Last week, I learned that my long-time book publisher was resigning to try something new. A senior member of his staff would replace him. In short, I had lost an old boss and gained a new one.
It got me thinking how many times this has happened in my life, and how personal it still feels. Like a substitute teacher stepping before the chalkboard, like a babysitter waving hello, her coat over her arm, the introduction of a new "authority" goes back a long way in our lives. It almost feels primal.
But with a boss, it's a never-ending feeling. Think about how much of your day is spent trying to make the boss happy, how many hours you invest trying to please, avoid, impress or affect this person who controls your working fate. Most people I know have their daily outlook shaped by the mood of their boss. ("Oh, he's on the warpath today." "Oh, man, he's making my life Hell on Earth.") A great boss, work is upbeat. A bad boss, your day can be torture.
With a position this influential, any change can be profound.
Yet it happens all the time.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
The guy who hires you suddenly gets promoted. The company you signed with suddenly gets sold. One morning you come into the office, same as the other mornings, but there is a certain buzz in the hallway, a hasty gathering in a conference room, and an unfamiliar man in a nice suit is standing with his hands crossed, being introduced with the words "… will be taking over for now."
At this newspaper, the man who hired me was gone a few months after I arrived. He was replaced with a guy I, luckily, got along with well, but in time that guy left and was replaced with another (who, thankfully, I get along with, too).
At my second book publisher, two of the top three people who signed me left for other jobs before I turned in a page.
At my first radio station, I saw four different men sit in the big office. Four different "heart-to-heart" talks about how I fit into their plans.
We constantly try to make headway with bosses, only to wake up and find another in their place. Alliances crumble. The guy who "kissed up" to the boss is laughed at for wasting his time. The woman who always angered the boss gets a new lease on life. The promises an old boss made evaporate like steam on a window.
And you wonder why you twisted yourself in knots for someone who could depart so easily.
WHO'S THE BOSS?
Have you ever met an old boss later in life? Run into him or her on the street? Isn't there part of you that wants to say something maybe beginning with "You know, now that I'm not working for you anymore…"? Or maybe you share a heart-to-heart, how bad things have gotten since that boss left, how much you yearn for the good old days.
Either way, when you walk away, you are reminded of just how much one person can affect you, and then become a person who has no bearing on your fate at all. It is the reason Kipling once advised to let "all men count with you, but none too much."
So this week, I have another new boss. And it's OK. I think I've learned, maybe the hard way, to let go of the "too much" part, to recognize that bosses are just men and women who, for a brief moment in life, make decisions that affect you. But how much they affect you is still in your control. The real trick in life, when it comes to bosses, is learning how to be your own.