just became a pretty big part of my reputation there. New hires would come in thinking of me as a goofball. And those new hires, thinking of me as such, wouldn’t take me seriously and wouldn’t look at me as a resource for their own advancement within their own roles. They’d think it was okay to take shots at me because that was seemingly my “role” with the team. I was perceived as an immature guy who looked like he just wanted attention. So, while I wanted to grow, myself, it was almost like I couldn’t get away from something silly in my past that I just did to get a laugh.

Don’t get me wrong, as company rosters change and time goes on, your social capital changes a bit and you do eventually move past ostensibly innocent, goofy things that you did in the past. But it can really, really take a LONG time to change people’s opinions of you. Especially if they’re negative opinions of you. That’s not just in work — that’s in life. And while the machismo attitude of “Not caring what other people think” is a popular thing to believe in, especially for millennials in the world of today, it’s antithetical to what a leader is and does. What leader doesn’t care what his or her followers think? Leaders are supposed to build others and get them to better themselves. Leaders lean on their teams to help them.

The important thing to take away from this is that people will always remember the things you did, never the things you thought about doing, talked about doing, or meant to do. They won’t care about your plans and intentions going into it, they only care about what you deliver and what you do for them. If you make them laugh, they’ll come to you when they want to laugh. If they need motivation, they’ll come to you for motivation. If you present yourself as a leader to them day-in and day-out, then they will believe in you day-in and day-out.

It’s best not to read this wasabi story as an indictment of others. Your reaction shouldn’t be “Sounds like your colleagues are judgmental” or “Why does something so innocuous matter?” The fact is that you are always in the driver’s seat of your own success and you can’t minimize your setbacks or attribute them to others. Judgement by others is teleological in life — it does not matter if it’s right or wrong, it just exists and impacts every interaction we have with every person we meet. You need to be more thoughtful in how you present yourself to your colleagues if you want to have a role that impacts others. It’s simple, but it’s not easy.

While the $100 I earned from the ball of wasabi didn’t really cover the costs in respect lost and time spent trying to change my image, I did learn a valuable lesson in maturity and have been sure to cut down on my moments of goofiness ever since. I’m still “me”, but a more polished me that doesn’t do dumb stuff like that anymore.

And lastly, the most humorous part of all this is that I haven’t eaten wasabi for the last three years because of the incident. I’ve COMPLETELY lost my appetite for it. So for a last lesson learned, if you are looking to cease eating a food that you actually like, then perhaps I would recommend having a pool of money set up by your friends for you to eat a gratuitous and unnecessary amount of it. Just be careful of what they might think of you afterwards. It may not be pretty.