My coworkers were burned out. My team was defeated.
And then my boss insulted them. Well...my old boss.
Let's talk about the importance of team work and collaboration. Or whats at risk without it.
Getting paid to write can feel like such a privileged, and in many ways it is. I love stories, I love mysteries, and...what? Someone wants to give me money for doing it?
It's also a line of work where quality is purely subjective.
I've worked jobs in the past where the rules were clear, and the expectations were obvious.
"We need you to pack boxes. There are 5 piles of objects, and we need you to put one of each into each box."
One of each.
If you screw up, you know exactly why...
(SIDEBAR: This is an actual job I had in my early 20's, and my boss came to me one day asking me why I had put "part of a car engine" into one of the boxes. She showed me a picture of a box someone received, containing an enormous, oily, metallic...thing. The best we could figure is someone in the warehouse had accidentally dropped it inside? We shrugged and moved on...ANYWAY)
THE POINT IS: Some jobs are based on taste. Success is intangible and unclear. Expectations are a moving target.
Is it awesome to receive cash for writing? YES.
Is it also a job where you're constantly at risk of feeling insulted because your boss doesn't have the same taste as you? YES.
This is why I've always felt it's important to be extra kind to your team. You ALWAYS should be, but in creative work, I've tried to leave room for everyone to feel heard, understood, and to explain my taste in a way that doesn't insult theirs.
So when my boss told my exhausted teammates their work was coming off as "amateurish," I suggested to him he should find a different way to explain his feelings. It was beyond clear to me that this term had deflated what joy we were clinging to.
By this point, I had already acted like a little white knight about different issues I felt were mishandled, so I knew I probably wasn't his favorite person to get notes from.
Again: subjective work. He critiqued us, and here I was critiquing him.
Creatives can be exposed nerves. So again: be gentle. Here's how I attempted to follow my own advice:
"When you use a word like 'amateurish,' it can make people feel about this big," I told my boss, miming something teeny tiny with my thumb and index finger.
It was the softest I could be, though today I wonder if it came off as condescending...something you might say to a child... I was just trying to avoid sounding aggressive.
"Not my problem," was his response. End of story.
...I lost my temper:
So...we had ourselves a little debate.
To be clear, this was far from the first time I encountered issues with this person. I'm a pretty confident, organized individual, but no has ever made me feel so insulted and perplexed. To some extent, I could tolerate it on my own. I've been pretty fortunate to run some incredibly creative projects, but here I was asking him to reconsider how he addresses the rest of the team, hoping that he'll be surprised to learn that his comments are being disruptive, but..."not my problem."
This is when I started to really notice that a boss can be one of two things: a leader, or just the person you answer to.
To me, a leader is on your side. The term itself implies that they're heading up the pack, pushing forward for the good of all. Setting the tone, demonstrating the values of the collective.
Sure, by design they may have to tell you things you don't want to hear, but they let you in on the process (as much as they can). They welcome you into their point of view.
A person you answer to usually just tells you what you're doing wrong, and leaves you to deal with it.
I don't respect or respond well to the latter.
I strive to be the former.
"Not my problem," might just be the worst thing to hear your boss say. "I wash my hands of this issue." To say it's disrespectful and dismissive is an understatement.
His point was that he cannot control how people respond to the criticism he offers.
My point was that he could offer his criticism in a way that doesn't crush morale to begin with. Who wouldn't want to make sure their team is happy and healthy?
"Not my problem."
There's a school of thought that creative work is harsh and hard. It certainly can be, but in my opinion that's no reason to proliferate those hardships or haze the new kids, just because you perhaps were once in their shoes.
"It's a harsh business" is a challenge to overcome, not an excuse to do whatever you want.
Call me naive, but I believe you can do the hard work, disagree, and launch great stories without feeling like a failure each step of the way.
Should we all toughen up? I don't know. Maybe?
Collaborate. Allow yourself to lose some battles, allow others to win. Be kind.
There's room to be a jerk in entertainment. Always has been. But a leader should rise above.
As it was, nothing changed. He remained certain I was wrong, and I remained certain he was wrong. Maybe it wasn't worth saying anything. Maybe I should have kept my head down...but in the end, I don't think I could have pretended not to be bothered.
In a small way, this was a fairly transformative little battle I lost. If nothing else, the worst boss I ever had highlighted the importance of compassion and kindness in the workplace. I'm not perfect, I'll never pretend to be, but I'll always try not to be him.
Through it all, the thing I miss most is my team, who all deserved better.
But that guy?
Well, he's not my problem anymore.