By Scott Westerman (Audio)
Here’s the most important lesson from the worst experience of my life: The only way out of your darkest hour is to keep doing good things.
In 2018, I was the target of a carefully crafted campaign of lies and half-truths that brought a reputation I spent a lifetime building into question.
It didn’t matter that the courts ultimately discredited the process used to assess the claim. Internet content lives forever and the sensational story is still on page-one of every search associated with my name. I believe that my employer’s public acknowledgement of the investigation, months before its conclusion, contributed to my father’s death. He passed away the night they outed me to the press.
These were his last words to me. “Don’t let misguided people stop you from doing good things.”
That can be hard to do.
We live in an era where people judge based on sound bites. When someone tags you with an allegation, it remains part of the narrative, even if you are ultimately cleared.
In the heat of the moment, it can feel as if your life is over. When I realized nobody would again hire me to do the work I loved, I considered suicide. My mind has always calculated the worst outcome is when you can no longer contribute. We were born to carry burdens, not to become one.
Unjust judgement on a very public stage is the emotional equivalent of losing a loved one. I thought again of the wise advice my treasured friend Lisa Murray gave me years ago. “You can’t go back to what was. You can only build with what’s left.”
Thankfully, I found a way to express my purpose on a different stage. My father’s words became my own Prime Directive. I vowed to keep doing good things.
It’s been a bumpy road. Others value us in proportion to our perceived usefulness. We find out who our genuine friends are when there is nothing we can do for them. Many valued my position and the power they associated with it. Without that portfolio, they drifted away. Some potential partners have been frightened by what they see on a search engine screen. I’ve been told that I am “unhireable.”
That sounds frightening. And it is.
But I was lucky to have a group who surrounded me with empathy and support. Some admitted that they had walked the same valley of darkness. All told me I still had something to offer. That probably helped to save my life.
Wise leaders advise their mentees to look for behavior patterns. They evaluate a single incident within a larger body of work. Each of us will have at least one moment of doubt, perhaps an experience that is so painful that it makes us question our own ability to carry on.
This is one of the few occasions when looking back over the past can be valuable. Every experience is what the mortar squad calls, “bracketing fire.” We watch the outcomes of our intentions and adjust our aim so we get closer to the desired target next time. Sometimes that target moves and we have to move our forces. Sometimes we must pull back.
But the mission remains the same. As Tim Allen’s character in the film Galaxy Quest puts it, “Never give up. Never surrender.”
Never stop being the amazing person you are. Don’t let the world around you sour you to the fellow travelers still waiting to be discovered.
Karma always prevails. You may not get to witness it, but those who hurt you ultimately pay a high price for the suffering they create.
Be one who enjoys the rewards of the suffering you can soften.
Whatever cards the world deals you, keep doing good things.
That’s always the best revenge.