Being relatively new to the workforce (I don’t think employment at the local McDonald’s in high school counts as relevant experience), I worry about my limitations as a young employee and I’m aware of how much more I have to learn. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have a wonderful boss who takes ample time to teach me. She’s about 15 years older than I am and I think would be lucky to be where she is in her abilities when I reach age 40. She knows this job, this school and my position in and out and for issues that absolutely stump me she always has a completely relevant and feasible answer.
This hasn’t always been the case: last year my boss was a much older woman, well past the age of retirement and very old-fashioned in her approach. She was not interested in 20-something ambition; she believed that we (my fellow colleagues and I, all young, all female) should unquestionably recognize her authority and the wisdom of her years of experience, regardless of how she treated us and the students on a day-to-day basis. Working with her was oppressive, as she felt that we all needed to do our time as minions before we could even dream of doing things that required intelligence and creativity. When I began working for that school I was very much in her favor – for her, titles were everything, image was everything, so she loved the fact that I had a B.A. and an M.A. from two well-known liberal arts colleges in the States. I worked at the school for year, and a few months after I had been hired, when I had gained some trust and respect among my colleagues, I learned that they had (justifiably) been very bitter about my presence on the staff, because without knowing anything about me or my abilities, only where I had gone to school, my boss had talked me up to them as if I were going to a savior to the school and its staff. This kind talk obviously discredited the efforts of my colleagues, all of whom had been on the staff for many years.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was pattern was destined to repeat itself with multiple new employees throughout the year, and it was only a matter of time before I fell out of favor with the director. First, she realized (as she had done with many employees before me and was to do with many to follow) that a solid liberal arts education does not a goddess with magical powers make, especially not in an environment that is poorly run from the top down. When my occupation of the Housing Coordinator role did not revolutionize the place, she lost interest and I joined the ranks of my other colleagues as simply “acceptable” (let me state for the record that I happen to think that we were an excellent, excellent staff and we worked our tails off for that school without regular support or interest from our superior). Then, when I dared to suggest that my role at the school wasn’t particularly stimulating and I would love any opportunity to do something more engaging, that really ticked her off, and her dictator instinct was to squash me like a bug…OK, I’m exaggerating just a bit, but we certainly had more than one memorable run-in in which she made it abundantly clear to me that I was to sit down, shut up and stay in my place; that was also about the time that I began seriously looking for and pursuing other job options.
Eventually, that search led to the offer for my current position, which took me to a new school and a new town, not to mention a whole new level of responsibility and autonomy (telling my former boss that I was leaving for a much, much better position was both terrifying and incredibly satisfying…or at least it was until she sacked me with a HUGE economic penalty in my last paycheck because I had not given the school enough notice that I was leaving. This was, unfortunately, a perfectly legal move on her part – the fact that it was completely unnecessary and was just done to punish me speaks to the kind of “leader” that she was).
No job is perfect and this position, too, has its downsides, but my relationship with my boss is a good one. However, the fact that she is extremely capable makes me painfully aware of the many moments when I am anything but. I do worry that my inability to come to certain conclusions without talking to my boss about it first, or the fact that I have trouble taking initiative at times when I find myself in unfamiliar territory is a sign not just of inexperience, but also of maybe a lack of the kind of intelligence and creativity that one needs to get ahead in this world. For the time being, however, I’m going to let my naiveté and optimism push that possibility out of my mind…