The Boomerang

Burbank, California; February,2003;
Joan Marques, MBA, Doctoral Student

Burying his face in his hands Hank recapitulated his life over the past 5 years, and what he concluded was not very pleasant. It had all been like... a boomerang. As soon as the idea entered his mind he smiled about it. What a silly metaphor! But almost immediately the smile was replaced by a frown as his thoughts expanded to several areas of his life. It WAS a boomerang. Everything had bounced back to him in one way or another. First there had been his relationship with Shirley, a nice lady who had been--and still was--involved in an awkward concubinage that dated back from the days before she had met Hank. Shirley and Hank got romantically involved five years ago, and maintained a love affair ever since. They spent time together whenever she was available, which was not too often given her still ongoing attachment at home.

Having been involved in a difficult-to-end, long term relationship before this one himself, Hank had tried to empathize with Shirley's lack of willpower to step out of her responsibility at home, which she claimed to be dreading so badly. But five years is a long time to empathize. So, in his review of the years with Shirley, the allegory of the boomerang kicked in: Hank suddenly realized that, with his very presence in Shirley's life and his hopes that she would someday be his wife, he had actually been accommodating her other relationship! "For what happens when people have secret love-affairs?" Hank thought to himself, "They usually feel guilty about their secret, whether they care for the "outside lover" or not, and they consequently go out of their way to be nice toward the partner at home to mentally make up for the infidelity (which the home-partner may not even be aware of), thereby sending the wrong signals of contentment and happiness to that person."

The shock of Hank's sudden awareness was enhanced by his realization that with his persistence in holding on to this relationship with Shirley, he had reached exactly the opposite of his dream: he had factually facilitated her other relationship! He came to the conclusion that Shirley had just used him to make her home-situation bearable. Hank thus found that his purpose had turned around and flown right into his face. Things had turned out to be precisely the opposite of what he had wanted!

Then there was his work: At the office Hank had cleverly chased four employees, among whom Samantha, away from their positions. Samantha and the three others who ultimately left used to be committed employees who were just unfortunate enough to have been part of the previous team at the office. So when Hank took over the management position at that workplace four years ago, he did what most managers do: Evaluate who had worked under the previous management, which made these people "guilty by association," and shrewdly eliminated them, either by taking away their responsibilities, by having them transferred to other, less desirable departments, or by plainly ignoring them whenever, wherever, and however he could. Especially in meetings: He made sure their suggestions were never considered.

With this behavior from Hank's side, it was a matter of time before the four old-league members were gone and the office was entirely staffed with loyalists to Hank's regime. Hey! This was just a matter of company politics! He did not feel any real antipathy against the people he had banished. It was just the way things are usually handled in organizations: Hank simply adapted the age-old elimination strategy.

Unfortunately, the tide had changed since. The company had been experiencing performance problems, and a major "rightsizing" plan was implemented. Hank’s department was terminated, and he had to look for another job. In the classifieds he came across an exciting position offered by a company performing similar services as the one he used to be affiliated with. The vacant position of assistant-manager was slightly lower than Hank's previous job, but the salary was the same as his last one, so Hank felt that he would be satisfied. And who knows! Maybe he would make it to manager there soon!

So Hank applied a few weeks ago, and got selected for an interview. He even made it to the second interview. But this morning there had been a third and final round, in which the manager of the department and the Human Resource manager, together with some other staff members, were present. That's when Hank was once again confronted with the boomerang effect: the manager of the department he was aspired to get the job in was…Samantha. She had completed her business degree in the past two years, and got promoted last month from assistant-manager to manager in this office, where she had found a job after having been pestered away from the previous one by Hank. Since Samantha was now the manager, the department was in need of a new assistant-manager.

Although the interview went well, Hank was unsure of what Samantha's decision would be. She had seemed nice enough during the interview and had not displayed any sign of rancor, which was not what he could say about himself in retrospect: The contemplation of what his decision would be if he had been in Samantha's shoes, took all the wind out of his sails.

So, there he was: Taking a better look at his life. He could easily drum up a number of other instances in which the boomerang effect had manifested itself: in good ways and in bad ways. Like that one night when he stopped for an old lady who stood in the rain, gave her a ride to her destination a few blocks outside of his normal route, and found out later in her "Thank You" note that she was the mother of one of the city’s most influential men, who later facilitated Hank's membership one of the most prominent clubs. And that one time, not too long ago, when he rudely ignored an old, silly-looking man whom he passed in the hall at work, only to find out that this was the Chairman of the Board: the most influential person in the decision-making process regarding staff-members' staying or being laid off...

Hank decided that evening that his reflections had taught him an important lesson: no matter how rough things would be in the future, from now on he would try to be righteous. He would cease going along with general strategies and behavioral traits, and follow the way of his heart. For life is a boomerang: everything that you do flies back in your face: if not sooner, then definitely later...