Whilst at university…
Whilst at university, I met a guy on my course who happened to be from the same town as me. As we were living over 100 miles from our home town and the course only had 23 people taking it, I figure the odds of that happening were pretty small.
Because of this coincidental connection, I hit it off quite well with him… he was my home town chum.
Unfortunately, he had a reputation of being a loser, he was lazy and rarely showed up to class, which was in complete opposition to my work ethic, where I was determined to make the most of going to university as a mature student after spending the last five years in a dead-end job.
Despite this, I was always civil.
Now we had reached the third year and somehow, this guy, despite only showing up for what must have been 10% of classes had managed to slip his way through the years – you’ve got to love the system, if you’ve got the money to pay, you’re welcome to keep coming back, no matter how useless you are!
One of the modules involved group work, but this could always be hit or miss depending who your partner was. Luckily this time I was paired with the lovely Rebecca, one of the few females on the course, who to say she was studying Sports Management had a more an ‘alternative’ look of dark hair and metal t-shirts, you’d be more likely to see her type on an arts course.
I fancied her liked mad, but never said anything because she had a big bearded rocker boyfriend, but I’ll move on before I sound like a Bowling for Soup song…
More importantly than being aesthetically pleasing, Rebecca had a similar drive to myself, and was one of the high achieving students. Our little group was perfect… and then he came along, my home town chum.
As everyone in class began partnering up, I watched him in the corner of my eye bounce from group to group being rejected, even by the guy who’d been his closest friend throughout the course said no… jeez.
I can’t really say what actually happened, maybe I felt sorry for him, but stupid me gave my home town chum the benefit of the doubt – as this was final year maybe he was prepared to knuckle down and take everything seriously…
…Seriously?… what an idiot I was.
He set the tone at our first meeting by no showing.
I messaged him… no response.
I looked out for him in class to confront him… he didn’t show up.
He had ghosted every single course throughout the project work and never responded to a single request to show up at sessions in the library.
The day before hand in day…
On the day before hand in, I’d managed to book one of the private classroom spaces in the library, so invited some friends from another group to come and enjoy the benefit. It had been a challenging year, and we were finally approaching the end, so it was good to have a more informal session.
We discussed my home town chums lack of involvement in the work, discussing the agreement Rebecca and I had made, that because he hadn’t actually done anything, we would not be putting his name on the assignment.
We felt firmly confident in our decision to banish all mention of him, somewhat relieved knowing his apathy to bother showing up meant that no confrontation would be needed, but then, like an extremely annoying rash you think you’ve got rid of, my home town chum reappeared.
There he walked in, in all his emaciated, gawky, acne faced glory, with a big stack of books piled up between his arms so it nearly reached his chin, looking like he was ready to work.
I don’t know what he was trying to achieve, but the gesture was empty, and he had to be joking if he thought walking in with a pile of books would make us think he was taking the work seriously – the time for book research had passed weeks ago, we were in the stage polishing off the final draft.
The tone of the room had gone from laughing and joking between close course mates, to an awkward silence, my friends made a swift exit from the room as we mustered up the courage to break the news to my absentee home town chum.
Although he persisted, there was no way we were going to back down to this, there was no way he was going welch a grade from our efforts. He spoke to us as a group to plead his case, then spoke to me, directly, as a “friend”… no way… not a chance… he can get f…
Eventually, he picked his ridiculously large stack of books off the table, and hobbled out the room.
This decision was difficult, but it was the right decision, but I still felt awful.
The Art of Assertiveness: Addressing that awful feeling when you stick up for yourself
When I thought about the decision, I realised he now had no chance of graduating, and that I’d lost a friend.
Deep down I knew this was all a situation he brought on himself and he had zero right to dare make a claim on our hard work!
But this didn’t stop the awful feeling, and this highlights a problem someone who struggles with assertiveness faces – we worry way too damn much about the feelings of others.
When you read guidance on assertiveness, you often see advice offering tips and tricks to make you a more assertive person, these tactics have their place, especially if you struggle with being able to express yourself.
But the best solution to becoming more assertive is to put yourself in as many uncomfortable situations so you are forced to make those tough decisions.
Sure, you’ll feel guilty every time you stick up for yourself, but each time you do it, it gets easier, and any guilt you have over the other persons feelings gets less and less, as you begin to develop resilience and coping strategies, safe in the knowledge you are doing what is best for you and not allowing others to take advantage.
In terms of coping strategies, I recommend keeping the following in mind when you feel guilty about asserting yourself:
- Look at the bigger picture – if you’re not used to asserting yourself, and you did assert yourself in a situation, then you must have had a good reason.
- Be realistic – your decision isn’t necessarily a death blow to the person, and if it is, it’s probably only part of deep hole they’ve already managed to dig themself into.
- Stop assuming what other people are thinking – you have no way of knowing this.
- Be angry – recognise that someone has been trying to take advantage of your good nature and use you!
- Don’t look at what you lost, look at what you gained (and if you’re not sure on that – start with your self-respect).
Conclusion: on the flipside…
It’s been over a decade since I refused to be made a fool of, if I had let someone come in and take credit for my work, I’d have lost all respect from my peers, and even worse all respect for myself.
In hindsight I can’t quite believe why I would feel so guilty about this – he failed his degree when he made the choice not to attend class. I didn’t do the bare minimum, not attend my classes, or try and mooch off smarter and more talented colleagues on group work – the fact is, his failure , is all on him!
Yes, I felt bad about losing a friend, but what did I really lose? A deadbeat, who expected me to let him take the credit when he’d done nothing – no thanks, I have enough friends anyway.
I often think about this situation, reflecting on it and calling it “the hardest decision I had to make”, that’s probably not true, I’ve probably had to face worse things, but it’s the most memorable because it was the first time I stood up for myself when the stakes were so high.
Because of this, whenever I take an action that requires me to be assertive, I always keep this experience in mind as it always makes executing the response much easier.
I hope dear reader, from writing this post that you’ve learnt something about assertiveness and refusing to let people take advantage of how brilliant you are.
Until next time,
Wishing you the best in your success,
James @Perfect Manifesto.