Monday, 9 April 2012

Best Face Forward

Last night at bedtime, in honour of the season, my youngest son and I read Saki’s short story, “The Easter Egg”.  The English writer, Hector Hugh Munro, known as Saki, was an Edwardian Roald Dahl – able to create exquisitely crafted, often macabre, tales of the unexpected, that frequently satirised the society to which he belonged, as well as touching on themes of broader concern or interest at the time.  Although good, “The Easter Egg” is perhaps not his best, (my favourites are “The Unrest Cure” and “The Lumber Room”  The story does provide a snap shot of a particular period in European history and it tells more than it seems at first glance. 

If you are not familiar with “The Easter Egg”, I suggest you click on the link to read it , as otherwise my following comments may spoil it for you.

The story is about the attempted assassination of a small European country’s monarch and a mother’s acceptance, but disappointment, in her son’s pervasive cowardice, until his sole act of bravery prevents the start of a war, but causes his own demise and the blinding of his parent.  The mother’s physical loss of vision is ironic, given that it is only when her eyesight is gone that she sees things clearly. If find that this is often the case in real life – it takes a dramatic and even potentially damaging experience to enable people to gain a better appreciation and understanding of others or the situation they have been in and the potential for the future.  I have lost count of the number of former colleagues who have said that, with hindsight, being made redundant was a great opportunity for them – although it did not feel so at the time.  

When I was the HR Director for a leading global Law firm, my role became redundant.  Even though I knew it was going to happen (it was impractical at the time for me to relocate to the States and, once the new global Chief People Officer was recruited and he decided to be based in London, there was no need for two “heavy hitters” in Europe) the experience was very bruising.  For many of us, our sense of self worth relies on the image and role we have created for ourselves.  I was perhaps too proud to wish to be instructed by him and hence I left.  It is only now that I can fully appreciate that both the Firm and I needed to move on to benefit from new opportunities.  Without my experiences as the former Head of HR for a global Law firm I would not be as well equipped as I am in my current role, but my time there has now become simply part of the foundation I have on which to build my future.

We are all good at creating an image and environment to match what we feel is expected of us, rather than being realistic and true to ourselves and others.  Look at the profile pictures most of us choose as our “face for the outside world” - full of smiles and smart attire, we want people to see and believe in what we project as everyday us, as opposed to our best side.  Often, however, our “best side” is a disguise.

On Friday I took the boys and a couple of friends to see the excellent thriller “Headhunters”.  I’m not going to ruin the plot by describing scenes and outcomes, but I urge you to go and see it.  Not only is it a first-rate (if somewhat dark and violent) film, but it also appeals to me as an HR professional.  The hero is a top end recruiter, who has such low self esteem that he needs to create an ill-grounded world around him to convince the important people in his life of his value.  Needless to say his subterfuge leads to some very extreme events. He relies on a range of disguises to survive what life throws at him. It is not until he faces reality and is honest with himself (and others) that a brighter future can ensue. 


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