Write It Out and Write It Down

“So why didn’t you get the job? I thought you were the clear favourite?”

“The president said that I was too ‘feisty.’”

“What in the world did he mean by that?”

What, indeed?

One can speak complimentarily of a young athlete or lawyer as “feisty”: “having or showing a lively aggressiveness,” as Merriam-Webster defines the word.

How could “feisty,” however, have anything to do with a middle-aged professor applying for a job at a reputable theological seminary?

His résumé was weighty. His presentation had been electric. His answers to interview questions had been pointed, polite, and persuasive. So how did the wheels fall off?

He had made one request at the end of the day: that all the promises that had been made to him be written down.

He was an experienced hand, after all. He knew that principals and department heads come and go, but the institution is committed only to what has been recorded in writing.

He also knew, by bitter experience, that when push comes to shove, suddenly no one remembers anything that was said and everyone instead focuses exclusively on what is available in black and white.

Such hard-won wisdom, however, apparently amounted to “having or showing a lively aggressiveness”—and they apparently didn’t want anything like that.

A beloved senior friend has pastored churches all over North America and overseas as well. He has learned the hard way that Christians can be no better when it comes to enthusiastic welcomes followed by hard-ball literalism.

He was wary of leaders who try to make contractual matters personal, as in “Surely you trust us?” And he had seen executives force their subordinates to comply with drastic cutbacks that were the result of administrative ineptitude for the good of “our mission.”

My friend has a proper doctrine of sin, knowing that sin affects us all and affects us a lot. So to guard against it as well as he could, when he took his last new job—in his late sixties—he asked them to do one thing in regard to his job description and their remuneration package: “Write it out and write it down.”

I give the same advice to my former students now on the job market. People understandably want to paint their institution and its future in the best possible light. They say all kinds of things, and probably mean them.

But I tell my alumni/ae to keep their wits about them. Before you sign anything, read it slowly, make sure everything you were promised shows up in black-and-white, and ask for clarifications or changes right away if something’s amiss.

And then see what happens.

Administrators with integrity will not object to such responses, but instead will respect you as a serious colleague. Those who do object at this preliminary point can be counted on to be difficult down the line.

Write it out and write it down.

A young person showed up for his final interview at the company headquarters. A smiling, beautiful guide ushered him into the elevator and pressed a button. After a brief bit of small talk, the doors opened onto a marvel.

There was a paradisiacal atrium, a glass roof visible far above his head. Fountains plashed, well-dressed people moved about smoothly or sat in comfortable chairs chatting across tables filled with fine foods. On the perimeter, quietly lit offices beckoned those ready to return to work.

Two impeccably dressed executives appeared to his left with outstretched hands and beaming grins. “So good of you to join us!” they said. “This is your department, and you can have your pick of office and staff. Would you like something from our coffee bar?”

The young man was agog, and could hardly wait to sign.

The next day he showed up for work. The receptionist handed him a tag and told to present himself on the floor coded for his ID. He hummed to himself as he entered the elevator and scanned his badge.

Instead of going up, however, the elevator lurched down. And down.

When the doors open, he was hit immediately by heat and smoke. As he coughed his way out into a reddish dimness, a brutish man grabbed his ID, gave it a glance, and then pointed to the far end of a dark hallway lit only by a few flickering torches.

“Get moving,” he growled.

“Th-there must be some mistake,” said the newcomer. “This all looks so different from yesterday! And they said—”

His new supervisor grimaced and gave him a shove. “That was candidating. This is the job.”

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