“Firing” your problems

Back in the early 80’s I was the audio-visual manager at Pepperdine University. The deal was that if I could get the work done, I could have time to write on my stories. My plan was to hired an assistant to do most of that work, I would supervise and fill in. The assistant would have plenty of free time as well in-between taking projectors to classrooms and shipping movies and video tapes, and everyone would be happy.

Then I hired Simon. He was a nice guy, good looking guy (a devil with the ladies, he assured me, and “a baby maker”). At first he did his work well. Then…I noticed that he was coming to work high. I turned a blind eye to it at first, but it just got worse.

And…we’re not talking marijuana high here. As it got worse, I realized he was on PCP. Angel Dust.

Holy crap, no pun intended.

I was terrified. This guy was barely functional, volatile, sometimes irrational. He would head out to deliver a projector and just stand staring in the middle of the Quad, forgetting what he had intended to do.

I had to fill in for him, supervise everything. The administration was starting to complain, and I was terrified. It was clear that I had to fire him, but I’d never ever fired someone before. Didn’t know what I should do. What if he became violent? What if this job was all that was keeping him off the street or out of a life of crime? Was I taking food out of his children’s mouths..?

Then one day he didn’t show up for work. I called his house. No answer. He didn’t show up for A WEEK and I just sat there, frozen, unsure what to do. Finally after TWO WEEK I put through the paper work to fire him.

Then of course, Simon showed up again. Surprised that I’d fired him. Accused me of being a terrible person, and stormed out. I was shattered. Every negative voice in my head excoriated me. How could I DO that? Shaking in my boots, I stuck to my guns.

I heard from Simon a couple of times after that. He came by the office and tried to sell me drugs. One day I was at home and the phone rang.

Hello, Steve? This is Simon. I wanted to talk to you about, you know, getting’ it together with some women” (girlish giggling in the background) “I know you’d be inclined for that.

Good Lord. He was a pimp now? Once he just called and babbled. Then nothing. No idea what ever happened to him.

I felt terrible. My job was to provide services to the University, not to baby-sit a drug addict. But that voice in my head…


Even if you have a powerful, dynamic connection to your values, to your own heart, to the “child” within you, it can be hard to “fire” bad influences from your life.

The friends who sabotage your diet.

The spouse who cheats, and abuses, and gaslights you.

The job that is stealing the light from your eyes and the fire from your heart.

The habits and ego identity that is crushing your dreams.

“Firing” any of these things, wiping the slate clean and starting over, can feel like death. Trigger guilt even if you are only fighting for your soul.

Give them another chance. They didn’t mean it. You misinterpreted it. You owe them the benefit of the doubt.

No. You owe them nothing but courtesy and respect. I personally feel that I have to treat people at least 1% better than they treat me. 2% is negotiable.

There is NOTHING that will move you forward in life faster than changing your reference group, the people you hang out with, model, support.

There is NOTHING that will sabotage your life faster than bad associations: friends, lovers, associates who are negative, damaged, jealous, controlling.

Be careful.

  1. Connect to your core values (For instance: “the meaning of life is to seek joy”)
  2. Determine what long-term goals would bring these values into your life.
  3. Who would you need to be to take the daily actions that would create the stepping-stones to those goals? Who IS “that guy” or “that gal”?
  4. What support structure does that person need? Who are the 20% best and healthiest of the people in your circle? Spend more time with them.
  5. Who are the 20% most unproductive, negative, damaging people in your circle? SPEND LESS TIME WITH THEM. “Fire” them if need be.

I couldn’t fire Simon for myself. I had to think of my obligations, the people I was sworn to serve. I COULD do it for “them.” I had to think about why I needed the job: to pull my end of the bills, the home I was creating with the woman who would one day be Nicki’s mommy.

For my honor. For the people who trusted me. For my sweetheart. For my child unborn…

I needed ALL of that, and STILL felt bad. “Adulting” is hard stuff, but it is even harder if you don’t realize how critical to your growth and happiness it is.

Don’t let the “Simons” of the world drag you down. You do NOT owe them your life. If you owe them anything, it is being a positive role model. Drowning swimmers will drag down the lifeguard. Don’t get down in the water and swim with them: stand on the land, and, if you must, throw them a life preserver.

The dreams you save may be your child’s. Your inner child, and your children unborn.

The life you save may be your own.






Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.