She’ll steal a good man and a great idea in "Working Girl." She’s the Crystal Connors to your Nomi Malone. She’s the Bitch Boss, the anti-maternal, unfeeling superior who leers down from the top of the corporate ladder at the naive ingenue just trying to get started in sitcoms.
Here in the real world, the Bitch Boss is the best, most necessary thing that can happen to you. Especially if you are some ass-first ingenue.
At 21, fresh out of college and making a cool seven dollars an hour, I learned the most important lessons of my professional life as a production assistant at the feet of the top-ranking segment producer at Entertainment Tonight. And I mean literally at her feet: I sat on the floor next to her chair, clutching a legal pad, as she and four other producers dished A-list gossip that would never make it to air and finessed the stories that would.
When the grown-ups were done talking she’d double check I’d kept track of what footage she needed and then it was time for me to hustle my ass to the tape dungeon, or the camera guys, or the satellite feed, or d) all of the above and fight the other P.A.s to score the tapes first.
To her, I was one in a faceless stream of tape jockeys who she’d chosen to work directly under her over the years. To the other P.A.s, she was the scariest person in the office, the hardest to please and the last person you wanted to fuck up in front of. To me, she was a wrathful goddess, and I worshipped her.
Here’s what she taught me:
5. No Matter How Successful You Get, You Better Work Your Ass Off
While I was feeling sorry for myself for getting to work at 5 a.m., she was waking up at 3 to get there at 4:30. She would habitually work through lunch, eating a sandwich at an editing bay while polishing her segments. If news of a celebrity break-up or wedding or death broke, she’d stay through the night, crashing on a couch if need be. She’d been a top-ranking staffer for years but she acted like she had to prove herself for the first time with every segment she aired. Which is exactly why she’d been on top so long.
4. Gold Stars Are For Third Graders
In highly competitive industries, the prize you get for being good at what you do is that you get to keep doing it. Period. I quickly learned that if I found some tape that everyone was looking for and offered it up into her waiting hands, well that meant I got to keep looking for her tapes. Whereas if I slipped up, you can trust she’d let me and anyone who was standing within ten feet of us know.
She was never abusive like some of her lower-ranking colleagues (a friend of mine was actually pelted with VHS cases by an enraged editor) but I learned early not to expect cheerleaders or hand-holding and that the appropriate response to success or failure is renewed effort. For that I really can’t thank her enough.
3. Her Approval Is Worth Winning
Here’s the wonderful thing about a harsh, hard-to-please boss: when you actually do please her, that sense of accomplishment feels like a ride down a water slide running with wine cooler. You are going to be 1000 times more fulfilled working for her than a dude who is paternalistically, condescendingly kind to you while cracking down on/promoting your male colleagues.
And not to be too hetero-normative about it, but the approval of one die-hard Bitch Boss is worth approximately one million bajillion smiley creepers who think you’re soooo talented and ask you to a “script meeting” that turns into a nightmare dinner date with them pushing you to head back to their place for a cocaine brainstorm.
2. Don’t Look for a Career, Look for a Vocation
My beloved producer no doubt brought home a paycheck with a number on it most of us would associate with lottery winnings, but she never struck me as a materialistic person. She wasn’t sending out for boutique sushi or picking her way across the newsroom in $5,000 heels. I never heard her talking about an upcoming vacation or the next level parties she had the option of attending -- all she talked about was the show. She knew more details about the last 25 years of "Entertainment Tonight" than IMDB ever will.
She genuinely loved her work. While I eventually figured out celebrity news was not my beat, I never stopped envying her pure, Joan of Arc-like fervor in approaching her workday. I coveted her sense of purpose until I found it for myself, and that idealism kept me off career paths that almost-but-not-quite fit, until I co-created a pilot and found the job where the harder I worked the happier I was.
1. A Bitch Boss Will Pave the Way to Your Best Boss
And no, I don’t mean she’ll pass along your resume or promote you out of nowhere. Don’t hold your breath for that shit, she’s got her own life to live. What a Bitch Boss WILL do is make you the kind of efficient, uncompromising worker that totally blows away the awesome, supportive mentor boss you meet later down the line, who will do those things for you.
The standards she instilled in you, of working hard and making the tough phone calls and putting out fires and getting specific about the details: this is exactly the training you need to do the best work you possibly can when you find the project that means everything to you. She trains you to be your own Bitch Boss. And that’s the version of yourself you want to work for.