The Importance of Having a Nemesis

by Ron O. on July 10, 2015

thinking about my nemesis

I ruminate best when naked and turned to stone, in a garden

It has come to my attention, thanks to my wife and best friends, that I thrive on negativity.  We were discussing my writing, and they pointed out that I tend to get drawn in by pessimistic events and critical comments, and my typical reaction is to parry and counter-strike to such a degree that my message, and the conversation in general, were rendered impotent.  No man likes that word, and it was a pretty jarring revelation.  Unfortunately for me, after some heavy, brain-hurting deliberation, I would have to agree with them.

This is not to say I’m a negative person.  I think I’m quite the contrary.  I’m downright pleasant in real life.  To me, the glass is not empty or full, it’s merely at 50% capacity.

Negative energy is my muse, is what I’m saying.  Being in a bad mood or hearing lousy news inspires and compels me to write.  This revelation was also helped along by a another comment from my wife.  She explained that when we met, I had piles of short stories that I shared with her, mostly written before we started dating.  As I fell deeper and harder for her, the stories stopped, and they stopped for a long time.

Because – I was happy.

My wife is pretty smart, right?

What does any of this have to do with having or needing a nemesis?  Well, maybe it means nothing to you.  Maybe you’re happy and successful and content without one.  But me, I need opposition.  I need obstacles.  I need drama?  I don’t like to call it that, I call it inspiration, and here’s how it works for me.

The Professional Nemesis

I used to work in Telecom, as a Network Engineer.  I would tell people that, and they would say, “Oh, you put up cell towers?”  No, that wasn’t me.  I was the guy working in the office in a cubicle behind a computer making your phone calls work once they magically transported themselves from the cell tower to the central office.  But, I did work with those guys who did the field installations, and you should know that your ability to watch YouTube videos on your phone is all because of a delicate balancing act of antenna aiming (them) and bandwidth resource management (me).

This is Network Engineering.

This is Network Engineering.

Anyway, we used to have weekly conference calls with all hands on deck to discuss the status of every new site on the map.  And every week this one guy, Siddiqui, a field guy, used to say he couldn’t complete something because of incomplete design of network resources.  His job had nothing to do with the network resources, and I always fumed when he said such things.  I really took it personally, and in my irrational way, Siddiqui became my nemesis.

Mind you, I never met Siddiqui in person, and never spoke to him outside of this weekly call.  I don’t know how good or bad an employee he was.  But his flagrant and blatant and numerous finger-points in my direction drove me to be a better engineer.  Every day, the first thing I would check in my work queue were Siddiqui’s sites, and I engineered the crap out them.  My goal, even though my tasks occurred downstream in the process, was to not give Siddiqui an excuse.

The funny thing is, I got really good at my job because of it.  I figured out how to streamline my own set of tasks, so I could design connections and assign resources for all of the field engineers, not just Siddiqui.  I got way ahead of everyone else’s work queues, often to the point that I had to stop myself.  After all, I worked for a phone company, I wasn’t allowed to be too efficient.

The Nemesis as Inspiration

I viewed my old blog in the same way, where I played the part of the oppressed everyman against the big machine of local politicians.  (Okay, maybe I am dramatic.)  But it worked great as a creative writing tool, and I never lacked for inspiration, even if it was fueled by anger and frustration over the people who run my town right now.  If I had writer’s block, all I’d have to do is wait a day or two, and something would happen.  There would be a town meeting or a newspaper article to comment on.  I might have focused on a few specific people, but as a focus for my blog, my nemesis was the local government.

However, you could argue that I may have taken that particular nemesis relationship a bit too far.  I miss that old blog, but I don’t miss the shadowy anonymity it required.

Sadness, Loneliness, Frustration – these are all powerful and terrible feelings.  It’s easy to view these negative forces as adversaries in your own mind.  Consider the stereotypical moody and angry artist.  The fact that that stereotype even exists validates that my own use of negative expression as something common, and maybe a little hackish.

And so I guess that leads me to my final thought on my nemesis.  Perhaps, for me, my challenge needs to be to take that exasperation and irritation, and to not churn it up and spit it back out.  Maybe I need to hold onto it, consider it, re-shape it like a ball of clay, and turn it into something better than what it was.

So, now that I said all that, I’m in the market for a new nemesis.  Apply at your own risk.