Obstacle Illusions

Sample Chapter 11: Harry the Arrogant Bank Boss

Every single person who appears on the stage of our lives has something to contribute, regardless of the outcome. They all take on the role of a teacher with a lesson plan for us. For example, David, the elementary school bully you met in Chapter Three, was one central character in my life. If he hadn’t approached me on the playground that day, I wouldn’t have learned just how much courage I had inside me.

"Harry the Arrogant Bank Boss" was another such character. When I was transferred into his department at a large Wall Street bank in the early nineties, Harry had no choice in the matter: top management had placed me there after I completed two years of financial analysis training in another area of the bank.

It didn't take long to learn that this man had a sordid reputation for chewing out his subordinates over practically anything that went wrong. Harry trusted no one and rarely promoted from within. His inner circle consisted of long-time cronies who were "yes-yes-yes-yes" people. Fear and intimidation often ruled the day and because of that, virtually no one had the guts to challenge him.

Harry was like Jekyll and Hyde. I found myself dreading the start of each work day because I never knew how it would go. If he was found to be in a foul mood, the staff joked amongst themselves about who would be the "whipping boy"' that day (yours truly certainly had his share of that whip). On other days, he'd be in a fantastic mood and babble incessantly about his grandchildren, a favorite topic of his.

At the time, Wall Street was undergoing massive restructuring due to the tremors caused by the 1987 stock market crash. Thousands were being laid off, and job security was no longer guaranteed. You were considered lucky if you had a job. Of course, having Harry for a boss added uncertainty to an already unstable and stressful work environment at the bank.

One day, a friend who had no idea what I was going through was inspired to give me Norman Vincent Peale's classic book, The Power of Positive Thinking. It was exactly what I needed. A particularly powerful chapter was called "New Thoughts Can Remake You." Reading that chapter literally sparked a chain of life-transforming events I would never have predicted or been able to orchestrate myself. It introduced to me a timeless and powerful idea: To change your circumstances, first start thinking differently.

It took my world by storm. The moment that sentence entered my consciousness, I made a decision that I was going to change my attitude and perceive Harry in an entirely different light from that point on.

So every morning before going to work, I sat comfortably on my black leather couch, closed my eyes and saw Harry as the frightened, insecure human being who ruled the office with an iron fist but who somehow was dramatically transformed into a loving, doting grandfather at home. In my mind's eye, I saw him happily romping around in the backyard with his grandkids.

I visualized this scenario for several months. No one knew about this exercise except God and me. But once this grandfatherly image took root in my subconscious, it transcended the illusion of power he had over me, and I gradually stopped perceiving him as a tyrant. It began to put a positive spin on my outlook at the office.

Although he wasn't aware that I was doing this, he must have noticed the subtle shift of energy taking place within me. Without being consciously aware of it, he began to take more interest in what I was doing, stopping by my cubicle more often just to chat with me. He would ask me questions about the things I was capable of doing, rather than focusing on what I couldn't do. The transformation was startling. No one could believe this was happening.

Over time, Harry began to shift gears and treat me as someone who could be trusted. Rather than keeping me at an arm's length, he seemed to perceive me as an ally, dramatically changing the nature of our boss-employee relationship.

It had gone on like this for about a year when Harry did the unimaginable. On the day of our annual performance reviews, he pulled me into his office and gave me the shock of my life.

"Congratulations, you're being promoted to a senior position!" he exclaimed. He extended his hand in congratulations.

I nearly fell off my chair. Within hours, the entire division had heard about this unprecedented promotion. Everyone thought a miracle had just happened—but I knew differently. What had just happened was completely natural, in accordance with Natural Law; what you sow, you shall reap.

Three months later, an opportunity to work for financial giant Merrill Lynch opened up. It was as if the universe was telling me, "Good job, Stephen, you learned a powerful lesson and now it's time to move on."

End of Sample Chapter 11

Food for thought: People who push our buttons and make our lives challenging are really teachers who are placed on our path to help us grow as spiritual beings having a human experience.