Originally published on Thumpcity.com

You're Not the Boss of Me

Every day I become more convinced of a few simple truths in life: comb-overs aren't fooling anyone, families make you crazy, and work is junior high with paychecks. These days at the office, I often have flashbacks to my 6th grade year when Karlyn Burns (may she now burn you know where) bullied me mercilessly. We've all had a Karlyn Burns. We've all experienced the pit-in-the-stomach fear that plagues us in the anticipation of their unpredictable except in its random nature, cruel behavior. Those incidents are not unlike the emotions of being verbally skewered at a meeting or called into a supervisor's office for an impromptu chat. If "Meet me after school Walsh, you're dead meat" and "I think we should talk" are universal codes for beatings and breakups, then "Do you have a minute?" is office-speak to be wary of at all costs.

Tragically, most humanoids have apparently not matured beyond age 12. If you think about it, the parallels between schoolyard dynamics and office politics are seemingly endless. There are your CEO's with God complexes - they were the kids who corralled the rest of us schmucks onto a field for a romp of Red Rover as they proceeded to change the rules every five minutes in a self-serving effort to not only win but to win and humiliate the non-winners. CIO's were the annoying ones who knew every answer to every question ever asked and go around spouting useless Jeopardy caliber trivia just for fun. CFO's were the math whizzes who left us all in the chalk dust but whose people skills definitely landed them in the minus column of life. You know what they say about too many chiefs.

When examining hierarchical relationships we can't omit the middle management types, or "Sheep" as I fondly refer to them. These kids grew up and forgot that playing "Follow the Leader" was one of those games better left behind. They also are particularly adept at riding fences and are terrified (or incapable) of having or expressing their own opinions. These characters are the most dangerous as they have knee-jerk back-stabbing reflexes and will all inevitably snap under the constant pressure of sucking up to the leaders.

And last, but certainly not least, were the fringe kids who moved among us silently, facelessly. They pursued noble and obligatory secret niches of the corporate food chain and fill office cleaning crew, security guard and mail-room sorter slots. Occasionally, one of these folks will break out to become computer engineers and IT automatons speaking foreign languages peppered with acronyms that the rest of us poor slobs scramble around trying to decode so we can just check our e-mail, fer chrissakes. What exactly is a megabyte, anyway? And does anyone really care? Why don't they go back to their daze of Dungeons and Dragons when at least some of their babble showed glimmers of magic and imagination?

Did I leave anyone out? Nose-pickers, dreamers, drama-queens, jocks, artsy wannabes... where are they now? In the cubicle next to you, most likely.

Recently, I happened to be in my hometown and inadvertently drove through a puddle drenching the poor unsuspecting mail carrier who was trudging along the sidewalk. Dutifully delivering W-2's and Pottery Barn catalogs, she turned and, to my added horror it was a girl I'd attended K-6 with at the Margaret L. Donovan Elementary School. Abashedly apologetic, I pulled over and casually chatted with her briefly, all the while scanning my memory archives for any early indications that she was headed for a future with the US postal service. I had a vague recollection of a friendly kid who roamed from desk to desk sharing secrets and giggles. Perfect career choice - minus the canine factor I suppose.

As so many of us drift from one job and relationship to the next, perhaps it's comforting on some level that certain basic infrastructures remain intact. You let your best pal cut in front of you in the lunch line and you gossip over wilted salad with your closest office mates. Whether it be sharing homework or covering a friend's butt at work on her many extended coffee breaks, "I think she's in the bathroom," the "us against them" mentality prevails. Teachers and parents are replaced by bosses and their humorless, toady micro-managers as authority figures.

Rebellion abounds wherever people feel oppressed. It might come in the classic whoopie-cushion-on-the-chair 5th grade prank, or as a nasty interoffice e-mail sent to everyone except upper management. The similarities extend to culture and climate ("who has a crush on who?" "who's sleeping with who?"). Playground etiquette was all about waiting your turn and disputes were settled with fisticuff scuffles broken up by benevolent crossing guards, which translates today to the daily petty power struggles of "Who-left-the-dish-in-the-employee-lounge-sink?" What is the solution to reversing the soul-killing effects of the skyward scratching climb up the ladders of ambition and greed?

Start a club or a group with like-minded spirits and instead of a mission statement a la Jerry McGuire - why not concoct a passion statement? A mission statement, a term coined by America's backroom buzzword gurus, is a boring and arbitrary list of philosophies and goals. We all know the mission is to make more money no matter what. I believe we can break out of these self-created ruts and aspire to create a community and workplaces that reach beyond adolescent angst and get back to the business of being human. I hear it's a real growth enterprise.

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