Recently, a young friend of mine made his first entry into the world of full time work. This was the beginning of many painful realizations for him, including smaller than expected paychecks, brutally early mornings (to a teenager, anything before ten is inhumane), and mentally unstable bosses. It was the last part of the equation that we talked about the most, though, because while paychecks grow (hopefully) and internal clocks can be reset, the reality of the awful boss is something that has to be endured in one form or another for the rest of your life. This prompted a discussion between us as to the different types of terrible bosses, and whether it is worse to have a boss who is unreasonable, unstable, demanding and needy all of the time, or to have one who can turn on the charm just long enough each day to keep you coming back for more, but who is, at their core, just as unreasonable, unstable, demanding and needy as the rest of them.
I was of the opinion that a partially charming boss was better, but that in the end it really didn’t matter: you still needed to treat even the best boss with the caution with which you would treat a pre-menstrual girlfriend, and always be ready to duck those plates that got unexpectedly thrown at the back of your head. (In both cases, the plates in question hopefully being of the verbal sort.) He was of the opinion that they were both equally bad.
We never did reach a conclusion—I said that he was too sensitive, and he said that I had been beaten into obedient acceptance by age—but later, when I was relating the whole conversation to my husband, he pointed out that I had failed to warn my friend about the most demanding, most unreasonable, and clearly the neediest boss of all time: the infant.
“Don’t you remember?” he said. “It was nonstop: Ms. Wilson, can you come in here? I’ve soiled myself, followed by, Oh dear, I seem to have done it again—I guess I wasn’t finished after all. And even worse, There’s something I want; I don’t know what it is, but I know that I want it RIGHT NOW!”
It was true: I had forgotten how terrible it was to have an infant boss. Maybe that was why I could be so sanguine about bosses in general. It wasn’t, like I had asserted, that with age and experience I had gained enough perspective to know that even the worst boss is only temporary, or even as my young friend had asserted, that I was just old and beaten down, but rather a case of having been through the very worst boss ever, and, having come through it in (relatively) one piece, having a better take on the whole boss thing in general.
I’ve heard that Bill Gates has said that no matter how bad your worst high school teacher was, your first boss will be worse; not only do I think that he is correct in this assessment, but I think he needs to add the corollary “and no matter how bad your first boss is, your first child will be even worse than that.”
Maybe it’s just a matter of desensitizing ourselves to the pain—although, like the frog who doesn’t notice that the warm pot he’s sitting in is boiling until it’s too late—that particular desensitization might not necessarily be a good thing. Or it might be the best thing that ever happened to us. Who knows? Maybe there’s an evolutionary reason for the whole thing: maybe infants teach us to put up with abuse because when we have an infant is when we most need to keep our jobs.
Or maybe I’m just saying that because I’m old and beaten down.