From the Blog

Coping Mechanisms

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Like most people, I’ve had my share of wacko bosses and awful jobs.  Over the course of a few years in Los Angeles, I had a couple of bosses that had contagious mental illness.  These were jobs where I began employment perfectly fine, and I left questioning my own sanity.  Because when you go to work, you enter an alternate universe.  You are shut off from the outside world.  And no matter how stable and normal you may be in your regular life, crazy, manipulative bosses have 9 hours a day to push your boundaries and whittle away your mental well being.  It helps to have inane coworkers and a grossly unequal distribution of work.

I have described in job interviews that my experience working in Hollywood has given me good “personality training.”  This is a polite way of saying that I have dealt with some fricken nutjobs.  It’s particularly common in LA that a person may arrive at a position in the business not because of good work or notable intellect, but who that person knows.  It’s all about connections.  This would cause many numbers of incompetent people to be in positions of power or ego.  It’s not a meritocracy.  It’s the opposite.  It’s a bullshitocracy.

Many, but not all, of these people are aware of how much they suck.  They spend their time scampering around managing their image.   Other people are absolutely convinced, generally without merit, that they are awesome.  Bewildering, grandiose, fantasy worlds where they live with inflated self importance.  If you’ve ever wondered if show biz is “that bad,” IT IS.  It’s not just me being petty and bitter.  Well, perhaps I am petty and bitter, but I promise unto you, truer words were never spake.

One of my experiences, without going into detail, (because I’ve blocked a lot of this out), was with an irrational, alpha female, bullying type of boss.  The type of boss that caused people to look at me in sympathy as I passed by in the halls.  The type of boss who demanded that I let her know when I was going to use the restroom, so she would know where I was at all times.  The type of boss who blamed her errors on me.  The kind of boss who frequently reminded me that she was so smart because she graduated valedictorian from some school that I never heard of.  The type of boss who would complain loudly about how expensive tires were for her Mercedes.

When I was younger, I had a rule that if a job ever made me cry, it was time to leave said job.  It seems like as an adult, you wouldn’t have to worry about such a thing.  And when it seems like I’m being attacked, albeit a years-long, passive aggressive, psychological attack, the kind that makes you question the quality of your work because it never seems to be good enough, it steels my resolve to be impervious and stoic.  You are trying to infect me with your misery. You will not get to me.

Okay?  Has this happened to you?  It’s amazing how one workplace tyrant can suck the life out of you.  I related my work stories to friends and family who could not reassure me enough that I was not crazy.

I needed something to keep my spirits up.  As I slogged along, I developed elaborate fantasy careers.  Some way to escape.  I looked for other jobs, of course, and I dreamed of moving to Santa Fe or Portland, and I schemed how I could open my own business.  I asked my family to get me a lava lamp for my desk at work, so I could zone out watching the slow moving bubbles of wax and pretend I was on a different planet.

I also collected cute or pithy or inspiring quotes and covered my cube with them.  So that when my boss was being a fire breathing bitchbag, I could lay my eyes anywhere and find a soothing quote from the outside world.  I got postcards from interesting places or photos of the important people in my life.  After a while, I had visitors who came just to look at the stuff in my cube.  It was like visiting an office place Disneyland.

When I left that job, I packed everything into a box, my red stapler, my enormous supply of red and black pens, (don’t ask, it’s teh crazy), all my postcards and quotes.   I was happy to seal that box and put it in a dank corner.   I was moving to Hawaii to open a coffee shop, and wasn’t expecting to need that stuff ever again.

So, ha.  Fast forward six months, and I’ve moved from sunny Hawaii to less-than-sunny Portland, Oregon.  In January.   I’m unpacking that box for my new accounting job.  And all those quotes I’ve collected are still in there.   I put them up around my new desk.

Now it’s been over a year and the quotes seem a little quaint and frail.  I don’t feel like I need the reassurance as much, now that I really don’t have a lot of crazy shit going on in my life.  I’m considering taking them down.  I can clutter up my space with new stuff.

Below is a sample of the some of the quotes I collected.  They may not be real or accurate.  They almost seem cutesy now.  But come on!  I was under duress!  Psychological warfare!

“Whatever you can do or dream, you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Never, no never did nature say one thing and wisdom say another.”
Edmund Burke

“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
Henry Miller

“Three Rules of Work. 1. Out of clutter, find simplicity. 2. From discord, find harmony. 3. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Albert Einstein

“No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.”
Zen saying

“The long fight to save wild beauty represents democracy at its best. It requires citizens to practice the hardest of virtues–self restraint.”
Edwin Way Teale

“The problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”
Bertrand Russell

“If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.”
Arthur McAuliff



  1. Meredith says

    Fire breathing bitchbag?!? Did we have the same boss?? I love that! As you know, every day is a struggle like what you wrote. I also have an alpha-female, self-important, fire breathing, immature “superior” who feels the world will stop turning if she doesn’t make everyone around her miserable. I’m learning another big lesson, do what you love, instead of trying to love what you do.

  2. You should snatch it up:
    is available.

    Huh.. _almost_ a haiku.

  3. JenRojo says

    I *so* know who you are talking about…you are NOT crazy! :-)

  4. Huh. Maybe I’ll pick up and use it as a clearing house for the other nutjob boss stories we all have. There are many. Many, many.

    Jen, thanks for being a witness. I had to leave the continent after that experience.

  5. If people in the *accounting* division were that bad at your old studio, I shudder to think what the development execs were like.

    In my experience I’ve found that the closer to production and development you get, the more throwing-incorrectly-ordered-latte-across-the-room crazy it is. But the more distant your orbit is from that (i.e., the back-office jobs), the the less “Industry”-specific your hassles are. The difficult personalities you face are just run-of-the-mill, any-given-city difficult.

    That’s why people like “The Office” so much. You could be working for a paper company in Scranton and still have to deal with egos, nepotism, incompetence, etc.

  6. Timely article from the NYT. I guess I’m just going to have to own my own business or be a sole proprietor for the rest of my life.

  7. Here’s another related article. These people! They’re everywhere!

    I don’t know if “bitterness” could be considered mental illness. Seems pretty willful most of the time.

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