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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

My biggest career regret...

Tomorrow will be 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attack.

I vividly remember where I was when it happened. I was working for a (now defunct) promotional agency at the time, and I remember getting a cryptic email while at my desk that read, "A plane has hit the World Trade Center".

The world was in disbelief, including our office, and understandably, not a lot of work got done that afternoon as we were glued to the news reports for updates on the horrors that were happening in real-time.

My biggest career regret to date occurred the following day.

On September 12th, my manager came to my office and asked me if I had followed up with someone I needed to speak with about a promotion we were executing for a client.

I told him I hadn't. Then I gently reminded him our contact was an American living in the USA, and suggested it might not be a good day to call about anything work-related.

He dismissed my concern and demanded I make the call, telling me, "we have to get back to work again sometime."

I didn't agree with my manager's decision at all. But I was 23 years old, and this was already my second job since graduating from university; the first was a dot-com start-up that ended with the dot-com bust in 2000. It took me eight months of unemployment before I was able to secure this role, and I wasn't eager to risk unemployment again by refusing an order from the owner of the company, no matter how unreasonable I thought it was.

So I made the call.

My contact managed to be polite enough for the first few minutes, but when I gently asked if what we needed from him was ready, he started screaming at me.

Literally screaming.

To his credit, he apologized to me at the end of the call, but he shouldn't have.

I completely deserved it.

My regret was that I didn't refuse to make that call. It was wrong, and insensitive, and the fact the order came from my manager was completely irrelevant. I should have said no.

And twenty years later, I still regret that I didn't.

That was the very last time in my career I ever agreed to do something I felt was wrong just because someone more senior than me was telling me to do it.

Sometimes insubordination is warranted.


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