People are teaching you all the time – are you a good student?

Everyone teaches you something about Life. It’s up to you though to learn from them!
It takes all kinds of people to make this world. Some of them we instantly connect with and vibe very well. Some of them we can’t understand. Others we intrinsically feel uncomfortable with. When we categorize people based on how we feel about them we miss a great opportunity to learn from them. We must learn to treat everyone, including our detractors, in Life as a teacher – that way there will be less strife between us and other people surely; besides, we will evolve into better individuals.
Some years back we worked with a client with whom we then had a decade-long relationship. We had begun working with this client when they were a start-up, less than a million dollars in revenue. And in the time that we worked with them, they had grown to be a 300 million dollar multi-national company. The company’s founder, Chairman and CEO was very close to me. When we started work with them, he and I had spent countless hours building and executing their internal experience (culture) and external visibility (brand) strategy. As the company grew, the CEO got obviously more engaged at a vision-level and a team of professionals took charge of executing the growth strategy. One of the professionals was mandated with leading the reputation strategy for the company and we had to work closely with him. He was a young, aggressive manager with a finance and investor relations background. For some reason he disliked me from the very first time we met. He made it clear to me that he had heard that I was very “close” to his CEO and that, going forward, as an external partner, I had to route all interactions – strategy, ideas, communication – only through him. Being a stickler for process and protocol myself, I complied. Over the months that followed, I interacted with the CEO only when I was called out by him. Which, of course, happened with amazing frequency, much to the young manager’s chagrin. This only made his dislike for me personally grow into outright hatred. He started to harass me and my team (which was owning and servicing the relationship). It came to a point one day, when he demanded that we ‘show cause’ why there was a “typo” in one of the research papers we had prepared for him to present to the CEO. I saw no point in arguing with him, as I knew where he was coming from on his vindictive mission, and instead wrote him a mail saying we were surrendering a month’s retainer as compensation for the “typo”, and per our contract, we were serving a month’s notice to the client to disengage with them. I had taken a high moral ground. And even though this news shocked the entire company, particularly the CEO, I refused to reconsider our decision to disengage from the client when we are asked to.
The young manager too was shaken up by my decision. He requested me to meet him for coffee on the afternoon that we were exiting from the company/relationship formally.
He asked me: “I can understand the basis for your decision. But what I fail to understand is why did you not fight me? Why did you not complain about me to your close buddy, my CEO?”
I replied: “I don’t believe in fighting unequal battles. Had I complained to the CEO, you would have been asked to move to another function for sure. But it wasn’t as if the CEO did not know of this. Of course it was evident to everyone that you were brow-beating us. Besides, I am nobody’s buddy. Your CEO is a good business leader and if he wanted to he could have always stepped in. That he chose not to, means he was okay with it. I too was okay with the relationship, despite all the pain you were inflicting on me, as long as we were able to create value at your company. The moment you stooped to being petty, I realized it was time for us to step out. No hard feelings my friend. I learnt from you. Thanks.”
He hid his discomfort while he heard me explain and asked me: “What could you have learnt from me?”
I replied: “I learned what happens when people don’t evolve despite their education, experience and intelligence. I learnt what it means to be immature. I also learnt patience and forgiveness.”
I met this gentleman some years later in New Jersey. We talked shop and wished our families well. I still wish him on his birthday each year. And Life goes on for both of us.
People teach you not just from what they know but through their behavior. Some people teach you, like this manager taught me, why you can’t get along with everyone or why some people’s behavior can never be understood. The key is not to let hatred and resentment set in. And instead let forgiveness flow. When you can’t make a relationship work – whatever it may be – because of someone in the relationship, such people teach you the power of walking away. I have learned to be grateful to people for all that they do to me – good, bad, ugly, I see every interaction as a lesson in living and an opportunity to grow and evolve.  
People are teaching you all the time – through their interactions with you. You are a bad student if you are not learning from them!

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