I’ve not done scientific research, but I’m willing to bet that if you did a survey, you’d find that the management at over half the non profits across the state were run in a manner that’s a little more lax than those in other sectors. That’s not to say that they’re not worthwhile causes with devoted directors and hard working, dedicated employees, but let’s just say in my experience, there’s always an edge of insanity present (again, I have no hard evidence to back this up, merely my own experiences).
As usual, I digress. My story begins in 2003. I had recently graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas and was residing in Dallas with my Aunt and Uncle who were kind enough to take me in and even kinder to act like they enjoyed having me there (for the record, I’m ever grateful to them and enjoyed my time living with them). I was diligently looking for a job, and thanks to a connection that shall remain nameless for reasons that shall become evident (I still talk to them, so it’s all good), I found a job at a Dallas non profit (that shall also remain nameless) with a staff of three.
Now, there are several warning signs I should have heeded, but I was blinded by my desire to be a contributing member of society. The very first was when my friend, who helped me get the job asked me if I “was sure” I wanted to accept the offer. Of course I did, I thought to myself, why wouldn’t I? Oh, poor naive recent college graduate. If you only knew then what you know now.
The second warning sign came when I showed up for my first day to discover that there were two new hires. An event planner and myself. Basically, 2/3 of the staff was new, and any alarm bells that this raised I immediately pushed to the back of my head.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. My boss was a very striking African-American woman from Atlanta, GA…who spoke with a British accent. I’ll call her Lulu, because she was a complete lunatic. And not in that fun “What a weekend! John chartered a plane and we all ended up partying in Vegas for the weekend! He’s so crazy!” kind of way, but in an “Oh my God, this woman is quite possibly insane, and maybe I should have some sort of institution or therapist on speed dial because I’m fairly certain she’s certifiable” kind of way. By the way, if you know a lunatic like John, I’d be interested in meeting him.
Basically, this woman terrorized me for seven of the longest months of my life. I can’t even begin to do justice to some of her shenanigans (and really, shenanigans is sugar coating it). Below is just a sampling.
One day, I was heading to the lobby to give blood at the blood drive the building had set up when I hear someone call my name from the back of the office.
Lulu: Are you going to the blood drive?
Lulu: Brrrring me a cookie! (as I remember it she said it in the manner of the Queen of England demanding that someone bring her the royal scepter)
Me: Um (awkward laugh) ooooook
crazy lady Lulu
I go off to give my pint of blood, eat my cookie and drink my juice in the blood mobile and return to the office.
Lulu (in a clear tone of frustration and borderline anger): Christy, you didn’t bring me a cookie!
Me: Ummmm, nooooo
Luckily I was saved from further awkward conversation by the management company announcing that they were having a separate “cookie” reception in the lobby.
I wish this was the only time that she demanded I bring her food, but I also distinctly remember bringing in leftover pie from Thanksgiving and telling my coworkers that they were welcome to have some. Around 12:30 Lulu decided she was ready for her dessert, and from the back of the office (and ten yards from the fridge mind you) I hear “Christy! Brrrrrring me my pie!” Again, I liken it to the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland demanding someones head on a platter. For years to come, “Brrrrring me my pie” became (and still is) something of a catch phrase between my best friend and roommate at the time.
Then, there was the time she asked me if she had lost weight. Now, my philosophy is that no matter who asks you this question, the answer is ALWAYS yes. Anyway, Lulu asked me if she’d lost weight, and I answered with “Yes! Absolutely!” End of conversation right? Oh, I wish.
“Where have I lost weight?” she inquired. Well, crap. I decided my best course of action was to go for the most innocuous place possible.
“Your face,” I said, nodding emphatically. You can’t go wrong with the face! Good answer Crimmins!
“Ugh, I didn’t want to lose it there,” was her response, and what followed is something that I have spent the last eight years simultaneously recounting to friends and co- workers and wishing I could wipe from my brain.
“I wanted to lose it here,” she declared while lifting her shirt and shaking her belly at me. Now, she wasn’t a huge woman by any means, but she had enough belly to shake at me. And while, I’m fully aware that I live in a glass house when it comes to throwing stones at those in possession of extra pounds, that house has a definite ‘no shaking of bellies in public places’ rule, with a sub article of ‘especially not in the work place.’
I’m not exactly sure what happened after that, but I’m fairly certain I made some unintelligible sound and retreated to my desk at the front of the office, digging through drawers for something to rinse my eyes out with.
Looking back, a lot of these stories are quirky. Indicative of a somewhat interesting personality and off the wall leadership style of a woman who spent six weeks in London and came back with a British accent (incidentally, we would find post it notes in her office that had the phonetic British spelling of some words). I wish these were my only stories, I really do. The flip side of this was that she was a bully and a tyrant. On at least one occasion she called me on a Saturday and screamed at me about a minor error I made until I came into the office to correct something that could have been addressed professionally on a Monday morning. She tormented myself and my coworker until eventually we both quit. I laugh about it now, but for seven months I cried almost every day I came home from that job.
I did learn some things though. I learned that not everyone in a leadership position is fit to hold that position, and while the anger and the ire may be directed towards you, it’s not always about you. I will admit that this first job scarred me. A lot. It was a while before I got my feet underneath me again and learned to be confident in my own abilities. I credit a string of pretty great bosses for helping me get to where I am today in that respect. At the same time, I’m glad I got that truly horrible work experience out of the way. I also have a couple of really great stories and a pretty good friend in my coworker. Apparently bonding over working for the devil makes for a pretty strong friendship.
And, most importantly, I have a really great answer when interviewers ask how I was able to solve conflict in the workplace: “Always tell them they’ve lost weight.”