Sunday, October 15, 2023

Relationships Off the Rails

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

I grew up in a family where the railroad was a key part of my life. My father worked for the railroad and eventually became an executive in the company before he retired. One summer as a college student, I worked on the section gang of the railroad. The work was physical and challenging and if my father wasnt involved, Im certain I would have been fired after a week or two but I lasted the entire summer. 

As a part of this team, we maintained a section of the rails. One time there was a train wreck and several of the cars jumped off the rails. There are many ways this happens but it stopped anything moving along these lines of the railroad. 

Today Im going to use these rails as an example of relationships and how it is important to keep your relationships “on the rails.” From my experience in publishing, this area is rarely discussed but an important part of the community and I hope calling it to your attention will help your publishing relationships.

While to the new writer or outsider, the publishing world seems huge with many people, the longer Im in it, the more I see the community as small and interconnected. 

When you complain or disagree, your actions have ramifications. Twice in recent weeks, Ive watched two editors who have been in this business a long time. Each one has disagreed with someone inside the publishing company and acted as if they knew better than the newer publishing person they were speaking with. Its likely they didnt consciously intend to display this attitude. Their attitude came across loudly and clear to my colleagues and their simple response: I dont need this conversation or input. In each case, this “I know better than you” attitude has reaped lasting ramifications. These editors have been eliminated from gaining additional work. Maybe these individuals dont care but as I observed these actions, I saw several lessons for myself:

--never act superior or “too big for your britches.” Yes, you can play that card but be aware in the long run, it will likely come back and bite you. 

--with every interaction, always look for ways to serve and help the other person. That attitude will go a long ways and mean a great deal to the other person.

--never take your success and experience for granted. Instead, realize you have to earn it day after day.

--always be curious and eager to learn  

My cautionary tale about these two long-term friends and how they shoved their relationship off the rails, was not easy to write or retell. I did it as a fresh reminder for each of us to continually work at building and not tearing down your relationships. Have you had such experiences? Let me know in the comments below.


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