“If I had been like you when I was younger, I would have been much happier.”
It would have been a very sweet thing for my boss to say if he hadn’t meant that I was hopeless. Happiness = foolishness. Inept. Didn’t think things through.
“You aren’t happy now?” I asked.
“Oh I’m happy now, but when I was working, I wasn’t like you. I was afraid to mess up. So I thought things through. I would never come to my boss like you come to me now, just talking.“
I laughed because it was funny and because it’s what I do when I have nothing to say.
“Your parents gave you a good brain,” he said, “Didn’t you do well in school?”
“Then why don’t you use it?”
Should my confidence at work, or more specifically, in front of my boss be charted or graphed, it would look like a rather unstable company’s stock ticker. Up and up when I’m paying attention, writing things down, listening. Reading my damn emails. Down and down when I don’t do any or just half of that. I am one person inside his office, then once I step through the glass doors and am back at my desk, my spine curves a little. Certain muscles loosen – and if the brain is a muscle, that’s the very first one to go slack. I forget who I’m working for and busy myself with other things, other executives, and Gmail. And this tumblr.
My boss wants me to be a better person. I know and appreciate this. He asks me to raise the bar for myself by using my brain in relation to getting his affairs in order. As getting his affairs in order is 99% of my job description, this is not much to ask. Sometimes I even get his affairs in order. In a good week, his affairs are 90% in order. In a bad week, I’ve let what seemed like 50% of things fall to the wayside and he, with his razor sharp memory (don’t be fooled by his calm, sleepy demeanor and his perpetually reclined posture), shoots me little daggers of reminders.
“What happened to this and this?”
“Where are we on this and this?”
“When is this meeting I asked you to schedule?”
And with each ping comes a little zap to my heart and I want to die because goodness how could I have forgotten that! And that! And this! What the hell am I doing in this chair? Why hasn’t he stormed out to replace me already?
The worst (and funniest) is when I go in and speak to him because it’s my best version of firefighting – better talk to him in person than ping him back with my shortcomings – and he looks up, mildly surprised to see me in the flesh because he expects me to hide behind a giant screen of lost productivity. He adjusts his eyes to my grim, exhausted expression and asks point-blank: “Who’s the assistant here. You or me?”
“Then why the hell am I the one reminding you to remind me about things? Do you want to sit in this seat? You want my job? Because I can do yours a helluva lot better than you do it.”
Instead of reply with words, I just sigh and throw my hands up. My signature – the “I’m sorry, boss. I’m a dud. You hired a dud. And now I’m just going to throw my hands up and make the universal sound of tired defeat. Sigggghhhh.”
When I’ve gone old and hoary and have had children more productive than I, and they have children more productive than I, I’ll relish telling them the story of grandma’s first real job.
“I was the executive assistant, kiddies, it was my job to help my boss, the company’s biggest cheese to keep his appointments and remember important things.”
“But grandma, your memory sucks. You can’t even remember our birthdays.”
“I know, but back then it wasn’t so bad.”
At which point my daughter will pop her head in and say, “Mom, please. You never remember MY birthday and you gave birth to me. I doubt you could remember anything for your boss.”
Then I’ll sigh and shrug, a mischievous grin on my face. I’m always one for a story.
“Did he fire you?”
“Oh no,” I’ll say, (hopefully this will be the truth), “He thought I was useless, but I like to think that he liked my personality.“
“Did you make him laugh?”
This question will catch me off guard, but I will answer honestly.
“No, I did not. I made a lot of other people laugh, but I did not make him laugh. More often than not, he made me laugh.”
The grandkids will be perplexed, why keep a clown around when she can’t even make you laugh?
“Then…what did he like about you?”
And I’ll answer as truthfully as I can.
“I don’t know. Perhaps nothing. Sometimes, you can’t ask for love or even like, and you wouldn’t ever ask for hate. I think he just accepted me. Hiring me was his decision and he stuck by it. You don’t give up on people.”
“That’s why he told you over and over again to think things through, right Grandma? That’s why you tell us too, right?”
“Yes. In his strange, borderline indifferent way, he didn’t give up on me. Never exploded in my face. Never complained about his mouth going dry giving me the same lecture over and over, almost once a week. Sometimes twice a week, for over a year.”
“So he was a good boss.”
“Yes, he was.”
“Then why did you leave?”
And here, I’ll tell them two truths: one about myself and one about life. The first was that their grandmother was not good at very much, but she was quite adept at quitting. Quite. It could be masked this way or that: getting out while she was ahead, or just stopping something before she reached what would eventually be a dead end…but the fact of the matter was that she abandoned paths almost just as quickly as she began new ones. It was not always a bad thing, but certainly, many doors remained closed to her because her stride never quite hit the threshold. What’s more, it was written on her palm, in her life path line, which was not one line but many, tiny fine lines that crossed and recrossed so that it formed a chain down the middle, to her wrist.
The second was that for all her boss’s talk about using her brain, he had neglected to mention – not that he needed to, because wordlessly, by his constant presence and visible devotion the Company he created, demonstrated – that she should evaluate too if her heart was in it. For the old woman looking back, the two were never meant to be separated. A job without the other is just that: a job.
“Head and heart, darlings. Head and heart. It is not too idealistic, no matter what people tell you, to work with both.”
And my grandkids will nod and say, “That’s why you write, right Grandma?”
“That’s right. That’s why I write.”