I would hide when I heard him coming.
My office was at the foot of the stairs down in the basement of the building in which I worked. I knew my boss’s footfall. So, when I heard him descending the stairs, I would turn off the light in my office, lock the door and cower.
This man scared me. In the relatively short period of time in which I worked under him, he had effectively crushed my confidence. To say he did not believe in me is an understatement. He bullied me and others. Even as I recall this season of my life, I feel the emotions well up again.
I look back on those early tough years in my career with some regret and bitterness but at the same time, to a large degree, I am who I am and my calling is what it is because of my tormentor. He was an anti-mentor, if there is such a thing. He didn’t build me up – he put me down. He didn’t put his arm around me and point to my future – he turned his back on me and squelched my ambition.
And what he did to me has served as a catalyst for my own calling – to guide others in the discovery of their destiny. I am called to put my arm around your shoulder and point you to your incredible future. My purpose is to show you what a masterpiece you are and how you have been summoned to change your world.
Do you see what happened there?
I am now offering others what I wish I had received as a young man. I am doing for others what I wish he had done for me. Oddly, bad-dude boss has powerfully shaped me and, in turn, every person I’ve had the joy of coaching.
Bad people can, indeed, shape your purpose in the world in two big ways.
Hurtful people can model for us that which we never want to be. Deep inside a spark of indignation grows to a defiance that says, “I’ll show you! I will become everything you weren’t. And I will give to others what you never gave me!” Your calling becomes a sort of anti-emulation or differentiation from your antagonizer.
Also, the comfort that we eventually receive as we heal from the trauma of a bad person is the comfort we are able to deliver to others who have had their own tormentor. You become a specialist in recovery from your particular suffering. I have coached many who have discovered their purpose out of tough times at the hands of an oppressor. A young woman belittled for her looks now helps teens cope with body shaming. A man whose dad rejected him has turned into a father-figure for many young men. A professional athlete who was bullied and beaten down by one of his coaches at a formational time in his life is now finding a way to, himself, now coach with a right mix of toughness and grace.
Of course, no lemonade is made from the lemons of persecution unless we work through the bitterness of being hurt. And we need to avoid perpetuating the cycle of pain by unconsciously emulating the behavior of our adversary.
But, with thoughtfulness and a little guidance, anyone who has been done wrong to can turn their terror and pain into a calling that leaves an enormous legacy.