In 1930s, humorist J.P. McEvoy wrote the Post column “Father Meets Son” presented to readers in the form of letters filled with advice for navigating life’s rocky road. Employing a mix of wry humor and tough love, Dad doled out life lessons on everything from work to women. Readers loved it.
Dad remains unmoved by his son’s firing. It’s the war not the battle that counts most, he says, especially if you make a habit of shooting yourself in the foot.
Father Meets Son: Being Fired
By J.P. McEvoy
Originally published on December 26, 1936
Dear Son: So you have been fired, eh? Well, don’t be downhearted. That’s an experience too. Sometimes being fired is better than being raised, especially if you don’t get emotional about it. Whatever you do, don’t indulge yourself in an orgy of self-pity. Self-pity is a luxury you can afford only after you’ve provided yourself with the necessities of life. And don’t worry about what’s going to become of you.
I can hear you say: “It’s all very well for you to say don’t worry, but I can’t help worrying.” You can and you must. Nothing can worry you if you don’t permit it. When something happens that you feel you should worry about, ask yourself first of all: “Can I do anything to change this condition? Can I improve it?” If you can’t, just forget it. When the thought of it occurs to you, blot it out with another thought — any thought at all. You can’t stop thinking about a thing by making up your mind not to think about it. You stop thinking about it by thinking of something else.
If you can improve the condition, then you ask yourself how; and when you have provided the answer, act upon it. Any kind of action is better than brooding. If it’s not an event but people that worry you, ask yourself: “Can I change these people? Can I make them do things differently?” If you can’t change them or you can’t make them act differently, or you can’t remove yourself from their sphere of activity, don’t worry about them. Short-circuit them. You may have to be there physically, but mentally you can be far away. And as you grow older you will discover that most suffering is mental and practically all of it is unnecessary.
So don’t suffer about losing your job. You can use all that energy reviewing the case and finding out just why you did lose it. You can be sure the reasons you give yourself are not the real ones. People have a gift for making out a good case for themselves by highlighting their own evidence and not listening to the other side. To hear you tell it, the boss was an old fogy who didn’t approve of your new ideas — and that may be true, but that’s not the whole truth. Maybe he’s not such an old fogy. Maybe your ideas weren’t so new. A great many of the ideas a youngster tries to put over when he enters the business world are like the Irishman’s speech in the House of Commons. Commenting on the speech, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great dramatist, said: “It was a fine speech. It contained a great many things that were both new and true. Unfortunately, that which was new was not true, and that which was true was not new.”
I was particularly impressed by that part of your letter in which you retailed with considerable relish what you told the boss. And knowing something about life as well as story construction, I didn’t have to turn the page to know that after you told him, he told you.
My boy, there are only a few things in this world you can be sure of, and already you have learned one of them. If you want to go through life being fired from one job after another, you have already learned the technique. Assure yourself first that the boss is an old fogy and doesn’t know what he’s doing. Second, that any idea of yours is better than any idea of his. Third, that he’s got it in for you because he won’t let you run the business your way. Fourth, that he can’t get along without you, but he doesn’t know it. Fifth, that you’re going to tell him, the first chance you get. Sixth, you tell him. But don’t bother writing any more letters to me about it.
Then what is a bright young man to do, granted that his ideas are good and the boss is an old fogy? I refer you to what I have always told you — don’t push! In every business there is a man who pushes the button and other men who answer it. If you are in the position to push buttons, you can push your ideas. If you are one of the other fellows, make suggestions if you wish, but don’t make issues out of them. Here is another situation which you can either do something about or you can’t. If you are the boss, you can dictate. If you are not, don’t try.
But let us take it one step further. Suppose your ideas are good. Suppose they are an improvement over the way things are being done. Suppose you have the interest of the business at heart and really want to do something constructive. What then? Then you go in for strategy. You plan your campaign. What you want to do is put over your idea, not win an argument. You have just won an argument with your boss, but you lost your job. You would be in a much better position now to put over your ideas if you had lost the argument, but held on to the job. Inside the gate you have a chance to do something. Outside, all you can do is read the notices saying: “No help wanted.”
If an idea is really good, it will survive no matter how badly you present it, how ineptly you support it. It will survive you. You may go, but it will remain. Like a good seed in the ground, it will go on growing quietly out of sight, but inevitably it will come to the surface. Don’t be angry at the boss if you come to him with an apple seed and try to convince him that it is apple pie. There are a lot of steps between, a lot of patient work to be done. You should think enough of your apple seed to plant it and graft it and cultivate it and prune the young tree and spray it and watch over the fruit patiently until it ripens. And if all that is too much trouble for you, you can be sure it is going to be too much trouble for anybody else. Every apple pie is a victory in a long campaign which has been crowded with losing fights. Many trees succumbed and many apples rotted. The grower lost a lot of arguments with the elements and the bugs, but he won the campaign. When you get your next job, you will know better than to spend your time and energy in trying to win arguments with the boss. Be satisfied to lose all the battles, so long as you win the war.
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