Why I Don't Mind The (Other) B-Word

I have always enjoyed telling people what to do: helping, guiding, instructing, organizing, leading, and brainstorming. I have a lot of opinions, I like to share them, and I love being in charge.

According to popular opinion, this makes me bossy.

I'm completely fine with that.

"Bossy" has a lot of negative connotations -- pushy, overbearing, controlling. A bossy woman is often referred to as a ball-buster, angry, irritable. She is, apparently, not someone you want to have a conversation with, work for, or have as a friend. No one likes a know-it-all. The Internet is awash with articles instructing you on how to be less bossy, because a "Miss Bossy-Pants" is the kind of woman no man would want to marry. Powerful women who like being in charge are often the butt of the joke -- remember the Hillary Clinton nutcracker?

In "Lean In," Sheryl Sandberg claims that calling little girls bossy discourages them from wanting to lead.

"This is personal," she said of her decision to write the bestselling book. "This is about me not wanting other little girls to be called bossy." Sandberg believes that she internalized negative messages about her behavior as a young child, leading her to hide her light under a bushel for some years.

Like Sandberg, I was a bossy little girl. Once I grew out of my chronic shyness and found my voice, I liked ordering my sister around in the playroom, dictating what happened to the toy dinosaurs when I played with my upstairs neighbor Max, and deciding what games were played on the playground. I corrected people's spelling and pronunciation, sometimes more smugly than I like to remember. It never dawned on me that taking charge was a bad thing -- except for the times when my great plans ended up with my sister swallowing things she shouldn't have or missing a lock of hair. (Sorry, Jen).

I have learned to mind my mouth a bit better, but I'm still bossy. It's hard for me to see someone doing something wrong and not intervene -- whether it's swiping their metrocard backwards or taking back a boyfriend who has treated them terribly. With bossiness comes a strong desire to meddle -- and yes, that backfires sometimes. I have been accused of not respecting people's autonomy and failing to mind my own business, of being "insufferable" and "a know-it-all."

There is of course something to be said from learning from one's own mistakes, and I fully understand that "wrong" is a relative concept. But trial and error won't get you everywhere. Just as I look to other people for suggestions when I don't know what's going on -- from how to cut an avocado to which career choices to make -- I try to play that role for others. The problems arise when I overstep boundaries -- something I'm still working on.

But for me, being called bossy has never discouraged me from speaking up when I have something to say -- perhaps that's because I see it as a sort of compliment. Bossy? I prefer boss-like.

In Tina Fey's book "Bossypants" the comedian explains how her bossiness has been an asset to her in her career. "Do your thing and don't care if they like it," she advises readers -- words I take to heart, but with a pinch of salt.

I don't think I am bossy at the expense of patience, kindness and knowing when to take the back seat. But being called bossy shows that I'm comfortable being in charge sometimes, that I am vocal and assertive. It implies that I have some of the qualities required to be an effective manager and a good multi-tasker. It proves that I'm able to advocate for myself -- and, hopefully, for my own kids some day.

A bossy woman can always be called on to offer advice, opinions and alternatives (they might not always be solicited, but still). A bossy person will tell you whether she's done something before, and how that worked out for her. A bossy person works from whatever experiences she has under her belt, doing everything in her power to make sure that things turn out for the best.

And a bossy woman isn't someone who can be easily silenced, stepped over, or dismissed.

So go ahead and call me bossy. It doesn't bother me at all.


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