"Yes, you are responsible for yourself" - Laszlo Bogdan


This project is intended to offer guidance to help to young, authentic people stay healthy in toxic work environments.

The assumption is that you have a strong sense of responsibility, you want to make a difference and you want to reap the benefits of your hard work.

The proposition is that it's possible to reduce stress, be more effective and increase job satisfaction, even in environments where confrontation and bullying outweigh cooperation and and enlightened leadership.

The process is to pay attention to the perceptions, motives and emotions of the people you are working with, while managing your own.

The goal is to internalize the realization that stress is not caused by the behavior of others, but by how we react to it.

In sharing the insight gained by learning from naive mistakes, thoughtful conversations with clever people, targeted reading and focused observation over many years and across various geographical and cultural arenas, I hereby offer the guidance I wish I had when I was young. Of course, a little guidance will not deprive anyone of the privilege of learning from their own mistakes. But like a lighthouse, it may help to keep you off the rocks.

On the job, you will run into situations that just don't make sense.  And if you ask questions, you don't get any straight answers. And nobody seems to notice or even care that something stinks. For example you may have been told that the mantra of the company is "Together We Win!" But the behavior and rhetoric you observe seems to be more competitive than cooperative. Atmospheres like this may be the result of weak or misguided leadership, indifference or it may simply be that your perspective is different than that of your colleagues and managers.

Of course, in some organizations you will find blatant examples of intentionally deceptive behavior. In bureaucratically orientated companies, where exaggerated attention is paid to hierarchy and metrics, clever people quickly learn how to "game the system" for selfish  purposes. For example, you might run into "Leaders" whose only goal is to put themselves into the best possible light and promote themselves at any cost. A common example would be when they take all the credit for good results and shift the blame away from themselves when things go wrong, even if the action leading to the bad result was directed by them.

The scenario above is just one common example of the kind of behavior we will call "smoke and mirrors" in this project. Magicians use smoke and mirrors to create illusions and distract the audience. Here the expression is used as a metaphor for the antics and rhetoric that people use to divert attention away from incompetence, intrigues, hidden agendas and the like.

Straightforward people like to believe that office-politics can be ignored and honest hard work will inevitably be rewarded with acknowledgment and promotion. This may be true in a genuine meritocracy. But in the “real world”, if you don't have a good handle on the unspoken, unseen influences running in the background, you will wind up frustrated. This doesn't mean that you have to abandon your values or compromise personal or professional integrity in order to do well. But it is necessary to learn how to pursue your goals under challenging circumstances without hurting yourself.

There's a lot of good material out there that addresses the topics in this project.
Most of it, like The No Asshole Rule by, Robert I. Sutton, concentrates on how to eliminate bad behavior in organizations. But I have never found anything that offers no-nonsense guidance to help regular people understand and deal with smoke and mirrors. So I decided to write it myself.

The first step is to take a good honest look at yourself. You will discover that the awareness with which you approach challenging situations holds the key to dealing with them effectively. With this in mind, we will consider things like:

Perception; Everyone sees the world their own way. How can this simple fact be applied to make your life better?

Communication; Why are misunderstandings so prevalent and how can they be avoided?

Education; Why is it impossible to get the right education?

Ethics; Is it good to be bad? Is it bad to be good?

Politics; Can authentic people truly succeed in toxic environments?

Network; Cultivating legitimate relationships with people you don't like, how and why?

There is a list of suggested reading for each of the points mentioned above. The books and articles drill down on the subjects that the sections focus on and provide a deeper understanding on specific aspects of the tutorial.

Go to  Perception!


"through the smoke, a practical education" Bill O'Connell 2013