“No good deed goes unpunished” is a phrase that was often told to me by my uncle. I’ve been thinking about that phrase more often than usual and up until last night had yet to completely figure out exactly what he was trying to tell me. I remember the first time he said those words to me, though:
I had helped a former co-worker complete a project she oversaw that was past due. Upon the project’s completion she went to our boss (also my uncle) and told him she felt I was trying to “take over” her job. Soon thereafter, he called me into his office. After a brief interrogation he assured me that he knew I was only trying to help move the project along but told me to remember that “no good deed goes unpunished.”
A couple of years later, I had worked on a project for our sales team which consisted of a new sales management, development and training program. He was overwhelmed with what I had put together, smiled, and said, “Well done. Remember, no good deed goes unpunished.” and put me in charge of the entire project. Throughout my nearly four year tenure with my uncle, that phrase was reiterated to me over a half-dozen times. Not only did he reiterate it often, he also helped shape my talents, pushed me when I didn’t have the confidence, and embraced my achievements.
Don’t get me wrong, though. When I didn’t do something accurately or efficiently—I heard about it. Actually, his words put me in tears, and not because his words were mean—but because they were right. His discipline, I realized a couple of years ago, had helped shaped who I was going to become. They also helped me grow, helped develop me into an effective leader, helped me learn to accept responsibility and helped me to know and understand my limits.
My Uncle Al is a good man. He’s made a lot of mistakes, too, and even in business, but in my mind, he’s done a hell of a lot of good more so than the unjustifiable. Not only did he develop me, but he took me under his wing; protected me, loved me and educated me. I’ve had three mentors in my life beginning from the time I was a funny looking ten-year old, with my uncle being the most recent and the most profound. My uncle is retired now living in a warm southern state along the coastline with his beautiful wife, my Aunt April. Just as he’d planned. Just as they planned.
Last night while sleeping, I had a dream about the way my life had been unfolding. It was strange in my dream—looking into my life, my thoughts, my desires, my experiences and failures—from the outside, as if I was observing my own life through the eyes of a stranger.
At one point, I was sitting in front of a man behind a desk. His hands neatly folded; elbows on the arms of the leather chair; leaning back but intensively listening. I was complaining to him about how my life and I have had a rather tumultuous relationship over the past year and that nothing seemed to be going my way. I was explaining to this man that I was a “new” stay-at-home mom, and although rewarding in its own right, it just wasn’t for me. I continued by telling him that I was not only new to this home life but was also new to the area—and from every angle I was completely out of my comfort zone. I had thought, or assumed rather, that me staying home for my husband and kids was the best idea and would benefit everyone involved. That’s when this man finally responded: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
At that very moment, I abruptly woke up. I never saw the face of the man who I was sitting in front of, but I just knew by those five little words that it was my uncle. Before last night, I hadn’t heard that phrase for a few years, but for the first time I understood what he had been pushing me to understand for so long: Sometimes what you think is the best situation, the best scenario, the best duty—isn’t. Sometimes it is. Give it time. Think thoroughly before making a decision. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Every time you achieve something, set the bar a little higher because if you don’t, someone else will for you.
I miss working alongside my uncle. Not only is he the greatest boss I had ever worked for on so many levels—he’s been the greatest mentor of all my life.