About That Time I Told My Boss to 'F*@% Off'
I've wanted to run my own business since before I could talk. I was the kid project-managing play groups and the teen wearing the grown-up hats in my family's restaurant business. Even back then, I could see all the angles -- and the angles around the angles. But I was also naturally risk-averse -- not the most desirable trait for taking a leap.
So, I spent the start to my professional life safely esconced in the corporate world. Until one day, when I'd had enough.
Looking back, I can remember an important lesson I learned that I want to convey here.
But first, please understand: What I'm about to relate is out of character for me. Clients, colleagues and friends consider me unflappable, to a fault: I keep my cool no matter what, never raise my voice and diffuse high-stress situations with ease. I’m the person you want running the show during a crisis, or at your side when you're buying a car.
Yet, on a regular ol' Friday about four years ago, after calmly surviving a treacherous morning, I told my boss, “You know what? F*** this, and you can just f**** off!” I snapped a file folder closed and stormed out of his office.
The biggest surprise wasn't even my out-of-character outburst but the full week it took to be ingloriously canned.
Never before and never since have I even come close to saying that to anyone -- except possibly under my breath in extreme traffic, and that doesn’t really count. I feel too guilty afterward, anyhow.
But that was the best thing I could have done -- get myself fired, I mean -- and I am so very grateful for how it all turned out.
A little background on my state of mind: 18 months before my outburst, my preemie son had been born and spent his first month of life in an incubator, totally vulnerable. Not only that: He was immuno-compromised until he was 1, and until he was 2, the only way we knew he had impaired lung function was if he got a severe respiratory infection. The Monday preceding my diatribe he was diagnosed with the flu, and we were terrified of what might transpire.
Also: You can’t bring a kid with the flu to any kind of daycare, so my husband and I split the days home with him; and my boss and I agreed I’d come in Thursday and Friday.
Mind you, I hated that job. I had taken a mini-leap in February 2010 by leaving a long-time employer for two exciting and challenging single-client projects. When I'd completed the longer one, I of course continued to grow a thriving business. Right? Uh, no. I utterly and completely chickened out.
Instead, I slinked back to my risk-averse, “mom-with-a-mortgage” corner and took a cushy sales job with a Fortune 1000 telecom, ultimately stepping years backwards in my trajectory.
On that fateful Friday, I was informed I had violated the employee handbook policy requiring that I check in with my supervisor each day of an unapproved absence.” “But I talked to you Monday," I told my supervisor, "and you agreed I’d be out Monday to Wednesday. You also told me I was not allowed to answer work emails during this time if I was PTO. And I confirmed my return plans with you on Wednesday. How was I not in touch?”
My supervisor simply responded, “You did not check in on Tuesday.”
"Oh, come on!" was rising in my throat. But I swallowed it. I returned to the work at hand. Then, an hour later I was called in for some other type of nitpick I can't remember. And I lost it.
People who have entrepreneurial blood have a tough time coloring within the lines, doing “just their job” and not taking on bigger ideas or frying bigger fish or solving bigger problems. That was me to a T.
And that's why I needed that final day's particular purgatory, that antithesis of the place I required, in order to use my best talents. Overriding all this was that old cliché, "It’s now or never." I can’t even say that mine was an elegant thought process. What it was, was the moment when the risk of not doing what I loved and excelled at exceeded my fear of doing so.
That's why that moment with my former boss was just the kick in the butt I needed to leap.
It was humbling, and a little humiliating. I wasn’t -- and am still not -- proud of how I handled that moment. Security was right to walk me out of that building. But, had I not acted so out of character and felt the real physical sting of my actions and their repercussions, I wouldn't have been uncomfortable enough to finally make a change.
I equate the scenario to what I've learned from years of sales. In sales, people buy for either pain avoidance or opportunity. My final day at my job gave me the pain to “buy” the future I desired and deserved.
Today, running my own firm is still scary. I work crazy hard, but I also get to attend my awesome now-5-year-old healthy boy’s kindergarten graduation next month -- guilt-free. And I get to choose when to be on and when to be off. I’m the boss. I set the company culture -- and you can bet that anyone that works for me receives respect. I answer to no one but my clients, employees and myself.
So, here's the lesson: I'm not advocating getting yourself fired. But if you're a corporate employee contemplating taking the "leap," perhaps you'll learn from my story that it's okay to do just that. It's okay to bust a gutsy move.
Tiffany Lyman Otten is the principal of Tiffany Otten Consulting as well as the marketing and membership chair of the Albany, NY, Femfessionals.