My boss is a veteran of the Panama Invasion.
I didn’t know this when I was first hired since he doesn’t brag about it, but the specialty plates on his truck clued me in.
I picked up on some other hints, too, before he finally disclosed his veteran status to me. He kept his hair cut short. He demonstrated a belief in chain of command. He used military analogies when discussing projects. He delegated tasks and then stepped back while his troops executed his orders. I really appreciated this hands-off command style after the five years I spent with a micromanaging boss.
My last boss really warped my perspective on work. I went to work each day anticipating a crisis. I was constantly on edge since every detail had to be perfect, but I never knew from one day to the next how she would define perfection. One day, as she was nitpicking an instructional memo that I had spent hours preparing, arguing with me over the wording, I exploded.
“I don’t understand why this is a big f***ing deal!”
I was horrified once the words left my mouth. I spent the rest of the morning hiding in the coat room, the restroom and other people’s offices. I later went into her office in tears to apologize for my unprofessional language. I was scared that she was going to fire me. Unfortunately, she didn’t. I worked under the same stressful conditions for another two years.
Once I made my escape, I relished my new boss’ management style. However, I still maintained my high-anxiety approach to work. I viewed every issue as a crisis. While I freaked out, my new boss seemed to keep his cool. He didn’t always like the orders he was given, but he was a good soldier and followed them. I saw him being he scrutinized by his boss, pressured by his boss’ boss, and issued unquestionable mandates from his boss’ boss’ boss. Through it all, he stayed calm.
Then one day, he said something that explained his attitude and put my job back in perspective:
“Hey, at least no one is shooting at me.”
Those were the words I needed to hear. I used to have perspective on the stresses and headaches of work. Eight years ago this month, I was serving as a disaster relief volunteer in Louisiana during my year of national service with the Red Cross. I witnessed first-hand the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. I met people who lost everything. All my worries seemed petty in comparison. I had a job, I had a home, and I had my family. When I completed my year, I told myself that I would remember what I had witnessed in order to keep things in perspective.
Unfortunately, I started that other job and forgot. I forgot that no lives were at stake if there was an error in a memo. I forgot that a “crisis” in our office was nothing compared to a natural disaster or a war. I forgot that my job was not a matter of life and death. I forgot all that until my new boss reminded me once more and gave me back my perspective. For that I thank him.
And I thank him for his service.