Vernon Quest, confidant extraordinaire

For the purposes of this article, I’ll call him Vernon Quest. Because that was his name. (Hello, Verne, if you’re reading this, unlikely as that is given that you’re dead.)

When I arrived at the company at which Vernon and I became colleagues his reputation as a workplace confidant preceded him. He had acquired the nickname The Oracle and never advised those he spoke with that they should stop using it.

Between 9 and 5 he lived in a little windowless office, a veritable confessional booth some distance from the main open plan work area. Colleagues would quietly absent themselves from this latter central zone during the day and disgorge their problems behind Vernon’s closed door.

I sought his counsel many times during my two years there. He never resorted to threadbare truisms or predictable homilies. Never told you to work harder or get more sleep. Never promised you that you could do something if you just believed you could. Never told you to “follow your dreams” or “be what you want to be“.

Once, after I related to him my anxiety regarding a troublesome neigbour, he produced a rocket launcher from a broom cupboard, stood it beside me and said ‘Throw it in the sea when you’re finished.’

Another time he wrestled a bear in front of me.

He once wrapped a table tennis ball in tin foil, set it alight, and had disappeared once the ensuing thick white smoke dissipated. He reappeared hours later up a tree in the car park and told me ‘The more literal the smokescreen, the better.’

It was beguiling stuff. You listened, you took notes, you sometimes had to parry away artichokes or rolled up copies of Cigar Aficionado. You began to realise that conventional wisdom was for company men and dupes.

I am what I am – this column is what it is – because of The Oracle. I implore you to discover your own. (It can be me if you like.)

An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

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