I was 19 years old, and got a job as a receptionist at a law firm in downtown Minneapolis. Jack, the president of the firm (not his real name) was a bit out there. At times he was moody and unpredictable; flying off the handle, shouting and ranting his way from one end of the office to the other. At other times he had a wicked sense of humor – a prankster – king of inappropriate jokes. Once I had a lunch date show up, and Jack dropped on all fours just out of view – panting and wagging his tail to silently illustrate his opinion of the date – and grinned from ear to ear showing a big gap between his front teeth when he got the expected reaction. Honestly, he scared me a bit, but somehow I also felt kind of special if I got his attention. He was married and a father of three children (who weren’t much younger than I was) so I always felt he was treating me the same way he treated his own kids, and it made me feel weirdly like I belonged. After being there for around a year or so, he lost yet another assistant. He was frustrated and sarcastic about her not sticking with him – but there were really obvious reasons why she didn’t. He wasn’t up for that conversation, but he WAS up for asking me if I would take the job. Can you imagine? Wait… to add to the picture, I should also tell you.. I didn’t know how to type. I mean I REALLY didn’t know how. And I was about to embark on a president’s assistant role in which the volume of stuff I would need to do included typing. This included annual reports, filings for the SEC, long client documents, etc. SO.MUCH.TYPING. The firm sent me to a school that taught a one-day rapid teaching class on how to type. It was actually super fun, and included a video game style of learning where one letter would drop down from the top of the screen. Before it hit the bottom, you had to hit the letter on the keyboard. Soon is it was two letters, and then three at a time, dropping faster and faster as I improved. By around 3pm, I had mastered this fun video game and had an incredibly naïve and optimistic opinion of my typing skills.. That is, until I got back to the office the next day.
The interactions with Jack started rather benignly. “Can you come in here please? Take a seat. I’d like you to look at this document and tell me where you see typos.” My heart would pound when I heard the request to enter his office, as I knew I must have made mistakes again, despite my best effort to look everything over before it went to him. And the more afraid I became, the more mistakes I made. Soon, the interactions increased in frequency AND decibels. He’d shout “(SWEAR WORD) MELISSA – GET IN HERE!” The entire office would duck low and look away as I made my way to his teak floored office. (I should also add here that he insisted I take off my high heels before touching the floor, as he didn’t want dents or scratches. Honestly – he really did.) This relationship went on for several months, I tried my best to be perfect, and everyone around me tried their best to help me stay positive and not quit like all of the others had. I was so afraid to come to work, that I couldn’t sleep at night sometimes. Other times I would try to put on a brave face to my friends and family; making sarcastic comments about how Jack was and how it didn’t bother me. But the truth of the matter was, my already fragile self-esteem was being battered and beaten to a pulp.
The final straw after sooooo much emotion, anxiety, fear, acting up and acting out came in the form of a muffin. That’s right. A muffin. Jack came huffing in to the office one morning, and everyone could tell it was not a good day as soon as he cracked open the front door. He was having a temper tantrum as he made his way through the office and when he got to my desk, he took one look at me and roared, “I ORDERED A BLUEBERRY MUFFIN AND INSTEAD THEY GAVE ME A F’ING BRAN ONE. GO RIGHT DOWNSTAIRS AND GET ME THE RIGHT MUFFIN!!” And then he threw it at me. He actually threw it at me. Something snapped. I stood, picked up the muffin and threw it back at him, shouting, “GO F’ING GET IT YOURSELF!!!” And I walked out. My poor knees were knocking together, and I couldn’t breathe. I was so scared. I had no other job, no other income. I had no savings, and I had no plan.
I’d like to say the story ended there, I got a new job and lived happily ever after. But that isn’t exactly what happened. About 3 hours later the office manager called me. She was a kind woman who had supported me all along. She quietly spoke into the phone saying, “Jack said if you want your job you need to be back here by 5pm.” I did not want to go back. But I had to. I knew I couldn’t just leave, there was too much at stake, and I owed everyone and myself a stronger finish. It took me two more hours to gather the courage to return to that place. I dragged my feet and looked at the floor as I made my way to his office. He asked me to close the door behind me, and take a seat. My bottom lip was trembling (I hated that SO much, as I was desperately trying to look strong), and I heard these words from Jack; “Melissa, I am sorry. I should have never done that and I apologize. I don’t think this is working out for either of us, is it?” I was amazed, and it must have shown on my face as he started to chuckle. We had an extremely productive conversation after that. I talked about what was working and wasn’t. He talked about what was working and what wasn’t. We talked about what he needed to do next so he didn’t keep losing assistants. He listened, and was open to my feedback, and I his. As it turned out, I learned I had actually been doing a pretty darn good job, and my output was such that when I left, he hired TWO people to take over the role. Wow!
Looking back now, I have a lot of emotions and thoughts about the younger me. My goodness, how much I’ve grown since then. In a way, I feel sorry for that younger soul. I truly believed that all of the things that were happening to me were because I was not good enough. I wasn’t detailed enough, I wasn’t fast enough, I wasn’t smart enough. I was so busy using my own thoughts to tear myself down – that I didn’t even NOTICE the relationships and environments I was in that were reflecting the same sense of brokenness back to me. I also really love the younger version of me too. I was scrappy, and a survivor. Throwing a muffin at my boss? Epic! You go girl!! And deep down, even then I knew I was going to be ok, I would get through this tough ordeal – I just didn’t know that the tough ordeal was actually much of my own creation. I made those choices. I didn’t listen to my own being trying to help me. But I DID eventually. I now see clearly how my own thoughts and feelings were mirrored back to me in all of my relationships and experiences. I also see how those feelings are beautiful guideposts to help me on my way. My feelings aren’t bad – they just are! And talking about those feelings doesn’t make me too ‘touchy feely’ or wimpy. They help me deeply connect to my actions and thoughts to help me make the best choices for ME. I know that when I take care of ME first, absolutely everything always works out.
As an aside and in conclusion, I’d also like to say that since this experience, I’ve also learned that I am NOT a detailed person. I have NO business using my energy in details that are hard for me and take a great deal of my energy, only to render marginally successful results. My best friends, business partners and family constantly (and lovingly) remind me of this whenever I stick my nose in places that will just cause a ruckus and slow everyone else down too. See? Self-awareness helps EVERYONE.