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Two Truths And A Lie

January 13, 2014

Okay, Jacob your turn. Tell us two things that are true and one that is not.

Okay. I’ve been arrested and spent time in jail. I’ve done cocaine. My mother has been married 7 times.

The church young adult group sat in stunned silence. Jacob was a clean cut guy, had served a mission for his church and now was attending Brigham Young University in Rexberg, ID. BYU-I is a school run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jacob could see the stunned looks and the confusion on the faces of the group. No one knew what to say. Finally, somewhat nervously, a guy about the same age as Jacob, mid 20’s, suggested,

Only one of them is supposed to be a lie.

Yeah, I know. It’s the last one. My mother’s only been married five times, not seven.

Jacob told me the story years later. It illustrated the difference between who others perceive that we are and who we really are. And while we are shaped by our experiences, we are not defined by them. Most of the people at that young adult church group had backgrounds pretty similar to one another. They were all LDS, or Mormon. Many, if not most of them had grown up in a two parent home. The men had been missionaries for two years for the Church; serving from the age of 19 to 21. They were all in the engineering major at BYU and would most likely graduate in four years as part of the same class. The other people in the circle assumed that since Jacob looked like them, talked like them that he had the same background as them.

In reality, Jacob’s life was nothing like theirs. His father was his mother’s second husband. They were married for a couple years before splitting up. Jacob bounced back and forth between his dad’s house and his mom’s. Jacob, like too many children was abused. He was smart, but lacked focus. He’d been shot at on at least one occasion, maybe more, he never told me. After high school he was into drugs and petty crime. That landed him in jail.

Eventually he grew up. He realized, with the help of his mother and stepdad that his life was not going the way he wanted it to. He got clean. He put his life in order. He had to talk to people pretty high up in the Mormon church to be allowed to serve a mission. And wasn’t ready until he was older than most young men were when they finished.

He went on to marry a wonderful woman. He graduated from BYU-Idaho and has a very successful career as an engineer.

So, why tell this story? What’s this have to do with business? Some of you probably already suspect where I’m going with this.

You either are a Jacob, or you have one or more in your company. And like that youth group at BYU, you probably don’t even know it. Now, Jacob’s story is not so unique that you would need to manage him differently than anyone else. No, the message is to understand that the Jacob’s are out there and don’t assume that just because your coworker looks like you, talks like you, went to the same school you did, lives in a similar neighborhood, that his experience is the same as yours.

There have been times in my life where I was an emotional wreck. Events in my personal life were so out of whack, so out of control, that I couldn’t relate to my coworkers in the lunch room. They were talking about trying to help their son get his eagle project done and I was wondering if my daughter would ever be able to live in my house again. They were complaining that the line at Home Depot had been too long on Saturday and I had to take two hours off work on Wednesday to go to court where my kid was pleading guilty to a felony.

It wasn’t my coworkers fault of course, that our lives were different. In fact, I was happy that their biggest concern was a daughter who broke curfew by 30 minutes. But, my experience was so different that it was hard for me to connect. Don’t get me wrong. My kids are now doing great. My family is safe and healthy and things are much improved from those days.

But, as managers we have to realize that life does happen to our employees and life has happened to our employees. My boss never knew the struggles I was going through, because I didn’t need to tell him. The Jacobs in your company may not come to you. And that’s fine. But, always remember that you don’t know what challenges the people around you have faced or are currently facing. Don’t assume that because their tie is straight and their shirt is starched that everything is perfect in their life.

Because if you honestly look at it, your tie is straight, and your shirt is starched.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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  1. I’ve had my times in life that if my coworkers knew about them while they were happening, they would have stared at me in shock. Things got so bad for me personally for a couple years last decade that I’m not sure how I managed to hold down gainful employment. But I did.

    As someone who has people reporting to me, sometimes I get a glimpse into my team members’ lives, usually when their problems affect their ability to be in the office and they have to say something about it. There have been times when every single person reporting to me has carried incredibly heavy personal burdens, all of which I was obliged to keep private, and none of which (as far as I know) any of their coworkers knew about.

    • I wonder how many of us have been there, Jim? I think it’s a lot more than we realize. I wasn’t going to write this today. I started with the story and was going to transition into other funny stories about two truths and a lie. But, Jacob’s story has always been an example for me. He’s a great guy, pillar of the community and in his church, but we will occasionally get together and tell each other the stories that you spare your acquaintances and only share with your closest friends. On the rare occasions we’ve told them around other people, they don’t believe them.

      I hope those stressful times are past for you.



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