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. 

Coping strategies 

In terms of coping strategies, I recommend keeping the following in mind when you feel guilty about asserting yourself: 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. Stop assuming what other people are thinking – you have no way of knowing this. 
  4. Be angry – recognise that someone has been trying to take advantage of your good nature and use you! 
  5. 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). 
Asserting yourself: coping strategies

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.

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12 thoughts on “The Hardest Decision I Ever Made…

  1. I’ve encountered many people like the one in your post, James. I used to be soft and let them in and take advantage of all the work I did until I realised what a fool I had been when a friendly rather rudely pointed out what I was letting happen. I was shocked, to say the least, but it taught me a good lesson.

    It reminds me very much of the bloggers who try jumping on the bandwagon of all my hard work when they copy my posts, change a few words and publish the content as their own. My relief is that none of them seems to last long in the blogging world. People eventually see through them and stop following their blog. The lack of engagement on the stolen posts is also a good pointer in that readers are suspicious that something isn’t right. More so when they check out the ‘about me’ page and still see the standard WordPress template that informs what to add to an ‘about me’ page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s good to have a friend who is willing to point out things for your own benefit, even if they are slightly rude about it!

      That’s pretty horrible to read people are copy/pasting your work – just wondering Hugh how you find out?

      At least they get found out – the online frauds taking the hardwork of others usually do, it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort- just create your own stuff and build your reputation!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve set up Google alerts for finding out copyright infringement, James. Occasionally, I also add the title of some of my blog posts to Google and search. What’s weird is that some thieves leave the pingbacks to my posts in the copy they make, so I get a pingback alert from WordPress. I also have readers tell me about infringements, especially if they get pingback alerts. It’s a horrible thing to happen when all your hard work gets copied, and they claim copyright, but I guess it’s one of the things we have to face up to when we put ourselves online.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks Hugh, I’ll look at Google alerts. It sounds one of the side benefits of linking to your own work or that of other bloggers is creating a notification when someone is sloppy and doesn’t remove these!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. How on earth did he keep managing to get passing grades for all his course work and exams to make it to the final year? I can’t believe people like him exist in real life, that feels more like a movie troupe.

    Congratulations on sticking to your guns though, I’m not sure I’d of been able to do that. May be it would be easier as a group, but one on one, I think I’d find it extremely hard to do that

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha I know that’s what we always thought and there was back for another year. I always wanted to ask him how he managed it and why he was willing to pay thousands and do nothing!

      Thanks it was always a major break through in my assertiveness!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good story to provide background onthe importance of being assertive.

    I see this problem on occasion with my students, and I tell the students they need to work it out themselves. I also no longer let students pick their own teams – I assign them randomly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you.

      From my time at university I was never a big fan of group work, though understood why it was needed.

      It’s often the good students carrying the bad – I had a few late nights reediting someone’s contribution I wouldn’t consider a first draft!

      Assigning at random is the best way to go, at least it let’s you mix with others you wouldn’t associate with!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh, people will manipulate others through guilt they try to put on them, but ultimately we can’t keep failing people upwards when they haven’t done what they’re supposed to do!

    My daughter works for a car dealership that sells to sub-prime buyers. They also do the financial loans to the car buyers, so when gasp a buyer is behind in payments and on the verge of having their vehicle repossessed, there are many people who pull out the guilt and manipulation cards from their bag of life tools. Unfortunately, they’ve managed to coerce people before, so they keep trying the same tactics, rather than making the changes they need to in life.

    We aren’t responsible for saving people from their own poor life choices! We aren’t responsible for ensuring EVERYONE’S success! I can understand that some people go through difficult times, and just need a helping hand, but many are just looking for a free ride!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s exactly it – I like to think with this experience I taught him a life lesson more valuable than going to university- personal responsibility and the consequences of not taking ownership of your duties!

      One of my flaws is assuming that everyone has the same values as me, and despite their personal flaws is essentially good. This has made me a victim to their manipulation when they share their poor circumstances thinking it justifies being taken advantage of.

      In jobs like your daughters I can see the advantage of developing that toughness to this manipulation- I guess she will hear it a lot and be wise when someone is trying on a guilt trip!

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. My pleasure! Hang in! She has learned that she needs to share that she has also been in the same circumstances as the people she has as customers but through hard work and learning life skills she has moved beyond. She will then offer to help the person with creating a budget, or learning to write a winning resume or give other help for the person, but she does confront the manipulation!

        Some people manipulate because they are genuinely trying to get something for nothing while others will do so when they feel their backs against a wall and don’t know what else to do.

        Confronting the manipulation is useful for setting our own boundaries and for determining if there is some other way we could help the person which would be more helpful in the long run!

        Liked by 1 person

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