1. Money
Dana Anspach

The Straightjacket

By April 6, 2012

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I have a colleague who tried to weasel their way out of paying me money that was mine. It was rather comical. Sad, but comical. Sad because this person is a supposed fiduciary and caretaker of other people's money.

I have another colleague who has gone to great lengths to cause me harm for reasons that none of us who are aware of the facts can figure out. Again, not a laughing matter, but when the drama an adult engages in surpass that of a teenager, what can you do but laugh?

Well, there is one other thing you can do. You can picture the straightjacket.

In the 90's I worked for a large brokerage firm. I had a manager who was known to throw tirades and even throw things at people on occasion. My dad gave me some great advice. He said that in life you were always going to encounter some fruits and nuts, and the best thing you can do at such times is picture that person in a straightjacket.

This tyrannical manager called me into his office one day, closed the door and began to rant and rave. I pictured the laces up the back of the straightjacket. I could picture his arms pinned down to his sides with hands flailing out the bottom, and feet kicking away. I began to smile. I calmly looked at him and said, "I am not comfortable continuing this conversation with the door closed." His behavior instantly changed.

Funny what some people will do behind closed doors.

Picturing the straightjacket helped, and over the years I've added a few additional guidelines to this rule of thumb.

When you encounter bizarre and inappropriate behavior you have two choices: you can either live down to someone else's definition of professional behavior, or live up to your own. You'll never regret living up to your own.

The other thing you can do is evaluate your own behavior as if the door were open. If all the facts and circumstances were known to your colleagues, clients, family and friends, would you still be doing what you are doing?

In addition, you have to realize many people suffer from some form of mental illness that causes them to act irrationally. Sometimes it is borderline personality disorder or bi-polar disorder. If it is a mental illness causing the bizarre behavior, trying to talk rationally is futile. The best thing you can do is suggest that they seek help in a caring and loving way.

These illnesses can cause people's minds to do strange things to avoid emotional pain. They may go into a state of delusion or weave elaborate tales that are part truth, part lie. They often believe their own tales.  I had a family member recently diagnosed with such an illness, and it has been interesting to learn more about it and understand how the bizarre behavior of others often has such a cause at its root.

When you encounter your own fruits and nuts, picture the straightjacket, live up to your own standards, not down to someone else's, always act as if the door were open, and consider that the person acting so strangely may genuinely have a mental illness.

What does any of this have to do with your retirement? Well, you often hear me talk about focusing on what you can control, and letting go of what you can't. You can't control someone else's behavior. You can end up wasting a lot of emotional energy trying to figure it out. Your last ten years of working can be your most productive, so don't waste emotional energy! Spend your time focusing on your own behavior and the things within your control and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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