“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”
I shut down a business recently that was fraught with in-fighting among the cofounders and disloyalty among the staff. One of the original partners used some questionable hiring tactics that led to some questionable hires promised all kinds of pie-in-the-sky benefits and salaries in a business that hadn’t yet achieved any sales but was burning through the founding capital, then exited the business and left myself and the other founder holding the bag for his promises. It wasn’t pretty.
Anyway, as things ended up, I and the other partner took the brunt of that other cofounder’s gruff and the gruff of one of his hires. As often happens when a business fails, certain individuals fight over table scraps, and try to get what they can from other people. Oftentimes, those who shoulder the brunt of the financial and temporal loss get asked to shoulder more, by those trying to scoop up money or assets as a parting shot.
The cofounder who exited a month or so before the business was shuttered wanted compensation for the role he’d played in the company – we’d been three equal partners; I’d come out $50,000 in the hole, another partner came out $20,000 in the hole, and the partner wanting a payout from us other two had come out $15,000 up through various efforts of his to get money from us other partners… and still wanted us to pay him an additional $10,000 or so, despite the business having failed and despite him being the primary reason it’d been so costly to us other two.
The angry former employee wanted compensation in accord with the base salary plus performance bonuses she’d been promised by that cofounder trying to extract money out of us, despite having already been paid her above market base salary, despite failing to perform well in her position, and despite having had other costly expenses of hers taken care of by the company that were supposed to be covered by her. The remaining partner and I offered her compensation in accord with her base salary promised out of our own money after the company folded, but she was incensed since it wasn’t everything she thought she should be paid.
As it were, both of them sought revenge against me, the other partner, or both of us, for seemingly “holding out” on them. They thought I should pay them; I should give them more money, because, well… I just should. Unable to get what they wanted out of us, they turned to dirty tactics, targeting me in particular, and making it no longer about business, but instead making it personal.
And then at that point, in the face of their revenge, I was forced to ask myself: should I indulge in revenge too?
As it turns out though, there’s something better than revenge, and it’s not what you think.
The Two Graves of Revenge
Generally speaking, I think of myself as a pretty good-natured individual. I try to do right by others. I try to build those around me up, empower them, and make them self-sufficient. I give of myself constantly: my time, my knowledge, my help, and even, at times (though I prefer not to), my money.
Yet, because I invest so much in others, I also place an inordinate amount of weight on loyalty – and historically I’ve been ferocious in bringing swift retribution to those who’ve wronged me.
And I always keep a trick or two up my sleeve.
But as I grew older, I grew both wiser and more adept in the ways of revenge… and more reflective over it.
One of the skills I’ve nurtured in myself is the ability to rank things very highly at the top of the search engines. I’m quite good at it. Another of my skills is the ability to very eloquently and convincingly make the case for anything I want to make the case for. I won the county prize for debate in 8th grade as an amateur – I could argue for or against either side, and make the most convincing argument in the world. Perhaps because my father – an intelligent man who rarely agreed with my views – had been so critical of me at times as a child and debated so much with me, I’d been turned, either by nurture or by nature, into someone who could – with a little preparation – win well nigh any argument.
This gives me great power. A #1 ranking result on Google that paints someone’s character in very ill light will permanently damage that person’s career or ability to land new opportunities or deals. The top three results there will demolish it.
And with both of these people, I considered a campaign to do just that. They got me that angry.
It wouldn’t take much. A few well-written posts per person, a few different websites, and then a little credibility building for those pages – a week of work per person, for a lifetime of revenge.
But as much as these individuals had raised my hackles… did I really want to cause permanent, lasting damage to their lives and careers? Had they angered me that much?
Confucius warns of the two graves of revenge:
- One for your enemy, and
- One for you.
But why does revenge hurt both people?
Surely the first and most prominent reason is that it inspires the victim to then plot his own retaliation back at you – and often, revenge gets stronger and fiercer every time it’s tossed back and forth between individuals.
But there’s a lot more to it than that.
Going after revenge can have the following effects on the revenge-taker:
- You incur the wrath of your victim. True, there’s a chance they do nothing – but then again, there’s a chance they’re emotional, or irrational, or you hit a nerve, and they come back at you and wage holy war upon you. While you might think you know everything that he or she can do to you, chances are you haven’t accounted for everything, and/or that person may have strings he/she can pull that you weren’t aware of, skills he/she can use to your detriment, or other means of coming right back at you.
- You waste your time. A lot of it. Revenge isn’t just about fire and forget. It’s about sitting there, stewing, thinking obsessively about someone, fantasizing about hurting them, planning out how you want to exact your punishment, being unable to concentrate on doing anything else. Instead of working on building a business, or making money, or learning a new skill, or advancing in one way or another… you waste time focusing on some person who, more likely than not, is out of your life for good anyway.
