Cheering On My Administrative Assistant Self: Better Late Than Never

I’ve been reading Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden about a young man’s escape from a brutal North Korean prison where he was born into what amounts to slavery.  You know, light summer reading.  Reflecting on the unthinkable atrocities that occur in Camp 14, it’s a little hard to talk about my relationship to work here in the land of the free.

But I’ma do it anyway.

* * *

Working hard to change another person: Not worth it and not possible.

Working hard to change another person: Not worth it and not possible.
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Once upon a time, before I had a law degree but possessed about a tablespoon of self-esteem and a kilo of pent-up ambition, I took a job at a fancy place as an administrative assistant. I figured who needs to use her Master’s degree? Not this lady!

My boss was imposing and grumpy and everyone around the office was intimidated by his mood swings.  I never saw any swings:  he always seemed dour, critical, and negative.  I tried with everything inside my codependent little being to bring him some sunshine everyday, including my cheerful mood (all fake), faxing things in a timely manner (and jamming the fax machine every other time), and pretending the job filled up every single longing in my life (gigantic farce).

He was never inched out of his bad mood no matter how perfect I was.  I even stopped jamming the fax machine (mastery!) .  Out of a boredom I thought would kill my internal organs, I started studying for the LSAT from my desk (something to do!), and I thought of ways to organize his “Honors and Awards” file that I thought would be most pleasing (it wasn’t).  I thouht he might appreciate my ambition and my acknolwedgement of his.

It didn’t work. I was sure there was a warm center of him that I could crack if I only … if only … I didn’t know how, but I was happy to keep trying.

So, I tried.  The harder I tried, the less his mood budged from his status quo.  I stared at those LSAT practice questions asking me whether Sally was sitting next to a long-haired boy or a short-tempered girl and wondered If I was smarter, would he be happier?  My thoughts returned to my boss like a tongue returns to a sore tooth.  If I rearranged his incoming mail, might he soften towards me?  I tried to grasp the logic of the LSAT test while figuring out how to please the unpleasable.  Both of them confounded me profoundly.

I went to dark places during that job.  Places where it seemed like the truth was whispered: I’m stupid. It’s my fault. He hates me. I can’t do anything right.  But now I know those were lies.  Or they were truths that didn’t belong to me.  It was never my fault that his AMEX card was stolen while he was doing a speaking engagement in Ann Arbor.  I wasn’t my fault when the thread count on the sheets were too low (or was it high?).  It wasn’t my fault that the Dean of Yale College never returned his calls.

None of it was my fault. 

Years later, I get to finally get behind that young administrative assistant and cheer her on.  I travel back in time to assure her that she will find her path out of the miserable cubicle; it’s not her fault he’s unhappy; there is NOTHING she can do to fix it; and that Sally was most definitely sitting next to a long-haired boy.

Better late than never.

* * *

In other news, if you have checked Facebook or Instagram or read any blogs lately you know that it’s Miley Cyrus week back-to-school time.  There’s puh-lenty of ink spilled about that these days, so here’s my two cents on how to support a MOM going back to work.  I made a lot of mistakes upon returning to work.  Don’t do what I did.  Read here at Mom.Me about how to avoid my mistakes.


14 thoughts on “Cheering On My Administrative Assistant Self: Better Late Than Never

  1. Good for you for cheering her on. Sounds like your boss had plenty of his own issues going on. I worked as an executive assistant for a year myself. Not my life’s ambition, but since my boss was awesome (and not grumpy), it was a good gig. It was the opposite of yours – everybody was easy to please. I guess they’d had a few bad assistants before me, so everybody was thrilled that I was smart and capable and not screwing stuff up.

    I truly believe your boss makes or breaks the job. I would have worked as Christina’s assistant for years just because I loved her (but it just so happened that I moved away). And I’ve left jobs I loved because I had a horrible boss. Like you realized, you can’t change your boss. So if it’s not working, you just gotta move on.

      • I loved your post too! It is so hard to ask for help (I am the worst, I hate doing it), but sometimes you just need it – in some phases of your life more than others – I try to keep a “this too shall pass” outlook on it. And connecting with other working moms is key. Only another working mom understands what you are going through and the time crunches you face. I have an online-only working moms group that’s kept me sane for years; they’re some of my best friends.

  2. My boss was great for the first year and a half I worked there. Then some things happened external to our office. My boss was betrayed by people he trusted (I am intentionally be very, very vague here). I had never done anything to betray him, but it didn’t matter. I went from being a valuable employee to being incompetent, untrustworthy, dishonest, naive, etc., etc. etc. On multiple occasions he would yell at me for over an hour, five minutes of which had anything remotely to do with me, the rest of it concerned other people (the ones who betrayed him). And the five minutes that dealt with me? Could have been easily cleared up if he had had any ability to listen to what I had to say rather than have his mind already made up as to the “facts”. The last two years were so stressful, made survivable due to the fact he wasn’t in the office much. I loved the work I did and thought it would get better. Nope. When I talked about my work situation with a friend she said it exactly described the relationships people have with alcoholic spouses. When he was in a good mood, it was great. When he was in a bad mood, it was truly awful and I never knew what would set him off. I was so glad when the company had money issues and I was let go. Now I work for an awesome company not really in my field, but it will do because my bosses are so supportive and value my skills rather than view them with suspicion.

      • Yes! When I have my annual review now they always ask if there’s anything that I’m unhappy with or could be better. I really have to dig deep (like, ooh, I could use a new chair!) because this place is like perpetual rainbows and unicorns pooping Skittles compared to what I used to put up with.

  3. oooh…bad bosses! Thankfully I love my current boss and all the dotted line bosses I try to keep happy. When a good codependent can’t make him happy ain’t nobody gonna.
    Is it bad that as a boss to my nannies I flat out tell them I need them to make my life easier (my kids are old enough that they don’t need constant attention)? I might be a bad boss. I try to make up for it with extra $.

  4. Oh, bosses. I’ve had great ones and I’ve had downright crazy ones (like the one who threw a potted plant at me. Not kidding.) What a boss can do to a person’s inner monologue is amazing. Glad you’re changing yours.

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