Illustrations by Spencer John Olson

Do Your Haters Motivate You?

MEL readers weigh in

As staff writer John McDermott argued, everybody needs a nemesis. After all, without your haters, who will keep you on your game?

We asked MEL readers around the country to weigh in with stories of their best enemies.

Turns out, you guys are a hateful bunch.

Ishmael, 26, California

Dick and I were both in the mock trial club. While I thought it was a good opportunity to practice playing a character, he took it very seriously. That I was having fun with it bothered him. He was super serious about everything, actually. I’d crack jokes in math class and he’d grumble underneath his breath. He started the school’s Young Republicans club. He wore suits to school and tried to make Formal Fridays a thing at our school.

Fast forward to my senior year: Dick and I ask the same girl to prom. He was a year younger than me, so it was an ambitious move on his part. But she ended up going with me and I was like, “Yes! Screw you, buddy!”

That was indicative of our rivalry. We were mostly intellectual rivals, constantly trying to outdo each other in the classroom, but I always bested him when it came to social interactions. I actually got girls; he just read up on how to talk to girls.

A few years later my little brother ran into Dick at a sandwich shop while they were attending college on the east coast. Apparently Dick had completely changed; he was tall and lanky, and into yoga.

Dick approached my younger brother and had some choice words to say about my family. (My brother refused to tell me exactly what Dick said.) Now, my younger brother is smart and a talented actor, but he’s also a rower and built like an ox. So when Dick started talking shit, my brother stood up and asked him, “Would you like to continue this discussion outside?” Dick declined.

I don’t think about Dick anymore. I’ve come to realize that there’s always going to be someone better than you, and the important thing is to be better than your past self. Improving myself is a lot more satisfying than comparing myself to others.

Jami Keller, 47, Idaho

I was running a Christian youth group that became very popular. We broached heavy topics that are often shameful for Christian children, and we were frank about it.

But the program manager, Carl, had it out for me. About two years into the program, there were rumblings that my group was discussing subjects the church thought inappropriate, and it led to a tense confrontation in Carl’s office one day.

I remember him leaning forward, angry and aggressive, pointing his finger at me and saying, “I don’t like how you run the program.” Then he made veiled threats to my job, saying our budget was in danger.

Soon thereafter I was let go.

It was more about internal politics than it was theological differences or finances, though. Carl’s son was running a competing program on the other side of the county, and neither of them were happy my program was flourishing while the other one suffered. Afterward, it was discovered Carl’s son had been embezzling funds from the program — he was them to buy high-tech devices, and there was a large amount of cash that went unaccounted for. He quietly left the program with no repercussions.

It’s sad careers were hurt because of such petty jealousy. I was angry about at Carl for so long, but in forgiving him I found victory.

What it taught me was how to identify conflict earlier and address it in a healthier, more helpful way. Previously, I had faith justice would always prevail instead trying to be savvy and dealing with conflict head-on. I learned you have to be humble so you can effectively communicate and work toward a solution.

Were I to do it again, I wouldn’t be so defensive with Carl. I’d say, “Ok, what are your concerns, and how can we meet them?” Instead I was like, “No. This program is good, and these are false accusations.”

The entire thing with Carl was a great exercise in learning how not to be my own enemy.

Jesse, 30, New Jersey

After vocational school, I got a job installing punch press machines at manufacturers all across the country. I wasn’t qualified for the gig — I was trained as an electrical, not mechanical, engineer — but they said they’d train me on the job, and the first couple months were fine.

Then I met Dennis.

Dennis had just left his job of 15 years as a lawnmower mechanic, we called him “Sling Blade,” and was 15 years older than me. We were put on the same project in St. Louis and met at a team breakfast. He seemed kind of friendly at the time, but also a little arrogant. He made no secret of his wanting to become the boss. He came right out and said, “I’ve been doing this for a number of years. I hope to be take charge, eventually, and become team leader.” And this was his first day.

So we get to the job site and I’m talking to the team leader about which tools I need and how to attack the job. But Dennis takes over what I was supposed to do and just grins at me the entire time he’s doing it. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen. Immediately I was like, “That is one creepy dude.”

Later that year we had the company Christmas party, and I left it early because I had to catch a flight. I was on vacation in Florida when I get a text from a co-worker saying Dave had been talking shit about me at the party and was trying to get me fired.

After I got back from vacation, Dennis goes, “Jesse, you might be hearing I said some things about you, but I want you to know it’s not true.” He was lying through his teeth, and I called him out on it.

“I’m busting my ass out here and you’re trying to push me out. What do you have against me?” I asked him. And he simply said that I didn’t have the skills to be successful at this company.

That’s the kind of guy he was; if he sensed weakness, he’d attack. Especially if he felt it could help him advance in the company.

Soon I was let go for “not performing to expectations,” and the last words Dennis said to me were: “Why haven’t you left yet?”

Whenever I think about Dennis, I remember this one time he called me “useless.” I may not have been good enough for him, but I have a strong work ethic, and I make a point to prove to people that I’m anything but useless.

