I used to live by the credo that in order to have my respect, you had to earn my respect.
There are a myriad of reasons as to how and why I landed on that winner of a philosophy but the point is that for the majority of my life, I justified all kinds of egregious behavior with superiors under the conviction that I didn't need to respect people just because I was told to.
This is an excellent way to live if you'd like to alienate teachers and bosses. It is in turn a terrific way to wind up enraged because you didn't receive the grade you felt you deserved, not to mention unemployed.
I didn't antagonize all my teachers and bosses and actually had wonderful relationships with many of them. But if I felt someone who had authority over me didn't know what he or she was doing or didn't appreciate me in the way I deserved (or, worst of all, both), I adopted an I'll-show-'em mentality. You don't like me? Well, I'm going to show you that I don't like you. Oh, and I'll subtly point out whenever I can that I know more than you.
We probably don't need to discuss how many times I've been fired.
It was my conduct when I worked at a gossip magazine in the 90s that really put me in the running for Employer's Biggest Nightmare. I've never behaved more alcoholically at a job, but I don't mean I was pounding Jim Beam at my desk and blowing coworkers under it.
No, what I was doing was far less sexy: I was so insecure about my ability to do the job that I acted like I knew everything. I basically drowned my inferiority complex in superiority without any idea that I was doing it. Oh also, I wasn't good at my job.
The work entailed covering events and doing profiles on celebrities. The event stories were a wash because my alcoholism had met something new and fell madly in love: premieres and award shows with open bars. I had my pen and paper but that pen got a little wobbly as the nights went on. More than once, a celebrity's publicist contacted the magazine to say that I'd misquoted them.
The profiles were also problematic because I mostly interviewed men and my main goal tended to be to try to make the subject fall in love with me rather than getting all the information I needed.
When my boss talked to me about the mistakes I was making, I'd get upset and essentially tell him to stop picking on me. One day, during one of those conversations, he asked me to pack up my stuff and leave.
I assumed I'd left all that bad employee behavior behind when I got sober. It certainly seemed like I had for my first few years in recovery. But what I failed to notice during that time is that I was writing books and articles -- ie, pretty much working for myself.
Then, when I was about 10 years sober, I took a job.
Let me say this in my own defense: I was good at it. I put an entire website together under the worst, most emotionally abusive site owner you can imagine. But as our literature says (and I'm paraphrasing), the shitty things people do to us aren't relevant because we're still responsible for what we do. I behaved horribly -- took everything personally and raged right back -- justifying it with the rationale that I wasn't as bad as my boss.
He eventually left and I thought my problems there were over. But by then he'd installed someone above me who I was convinced didn't know what he was doing. I see now that he did, of course -- that's why he had the job. But my ego was on fire; I'd built the site up and then had my power usurped because of a decision a crazy man had made.
This was, of course, not my new boss' fault.
But you wouldn't know that from the way I treated him.
There were very few days when I didn't show in some creative new way that I thought I knew more than him. While passive aggression was my main mode of attack, I wasn't afraid to dip into active aggression either. By that time, the website had a new owner and I started talking to him about how much more capable I was than the current guy in charge and how unfair it was that he got to run things when I'd earned that right. The owner listened to me but didn't take any action. This frustrated me. So one day, when my boss had done something I found particularly irresponsible, I called the owner up and went off on him about it.
End result: I was fired and my boss was not.
I was 12 years sober. I had done countless inventories, made a plethora of amends, prayed for many character defects to be removed and grown exponentially as a human being since the gossip magazine days when I'd gotten shitfaced and misquoted Kenny G (yes, he was one of the celebrities who called up angry and yes, this was the 90s).
But I was still a nightmare employee.
I don't think I realized any of this, really, until I became an employer and had to contend with a few nightmare employees myself. That's when I discovered that it doesn't matter how talented or responsible someone is if you're in a constant battle with the person's ego.
Like many employers, I still have people I answer to and I don't always like what they tell me. In the beginning of this arrangement, I would complain to them when I felt justified and make excuses when they asked me to do something I didn't want to. And then one day it occurred to me how crazy it drove me when people working for me did those things. That's when I made a decision to always try to give a simple yes when I was asked to do something I didn't want to and just say I was sorry if I was informed I'd made a mistake.
Turns out, as self-help book-y as it sounds, showing respect for authority gave me respect for myself. I hadn't realized it but haranguing bosses until I got fired and telling myself I was just standing up for myself felt fucking awful -- it epitomized the concept that resenting someone is liking drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Losing an argument, if you can call saying you're sorry and not making an excuse losing, actually feels like winning.
After a good year of stewing over what happened to me at my former job, I did an inventory and then made amends to the boss who'd tormented me and I'd tormented right back, the guy he installed above me and the final site owner. Even though I never heard back from one of them, the resentment I'd had--for all of them and myself--dissipated.
I'm not, of course, some bright shiny example of a worker bee. My ego gets involved and there's a lot I still have to learn about how to manage people. And I haven't cleaned up everything from my employment past.
Speaking of which, if you come across Kenny G, please tell him I'm sorry.
This post originally appeared on AfterPartyMagazine