It was one of the worst working days of my life. My boss had just pulled me into her office and called me "strident."
Oh wait. Yeah — I guess I kind of get it now.
See, most of my life I had always been petted and cooed over for my darling little personality and sassy distrust of authority. And here I was, being tsk-tsked for being strident.
Things quickly got worse when my boss said, "In the meeting today, it seemed like you were being rude and hostile .... " And I replied, "Well, you're rude and hostile all the time, and I don't take THAT personally .... "
My boss screamed back at me (rightfully so, let's be fair): "MANDY! I AM YOUR BOSS! GET OUT OF MY OFFICE! RIGHT! NOW!" We met with human resources, I apologized, and then we all lived happily ever after.
I'll tell you what really helped, though: Mixing up my exercise routine at CrossFit!
Just kidding. It was letting my soul die.
Wait, wait, hear me out. "Letting my soul die" sounds so negative, but it really doesn't have to be. Sure I'm saying "soul dying." You may call it "apologizing when you don't mean it" or "letting it go." Tomatoh, tomatah.
So anyway, at the time all this went down, I was dating a smart guy who advised me as follows: "Listen, Mandy, you've had your Come-to-Jesus moment, and now you need to man up and apologize."
It was what he didn't say verbally that I REALLY heard, though.
The subtext I inferred sounded a little like this: "Oh you silly little, special snowflake having your silly little, special snowflake office tantrum. As if you think that will help anything. Really? REALLY? You thought this was a good idea? When is it ever a good idea to back talk your boss? That's like, Being An Adult 101, dumbass. Now, let's go clean up your mess so we can enjoy our nice dinner like the two adults we are, and you can learn to pick your fucking battles like the rest of us sitting at the grown-up's table."
And I did. And nothing has been quite the same since.
After that experience, I remembered the magic of learning how to not go there. Just chilling my special little snowflake soul the hell out.
Because not EVERYTHING has to be some battle royal. Now I'm really good at accepting frustration/anger/rage/disappointment and just pinching its adorable cheeks. I mean, let's be real: We all have annoying or frustrating things happen to us every single day — and especially in modern corporate America. There is always a perpetual game of Rashomon at work. So you put on your big-girl pants, you smile with whatever slightly glazed-over look in your eyes you need to look like you're Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and YOU LIKE IT.
Unless you are literally saving someone's life right now as a neurosurgeon or something equivalent — IT'S JUST A JOB. No one cares. We're all wrapped up in our own shit.
Not everything has to be A Thing.
Over the past year, whenever I would call up my sister to complain about some detail related to a book project or a freelance contract or whatever, do you know what she would do? She would turn on her computer, put on the song "Let It Go," and make me listen to it. It's pretty hilarious. I've never seen Frozen, but I imagine it to be about speedily paid work invoices, email read receipt alerts, and incredibly fair non-compete clauses.
Don't get me wrong about the underlying spirit of the work you do. Absolutely: CARE. Yes, work hard. But care — while you don't care. (You know the old Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." So good! Do that!)
It's possible. Just use the old principle of doing your absolute best under the current circumstances and the environment in which you're operating. Calculate risks. Know limitations. Don't expect to be living in a idealistic winter wonderland all the time.
Because you are going to get your ass kicked, my friend. When you least expect it. Again and again and again.
And to get through it?
Just be fake, dude. Soul-dead unnatural-smile fake. It's easier.
Are you fully disgusted with me for saying that? I would counter: Choose your battles. So often, time-suckers and crazy-makers WANT TO SEE IF THEY CAN PUSH YOUR BUTTONS. Don't. Bye. Next. Done.
Oops, you just won life — thanks to the power of being a total phony.
Here's a somewhat comparable example: I don't drink, and I often use this metaphor when I tell people how it is actually possible to say "no thanks" to drugs and alcohol. I compare the resistance to being like a video game. It's a blast. Did your ego just ping you when that coworker told you that you're not fun anymore because you stopped drinking? Do you feel stupid and embarrassed? PTEW, PTEW! You better duck those ghosts trying to eat your Pac-Man ass up (yeah, I'm a million years old; sorry — it was that or Duck Hunt). But seriously, it's FUN! It's fun. Everyone loves video games, right?
So here are a few examples of where I might be pissed, and I make the choice not to engage instead.
Ping! I get an email: "Hey Mandy, could you introduce me to all of your contacts and hook me up with work even though the last time you reached out to me, I couldn't be bothered whatsoever and acted like a total dick-butt?" The email doesn't say that exactly, but you get the idea.
What I want to write in reply: "Go to hell."
What I do write: NOTHING. That's right, I write nothing! See? You don't have to engage! Who needs that drama?
You're pissed? Let it turn to something else. Energy. Inspiration. Hilarity. Whatever. USE IT.
Ping! My in-box is blowing up! It's another email: "Hey Mandy, I know I confirmed to do your podcast today, and you've booked the studio above the Comedy Cellar, but I forgot that I'm an inconsiderate jerk-hole, and I have to cancel." Or close enough.
What I want to write: "Go to hell."
What I do write: "This is frustrating, but I appreciate you letting me know."
Did you see the difference between the two emails? That is called "diplomacy."
And because I don't want you to ever have a screaming match with a boss or send an email that wrecks your life, here are 10 BONUS ways to effectively kill the relationship-destroying monster brewing inside you. You know, the one that wants to immediately send scorched earth memos to the whole office, carbon copy the entire board of investors, and track down the talent scout who hired you, even though he doesn't work at the company anymore. Here's to killing your soul, my friends!
- Go buy yourself a nice tea and call a complaining-buddy.
- Print out some annoying work email you have received. Calmly smooth it out in front of you. Take a black marker and then just color the entire thing in. Don't stop until it is all black.
- Ask your 10-year-old niece if she will do a little workplace role-play with you. Fire your niece, and tell her she will never work in this town again.
- Go get one of those free makeovers at Sephora, and tell the makeup artist how she is the only one who understands you.
- Go to church. Church is relaxing. There are candles and pretty music.
- Practice smiling at nothing.
- Scream into a pillow!
- Have hate sex with your significant other. Let one of you act out the email you just received that has made you throw your iPhone out the window. Now fuck the shit out of that email.
- Oh — here's a REAL good one: Take at least five minutes during the day for something you truly love, and always make time for it (even if it's 20 seconds long and it's just you thinking about it) so you don't feel disconnected from your true passions and dreams, and you remember how no one can ever break your spirit, even if you just finished reading an article about how to be more effectively dead inside in order to function in the modern corporate workplace.
Thoughts? Should I use a few more expletives maybe? I feel like that really accentuated my tone of professional authority and poise.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.