There’s this primal instinct in most men. They’re hardwired to be alphas, and they don’t care who they take out in the process.

Mike, 28, Illinois

Glenn was the classic schoolyard bully.

I suspect Glenn had a seriously messed up home life because he would beat up anybody he could get his hands on. I was an especially easy target, though, because I was short, and he terrorized me for about five years when we were in junior high. He’d slam my head into a locker, and spread a false rumor that I was gay. I wouldn’t have cared, but it wasn’t true, and this was a small hick town where the worst possible thing you could be was gay.

I wasn’t as mentally healthy back then as I am now. I started working out and taking self-defense classes when I was 14 with the sole purpose of putting Glenn in the hospital. Which turned out well, because I haven’t been overweight since.

But later in life, Glenn became a more positive source of motivation. Thinking about him and his lackies made me want to leave that small town and do something with my life. I moved away, went to college, got a job and now I own a house. He, on the other hand, stuck around our hometown, and, not surprisingly, is now in prison.

And any time I get angry with someone, I think about how Glenn took his bitterness out on other people, and I make a point to behave civilly. Glenn is my calming mechanism. Glenn is the reason I learned to not be such an angry bastard.

Jason, 38, Oregon

My archenemy is myself.

Nobody has ever been able disrupt my life as well as I have. Nearly all my problems are due to decisions I’ve made — both smart and dumb.

I have this maverick attitude that I ca n I handle anything myself. I tried to fix my car when I was 19 and I didn’t take any safety precautions. So the car fell on me and tore my ACL. Luckily it rolled far enough that I was able to free my leg and call for help. But I had to have surgery and was on crutches for three months. All because I wanted to save a couple bucks and thought I was invincible.

I often rush into decisions without thinking them through. Like when I took a contract job at McAfee, the cyber security company. It had just been bought by Intel and seemed like a good place to work. But it was a madhouse. Never before or since had I been hit in the head with a Nerf projectile while trying to write code. It was like working with a bunch of 12-year-olds, and I had done my research beforehand I would’ve found that out.

I’ve let my biases cloud my decision-making.

I had this preconceived notion that working at a big corporate entity would be extremely boring. So for most of my career I worked at startups; some that ran out of money, others that were so immature they didn’t have a human resources to onboard new hires. Employees would show up for their first day and the company would have no idea what to do with them. I recently switched to a job at a large company and I’ve realized bureaucracy can prevent a lot of careless mistakes.

Other times I’ll over think decisions and second-guess myself endlessly. I’ll think This is a good way to approach things. Then I’ll convince myself That’ll never work. There’s no way you could do it.

Ten years ago, I talked myself out of moving to Oregon because California had a better economy, and it ended up being the wrong place for me. I didn’t jibe with the tech culture there; the always-working, high ambition, never taking the time to relax culture didn’t fit me. Had I trusted my gut, I would have been living happily in Portland years earlier.

Whenever there is someone who is a negative influence on my life, I can usually find a way to disassociate myself from them. But you can never get away from yourself, even if you are source of your own problems.

Andrew Stein, 37, New York

Wegmans grocery store. A month ago, I discovered their store brand of diet sparkling strawberry lemonade, which is sort of like liquid heroin (only without the calories). Without warning, Wegmans pulled it from inventory and I can no longer indulge my habit. I’m pretty sure whoever made the call did it to spite me. If I ever figure out who, they are going to get an angry tweet or two.

Cody, 22, Pennsylvania

His nickname was McAsshole, but let’s call him “Dave.”

We had the same group of friends, but there was always this tension between us. He was always just so aggressive and opinionated. He’d turn these otherwise minor disagreements into big intellectual debates and wreck you verbally, just to prove how much smarter than you he was. (He was intelligent; I’ll give him that.)

I avoided talking to Dave as much as possible, but we got into it one day in the locker room. A group of us were horsing around, and I poked Dave in his side. He lost his shit about it and kicked my ass. Our worst episode was when he slept with my then-girlfriend of two years when I was out of town for basic training in the Army.

I think Dave and I were nemeses because we were so similar. And by that I mean we were both complete assholes. Just a couple of in-your-face, not-very-nice people. I hate having to admit this about myself, but everything I discredit him for are characteristics I shared when I was younger.

Two years ago, Dave started to date another one of my ex-girlfriends, Amber, and he’s turned into a completely different person since then. He’s not loud and combative for no reason anymore. He’s able to let things pass. And he’s in med school, so he has a healthy avenue for his intelligence.

He and I are actually pretty good friends now that he’s not actively trying to be a dick all the time. Which is weird, because in his absence I don’t have anyone to direct my hate toward. I’m not a particularly hateful person, but sometimes it’s good to have an outlet for it.

Look at Edison and Tesla; they had a huge rivalry and it led to some of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century.

But I’m still wary of Dave, because I know that deep down, he’s still that same confrontational person.

So whenever I see him, there’s this instinctual part of me that’s still like, “Fuck, I hate that guy.”