A hard act to follow

Circa 1990

Of all the human foibles that plague our condition, few cause more trouble than the folly of believing your own act.
This vain conceit, often disguised as positive thinking or personal-image enhancement, is a trap for high fliers and deluded dreamers. It’s the snare of bullshitters and bluffers who believe they are as good as their luck.

We’re all guilty of it from time to time, whenever we pick a winner at a country race meet, withdraw our money successfully from a Victorian building society or predict the only game in the year the Sydney Swans win. These are throws of the dice, nothing to do with us or our skill. It’s the kind of thing that can make us rich and happy, so long as we recognise that it depends on being in the right place at the right time.
Trouble arises when we believe we have special insights into the operation of chance, that we are responsible for our own good fortune. This leads to a highly inflated opinion of ourselves.
One of the first manifestations of this delusion is the idea that we are indispensable. My old Scottish boss used to say, ‘The cemeteries are full of indispensable blokes.’
This was brought home to me recently when I went on holidays. ‘Never take holidays in Sydney publishing’ is a warning oft repeated by shell-shocked hacks who cluster around the coffee dispenser. They all have stories to tell about how they once were on the verge of greatness with the keys to the executive washroom within their grasp. Then they decided to take a holiday.
The belief is that if you’re away from your desk for more than a week, you’ll come back to find someone else using your tea cup, chatting up your secretary and working your lurks for everything they’re worth.

This is a fine example of the dispensability theory in operation. It follows closely the philosophy of Rupert Murdoch, the well-known American media magnate, who once said, ‘in publishing, change for the sake of change is a good thing.’
When the crunch comes, it does little good to point out that you brought unique skills and talents to your position, that many a time you laboured without reward or recognition for the good of the common weal, that you’d only stepped out for a breath of fresh air and that your mother will stop buying the magazine unless they give you back your bat.
In the shark-tank world of publishing, these threats and pleadings are regarded as loser’s whinges, which if persisted with make people feel that they made the right decision in the first place.
There is a code of behaviour to adopt when getting the shaft, a proper way of going about taking a running jump. The great thing is not to take it personally. Try to imagine they’re out to get everyone, not only you.

This will come easier to those who have not been taken in by their own act, who know that they are only as good as the breaks they get.
With hard economic times coming full tilt, more and more of us will find ourselves in the position of being shown the door via the boss’s boot. Here then are a few tips on how to cushion the blow on yourself and your fellow workers and deprive the swine of more pleasure than they’re already getting from your flaming descent:

  1. Don’t break down in hysterical sobbing while still on the premises. There’s nothing quite as tedious for your fellow workers as watching you blubber your way out past the reception desk.
  2. Don’t bring your weeping wife and children to the front door to make everyone feel guilty. Hire actors for this role — being mostly unemployed themselves, they have the emaciated, half-starving look you want to shame the boss.
  3. Convey the impression that they barely got in first before you resigned to go to a far better job.
  4. Encourage rumours about the impending closure of the whole business. Remarks like, ‘Well, someone has to go first,’ are nicely calculated to spread despair and alarm.
  5. Come back to see them when you’ve hit the jackpot with your new job and have a flashier car and a better suit.
  6. If you can’t get a job, you’ve hit skid row and are getting about with the arse out of your strides, cross the road to avoid meeting anyone who knew you in your former pride. Otherwise they’ll be embarrassed.
  7. On no account ever, never, believe your own act again.

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