“The thing is Rachael…. you are a difficult person.”
Recently I received a very nice phone call from a former consulting boss/colleague where they started off in a very strange manner outlining all the things that I was very good at.
People are strange. I include myself in this list because if I haven’t slept well, had my proper dose of alone time and three cups of coffee, my human interactions might very well be bullet points of what you are good at too.
It is of course odd to call me out of the blue to act odd and bullet point back to me my skills but as I said, people are strange, and if you live out of a place accepting this fact as an eternal and universal truth, then you just sit quietly and listen to the strange humans and wait for your turn to talk and do not get to riled up.
When the bullet points ended about my greatness according to this lady, she paused, made some strange noises, ummm, wellllll, mmmmm…..
“The thing is Rachael…. you are a difficult person.”
In the land of strange persons, people saying mean things is quite normal too. But this caught me off guard. She called me, after months without a word, to tell me I am difficult? This strange person, in a world full of strange people, went on to explain that is why they won’t be hiring me to work as a consultant again for a job I had not applied for, nor perhaps ever again in their organization, because I was so difficult of a person to work with.
My crimes were having another part time job to complement my part time consulting contract with them, creating a google calendar to improve coordination that the team leader then refused to use, reporting true conclusions of my work that they did not want to hear because they were not favorable to their team, and being late to a final meeting after my contract had ended and had been officially been closed and also, I had a spine-related health crisis causing me to be late to this meeting after my contract was closed that I should not have been at in the first place. For this I was difficult. And for speaking up about the problems in the projects.
During the six months that I had worked with this person I had flown across continents to give a workshop; redone work unnecessarily because collaborators (that this person oversaw) were not held accountable to deadlines; rescheduled countless trips and work plans because the same collaborators refused to schedule activities in advanced; publically trashed to the collaborators by collaborators; and I just let it slide and kept going trying to keep the really cool soil and water conservation project moving forward because it is a topic of desperate need across the world with farmers facing land degradation and climate change in the here and now.
When she told me I was a difficult person, I was mad for three days. Offended. Pissed. Steaming. Pacing around the house thinking of mean things I’d like to say that I knew I would never say because I am far too nice for that. I was SOOOOOO mad. After I wrote and deleted four or five very angry and mean emails that were unacceptable to send back to the difficult person phone call person. I locked myself in my room and gave pretend angry speeches. And then it hit me:
Difficult people change the world. We stir up the status quo, we bring innovation, and make people uncomfortable so they will change the world too. People who like status quo will keep the world, our very f-ed up world, exactly the way it is. If and when I have a choice, I will ALWAYS choose to be a difficult person. And I will always make people uncomfortable. I had done the same over and over again in Mexico, Guatemala, and Rwanda and had stirred things up and run myself out of town over and over again. And I always made people mad and always packed up and left the old fashioned institutions who preferred status quo.
I eventually calmed myself and wrote an email that my parents who probably scold me for burning bridges. But honestly, what is the point of keeping bridges afloat when being my one true sparkly fire flinging self, burns all the bridges all the bridges anyway at these organizations. So I wrote something like this:
“Thanks for the opportunity to work together. You asked me to do a job, I did that very well. Normally when someone does a job very well they would be hired again but it is clear to me that the interests of your organization are not high quality work and the best outcomes for farmers but instead maintaining a certain status quo in your organization. I would ask that instead of bringing me into your internal politics and offending my personal character, you take this matter into your own internal issues. If you aren’t pleased with the outcome I suggest that the appropriate response is to reflect internally as to why you are uncomfortable with the results of my consulting agreement instead of attacking me for doing exactly what you asked me to do. We need difficult people to challenge status quo if we are truly dedicated to change the world. I have recently started my own company and this is exactly what we are trying to do – challenge status quo and create a new way of working. I had really hoped to build collaborations between my company and your organization based on a past of strong partnership, and it saddens me that we do not share the same approach to tackle status quo in our field. I wish you the best with your project as you know how strongly I feel about the importance of the work that you are doing. Sincerely, Rachael”
It was an interesting experience, standing up and wielding my company, our company, this small start-up that barely exists, but will exist on day, not far from now as a big entity that old fashioned organizations will want to collaborate with as we are the emerging force in the marketplace, the innovators, the new ladies in the playing field. And it worked. They emailed back saying, oh please we still want to collaborate with you, of course, you are great, we need to work with people like you, but with no action items to show they really care.
Here is the real message I have, for all those other “difficult persons” out there.
Stay difficult. Light the bridges on fire. Burn bright. Turn away from status quo. The world doesn’t need it and you don’t need it. No project or job that you are offered that wants status quo will ever bring the world the change it needs. We have had a few thousand years of status quo and we want no more of it.
Be difficult. Make people mad and make them uncomfortable. If you pissed them off and made them uncomfortable, you have done an outstanding job. You deserve 8 million high fives and a few high tens as well. I would love to give you a hug or a hand shake. It isn’t easy when someone spits in your face and tells you that you are difficult after all the work and sacrifice you have done. But if it means you have made the people wielding the power uncomfortable, it means you have done something right. Stay on track warriors for change.
And one last thing, if anyone who is thinking of hiring me or someone like me ever again. IF you want status quo, stop wasting our time. Hire a banana instead. Hire a robot. Hire status quo. Hire average. Stop hiring me to do something different when you want someone for status quo. Hire a freaking robot banana dressed up in a pretty outfit instead of me. You will be 800% more satisfied with the outcome because I will definitely be ‘difficult’ and I will definitely piss you off and offend you. If you want status quo because I will always be fighting against status quo. Status quo has kept us in a world where racism and sexism persist in nasty ways and I, we, we the queens of the world, refuse to accept that.