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During my time early on, I worked as an executive assistant in my home state’s two largest employers. Both bosses in both companies were vice presidents and as such, my responsibilities run the gamut. I learned a lot about life and career related wisdom. In fact, one boss sat down with me for four hours one afternoon when I was twenty-one and explained how my retirement plan worked and how important it was to get an early start. Turns out, I learned more in those four hours with this patient and educated man than I had in all my years in school. For that, I’m quite grateful; and as A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder says, “You never know when a golden opportunity presents itself, but you’d better be ready to identify it”.

It’s what a manager did, however, that caused me to lose sleep for weeks. This manager also reported to this same vice president. They both had a passion for earning money and golf. Unfortunately, the manager also had a mistress. Knowing the VP would not tolerate lies in an effort to cover his tracks, this manager knew not to approach him in search of an alibi. He assumed I was low enough on the food chain that I’d go along with whatever he needed me to say, should the time ever arrive.

Needless to say, I had a huge problem with this. I could have easily gone to the VP and put an end to it instantly, but I figured there’d be nothing I could do to this manager that he wouldn’t eventually do to himself, so putting on the VP’s shoulders wasn’t something I wanted to do. I didn’t want to lie to his wife – I didn’t even want to have to speak to her. I was being pulled into something I really knew nothing about and that was frankly, well, none of my business. That left me with confronting the manager and telling him he’d misjudged me if he thought I’d cover the proverbial bases. I knew that wouldn’t be pleasant, but after considering the alternatives, it was something I knew I’d have to do. The one thing I kept coming back to was, “What if I have to work for him someday instead of working with him?”

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided that my biggest worry (having to report to him someday) wasn’t likely. Anyone who had ethics such as those wouldn’t likely see a corner office in the near future and even if he did and even if he was who I answered to, I always had the option of transferring out or worse case scenario, changing employers altogether, which, according to A. Harrison Barnes, is what happens in many of these cases. Then, I decided that it was time to let him know that I might’ve been low on the food chain as far as he was concerned, but that when it came right down to it, I didn’t like cheating husbands and if he was smart, he’d pick someone else to cover him. In a rare assertive moment for a 21 year old girl, I said, “You know, if you knew anything at all about me, you’d know I love nothing more than to right the wrongs of the world”. Of course, at that age, what did I know about righting any wrongs? Still, I was assertive enough that it convinced him to back off. In the end, says the founder, we all have to make those tough calls when it comes to ethics in the workplace. I can tell you I slept better that night than I had in all week. For me, that was all I needed to know.

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