If we had a crystal ball, life would be grand. But, because we don’t, we often find ourselves at the mercy of hindsight. Hindsight being 20/20, what is one setback you faced in your career that ended up being a blessing in disguise?

Once upon a time, a former manager phoned me and told me of a company he knew that could really use my help.  His words will resonate in my mind forever, “They really need HR help because the CEO has trouble making decisions and when he does, he keeps changing his mind.  I’m worried the managers will run amok without any guidelines or structure.”

During our conversation, visuals of Corporate America à la Lord of the Flies were flashing through my mind.  It didn’t scare me because I thrive on a challenge and have plenty of experience with HR start ups.  “It’s textbook,” I thought.  Well, in hindsight I should have run far away, but I jumped in.

After a few months of observing, mingling and meeting folks, it was apparent that the CEO was not leading managers but being led by them.  Managers were consumed with the success of their own organizational silos.  Decisions regarding staffing, salaries, bonuses, etc. were reactionary and self-serving.  There was no consideration given to what was best for the business or how individual departmental decisions impacted other areas of the company.  That was only one of many issues that had an unconstructive domino effect within the organization.

I put my HR experience into this project and worked on bringing cohesion to the company, improving inter-departmental communication and relationships while implementing consistent practices for legal and business reasons.  I proposed a comprehensive action plan to gradually tackle one issue at a time while simultaneously educating the managers so they would be on board as well.  It was HR 101 and the CEO was 100% on board.  But remember, he was being led by others, including me.  While I had the thumbs up from the CEO to run with the ball, many managers resisted as structure stifled their personal agendas.  Managers’ frustration levels were high from ongoing in-fighting due to intransigent decisions.  The employees knew it and used it to their advantage.  Here’s an example:

Employee in Department A: Hi there Mr. Manager of Department Z, I don’t like my manager and would like to work with you in your department.  Can you get me moved over?

Manager of Department Z: Sure, I like you and could use the help.  Just grab your things and I’ll let IT know where to move your PC and phone.

Occurrences like this one happened on a regular basis without regard for other managers, workloads or employee qualifications and performance.  Furious managers would come to me and request that I “undo” decisions and actions like the above example.  Picture that nightmare. Ambitious ideas of wanting to educate and influence in this environment made me determined to succeed and make a difference.  But most of these individuals were used to working this way and those who wanted a level of structure were in the minority and didn’t stand a chance of surviving.  Neither did I.

The stress I endured during this project impacted me physically and I lost 10 pounds that I really couldn’t spare.  Ultimately I collapsed in my office and quit the project that same day by way of an ambulance.

This was traumatic, embarrassing and left me feeling like a failure.  On the flip side, it fiercely grabbed my attention and caused me to re-engineer my career.  My determination of wanting to add value and make a positive difference consumed me.  I allowed this to happen to me when I should have taken a step back and recognized that sometimes we just need to know when to say “when” and walk away.

Thank you for letting me share this story.

About the Author

Kimberly Patterson

Kimberly Patterson is the founder of Unconventional HR. An HR pro turned consultant, she has 25 years of progressive experience as a strategic HR and business leader in a variety of industries. Her hands-on and innovative approach allows her to create and deliver HR solutions to meet business challenges and needs by managing human capital, talent acquisition and technology. Connect with her on Twitter at, or at


Kimberly Roden

Sue, oh yes you’re correct about the “inner voice”. I trust mine 100% and never question it. I do agree that it’s made me a better woman as well. Thanks very much for your comment.

Hi there Amy, yes you’re correct. Some environments, no matter how many people have the desire to make an impact, it may never happen and it’s a good thing to take a step back and evaluate it as objectively as possible. Thanks for your comment.

Dan, thank you for commenting. Yes, you’re correct. I am passionate as well as persistent and was indeed blinded by both!

Peter, thank you for your kind words. This experience certainly did build character for me. There is a lot of work to do in Corporate America for sure, but only if people are willing to recognize what a healthy environment really is.

Many thanks Margo for your comments and kind words. I’m hoping that this story might resonate with someone else who can relate and know when to walk away before getting sucked into a work environment that can be hazardous, literally.

Very grateful to everyone who took the time to read and comment…thank you!

Margo Rose

I hear what you are saying. A key organization development benchmark is open communication channels–learning organization processes–resource availability (and of course equal authority and responsibility.) A healthy organization culture is key to employee retention. Toxic organizational cultures begin with the break down of the communication from the top down, but they get further complicated when communication isn’t embraced, and acted upon from the bottom up. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your thoughts, your true thoughts. That takes courage, and of all the things I admire about you, that tops the list.

Your friend,

Margo Rose


Thanks Kim, out of these types of experiences grows character- all of which you have. Thanks for sharing. There is much work to do out there…..

Dan Walter

Thoughtful posting Kimberly. Sometimes the same passion that allows us to achieve the unimaginable blinds us to the impossible.

Amy Wilson

Thanks for pointing out that some toxic environments aren’t fixable, no matter how hard we try. I really loved your story.
Thank you,

Sue Thompson

I have a number of stories I could tell that would begin with “I should have run far, far away.” Sometimes I had an inkling and sometimes I did not. Sometimes it was with a client, sometimes with a project, and sometimes in a relationship. The good thing now, Kim, is that we can spot these things immediately. We actually hear and pay heed to the inner voice of experience and wisdom that says, “Walk away. NOW,” because we know what it will cost. Not worth it. Nothing in life is worth working with a bunch of narcissists, sycophants, and infantile adults. You are a better woman for this!

Kimberly Roden

Thanks so much for your comment and compliment Krista! The plan that was put in place was a gradual plan to take “baby steps” given how they’ve been working for so long. Plus the continual education almost seemed like overkill but this is a case where empathy was necessary in order to make it work.

Yes, the growth from this experience was invaluable and I’ll take it with me forever. I also choose my battles as well because as my mother so eloquently put it that night in the hospital, “no job is worth THIS.”

Thanks again Krista.

Krista Francis

Kimberly, I know it’s hard to tell that story but I think most people can relate to it. We’ve all been there and it hurts, but we learn and move on–often to something better.

And I think you’re selling yourself short when you say it was HR 101. I’d say it was a graduate level capstone in organization development.


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