- You bring negativity into your life. Who’s happier – the man who ignores someone who’s angered him, or the man who chases that man down and beats him to a pulp? Some satisfaction can come out of vengeance – occasionally – but usually all that ends up happening is that you open yourself up to a great deal of awful, destructive emotions that lead to a bad end for you too.
- You keep the object of your vengeance in your life. In today’s world of megapolises and urban supercenters, people come and go from our lives like bees hopping from one pit of nectar to the next. Unless you’re trapped in a social situation where you’re going to be seeing the same person over and over again – and you can always change jobs or hang outs even if that’s the case – once you’ve fallen out with someone, you’re likely to never ever see them again. You’re going to go your way, and they’ll go theirs – unless, that is, one of you pursues revenge, and brings the two of you right back together again – only this time, as hated enemies doing everything in each others’ power to hurt and destroy one another. By seeking revenge, you take a door that’s just been shut, and you open it wide once more.
- You carry the weight of your misdeed. Many times when we go after revenge, we go too far. We say something a little too harsh; we do something a little too permanent. And then we’ve got to carry that with us. What if you end up with that person in your life again, either because you have to (e.g., you’re on the same team at work) or because you choose to (e.g., they’re an old friend or a lover and you reunite)? If you’ve gone too far, things will never return to what they once were. And even if you don’t reunite, you may come to regret your actions later on, but it’s too late to take them back.
- You ruin your credibility. I just told you I didn’t take revenge on those individuals who fought dirty with me. Instead, I simply turned the other cheek, then went on with my life and business. Who comes out of that bearing more credibility? Mine’s damaged a little bit, just because things reached the point where people were trying to hurt me or slander me – but theirs is damaged far more.
- You look weak. Who seems more powerful – the man who sits there and steams with fury, plotting his cunning revenge against his foe? Or, the man who shrugs off the slings and arrows of his opponents and carries on with his mission with nary a mote of recognition of the hostilities others bare towards him? Yes – the one who dwells on and carries out revenge looks weak. It’s because he has been so affected by this foe that instead of moving on into the future with his life, he must focus his life on someone from his past. He is controlled by this other person, and by his emotions towards him.
That’s why Confucius reminds you to dig two graves. Unless your revenge is absolutely perfect, you’re usually going to end up doing a lot more damage to you than to your victim.
Something Better Than Revenge
“The best revenge is massive success.”
~ Frank Sinatra
What if, instead of spending your time trying to destroy someone else… instead, you spent your time trying to build yourself?
Think about it.
- Destroy, or
But you can’t do both. You have to choose.
Why? Because they’re two opposites; two polarities. You can’t do one when you’re doing the other. And getting satisfaction at one robs you of your desire to do the other.
For instance, let’s say you’ve got a coworker you absolutely hate. And you successfully make him look like an idiot in front of the boss. Then what? Are you going to now focus on making yourself better? No – you’re either going to feel satisfied or, more likely, you’re going to try and make him look like an idiot again later.
But how about if instead of making him look like an idiot, you used that same motivation to turn yourself into a veritable rock star at your job, and had used that animosity with your coworker to fuel your drive to get yourself one promotion after another? Might that be a better use of your energy?
Success: it’s something better than revenge. Something a lot better. Something so much better, in fact, that you can use it to fuel a lifetime of achievement.
Is it a coincidence that many of the most successful people later in life were outcasts as youths? Or that the people who make it the biggest often were the ones who failed the worst at the beginning?
I’d argue that the case is no, it isn’t a coincidence. I don’t think the outcasts and the failures are any more capable than the rest of humanity. In fact, they’re probably a bit disadvantaged given an equal amount of experience and exposure between the two.
But instead of seeking revenge, they seek something better. They seek to use their anger, fear, and dejection to fuel their rise. They become powerhouses and superstars just to show those who doubted them how wrong they really were.
Most of the successes I have had have come from this route. They’ve come following failures, and they’ve come after I’ve had people tell me I could not succeed. I had to then win big, just to prove them wrong.
There IS something better than revenge, and that something is massive success.
Take that anger you’ve got toward that person, and instead of trying to hurt them – and succeeding in hurting yourself too – use it to fuel yourself to become so successful that they’ll end up standing there in your dust, wishing they’d stayed in your good graces so they could join you for the ride.
Make them wish they never took action against you. Not because you trounced them so hard in your vengeance…
… but because you went on to do so well without them – and because they aren’t invited to your victory celebration.
And if you’re ready to use that fire inside of yourself for something better than revenge, you won’t want to miss all the great tips, tools, techniques, and insights on offer in my newsletter – it’s everything you’ll need to get yourself on the road to a productive, successful business and a productive, successful life. Sign up now to start getting my newsletter delivered straight to your inbox:
Talk to you again soon.