Sunday, July 8, 2012

Achievement Inflation

An old friend's name popped into my head today, and on a whim I googled his name. He (Paul) is several years older than I but still plugging away. We worked in the same area in the early to mid-1970's, and when Rob moved to Chicago and took me with him, Paul was promoted to fill Rob's vice-presidential slot.

I was astonished, then amused, to see that his resumé describes that position as encompassing 750 employees. I doubt that on its best day it ever exceeded 300, and would not be *too* surprised to learn that it never reached 250 - perhaps not even 200.

Well, it was 30 years ago, and who's going to call him on it now? And how would they prove it?

This has brought to mind another colleague, Fagin, with whom I worked in the early to mid-1980's, when I was an assembler programmer in junk mail. This was in a small but growing company, and at one point I wrote an application that in one area catapulted the company to the top in its field. The application was merge/purge, and whether you know what that is or not is unimportant.

In the industry it made a name for my company, and for me.

A few years later, Fagin, who at his best could be classified as a junior programmer, was hired by a competitor, one for which I was consulting at the time, and I learned that Fagin had claimed on his resumé that *he* wrote the breakthrough merge/purge. His new company wanted a new merge/purge written and he was hired on that basis.

Soon after that he called me, saying he wanted to get together for dinner, and he had some questions he wanted to ask me. *Immediately* I said "Fagin, I'm not going to help you with that merge/purge. You're just going to have to understand that."

That was pretty much the end of the conversation, and for that matter, the dinner, which never materialized. Another non-arrival was his new company's desired merge/purge. He knew he couldn't write it and hopped to yet another company before he was found out.

Without staking a claim to sainthood, I can tell you that I never padded my resumé, and on occasions when I was a prospective employee or consultant, I *always* mentioned my limitations - areas about which I knew little or nothing, and simply took the position that everything is learnable.

I once jokingly referred to my "inferiority complex" while on a date, and the date affected an astonished look and asked "Your inferiority complex - where is that, your big toe?"

It's true that I am usually confident, even sometimes overconfident, and now I just cannot identify with the lies in Paul's and Fagin's resumés. I doubt that Paul has lost a moment's sleep, but Fagin must have had some restless nights before he jumped ship.

For your amusement, here is an example of my overconfidence: Maryellen, mentioned elsewhere in this blog, once proposed that I do some technical writing for a magazine for which she was already doing exactly that. I said that I had never written for professional reasons and she said, "Yeah, but Donnie, you can do *anything*." I replied, "Well, there is that."