Lies, Bullshit and Incompetence
Updated: Nov 7
Everyone’s had the wool pulled over their eyes at one point or another.
Someone I worked with once asked me why I was getting so worked up about a situation where I felt there was gross incompetence being tolerated. I couldn't believe he wasn't getting worked up. I blurted out, “I just hate lies, bullshit and incompetence. We shouldn't tolerate that."
He shot back:
“Let’s address those 3 things. Being lied to sucks, no one likes that. But being bullshitted is kind of fun. It can be like a sport for you. You can ask people ‘well that’s interesting you are saying that, when something else is going on over here’. As for incompetence, the world needs average people, and average people are incompetent compared to your standards. You need to learn to accept that, lower your standards, and work around them. In the real world you have to live with lies, bullshit and incompetence."
I held my tongue, but I was thinking to myself, "Give me a break, being bullshited is not a sport. Maybe it's a sport for squids with no coordination. And do I really have to put up with this shit?"
Later that night, I thought about it some more. I realized the reason I get so worked up when I’m lied to is because I’m actually mad at myself for falling for the liar or bullshit artist's act. I’ve had a couple times in my life where I vowed not to believe lies, or put up with bullshit and incompetence anymore. Even though I've gotten better at judging character, I'm an optimist at heart and I still can miss our on red flags that seem obvious later on. I've hired bad people, made poor judgement calls, trusted sneaky people, and put up with lies, bullshit and incompetence far longer than I should have.
In the 7th grade, a guy came up to me and my two friends in a dark parking lot outside of a Macy’s store and asked us for a dollar. My friend made the mistake of saying, “No, I only have a $20 bill.” “Great, you give me da $20 I’ll give you 19 ones back”.
My friend, an innocent 7th grader, handed over the $20 to help this guy. The guy immediately looked at it and said, “Nah man this is count-a-fit. You givin' me count-a-fit money." Then he flashed his knife at us and started walking quickly away. While this was happening, I separated from the other 2 friends and tried to get help. By the time I got back with the manager of Macy’s, the guy was gone.The world felt out of balance to a 7th grade kid. It was the first time I experienced people lying for money.
The Macy’s manager took $20 out of his personal wallet and gave it to my friend. “Here you go kid, just forget this happened, and don’t tell your parents you handed a sketchy guy a $20 bill.”
In the moment, I thought this manager was a really great guy trying to make a kid feel better out of the kindness of his heart. Maybe this was true, but later on it dawned on my 7th grade self that the $20 payment meant there would be no police report staining Macy’s name, and therefore no one to go after this thug that easily could have been caught. Justice had sold for a lousy twenty dollars.
Senior year in college I had an adjunct finance professor plagiarize my final paper for a blog post he was paid for. I stumbled across it when I was googling his name out of pure gut instinct this guy was a shady character. He wore a wrinkly suit to class each morning and looked like he perpetually hungover. He was a “Faith Based Financial Advisor” for his real living (basically making the rounds to every church and praying on old widowed ladies).
He bragged about how he would take his clients from firm to firm to get their signing bonuses, and drove an obnoxious red Mustang around. He was completely playing the school and using his credentials as CofC (adjunct) Finance Professor to drum up more Faith Based clients. Even before the plagiarizing, I was disgusted this guy was a professor of mine.
This is a case where the truth is stranger than fiction, because the professor gave me a C on the paper that he plagiarized. Word. For. Word. He didn’t like me because I found his class completely useless — he was essentially teaching a Personal Finance 101 class at a 400 level. I felt like Holden Caulfield going to his class and couldn’t handle his phoniness so I stopped showing up. I literally got 100’s on every test because it was extremely basic. Because I never came to class he gave me a zero in class participation and gave me an A- in the class, ruining my 4.0 in finance.
I couldn't believe this guy had plagiarized my paper, AND had the balls to not give me an A in the class. I also found out he had been in trouble with the SEC three times. After 3 weeks of ignoring my requests to see the final breakdown of my grade, I emailed him with the link to the article and he offered to change my grade to an A right away.
I told him it wasn’t enough to just give me an A. I told him he had to personally explain his actions to myself and the Dean of Finance who hired him, and happened to be my capstone professor. Turns out, the Dean didn’t want to be humiliated by her colleagues for not vetting the guy enough. She was about to do the same thing the Macy’s manager did.
A couple days later, the Dean called me into the office handed me an envelope to thank me for my help on the professor’s work. She went on to “change subjects” and explain how she would flunk me in her finance capstone class if I didn’t get my paper together — clearly trying to get me to keep quiet. It felt like a Soprano’s episode, with her trying to strong arm me with a mysterious envelope and a lot of vague threats.
In the end, I was in complete shock this was happening and decided it wasn’t worth the fight. She was in complete control of whether I graduated or not since she was my Finance Minor capstone teacher. I had a 4.0 in the minor but she could have flunked me if she wanted to, forcing me to come back the next semester or change minors. At that point, I was checked out of college and wanted to focus on growing my business instead of getting involved in drama. When I left her office and opened the envelope, it was a $20 American Express gift card with a Thank You Note that I still have. The next day my grade was changed back to an A in the professor’s class.
The Dean didn’t have to take any personal responsibility for her poor judgement call, and life went on. I handed in my 100 page capstone paper to her and never saw one bit of feedback from her. Part of me still regrets not going over her head. This woman was a complete bully — someone I’m quite confident has done a lot of other shady things like this in her career.
When there’s no instant repercussions for bullshitting, lying or repetitive incompetence, it feels like there’s no justice in the world. The key is having faith people will get what’s coming to them, and move on. The hardest part is continuing to put yourself out to have faith in people.
There are many other times where I've been duped by lies, bullshit, and incompetence. It never gets easier to deal with.
Maybe I'm a naive idealist, but I don't think I need to tolerate any of those behaviors in my life. I'd rather work alone on a desert island than work with people who lie, bullshit or are grossly incompetent.
Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.