Life without a boss

10 Jan

My “I love bacon and bicycles” pendant arrived on Monday. It immediately became my FB profile picture and it likely will hold that honor for awhile because, as my aunt noted, it is “Totally you!

The artist who made the pendant indicated that she was “going through a phase where I am just loving putting it all out there. Whatever it is I am in love with when I sit down in the studio is finding its way into my work.”

I can totally respect that: Just put it all out there.

Haters gonna hate.

Just put it all out there.

Seriously, Zeisler…. Just. Put it. ALL. Out there.

Stupid blog-writer-voice-in-my-head! Don’t make me do this…

< deep breath >

OK, then.

Here we go: I’m scared.

But it’s not for the reasons you think.

I’m not scared about facing a few years with no paycheck: This squirrel has stashed sufficient nuts to make it through several long winters, comfortably. I’ve lined up continuing health insurance and secured a pre-paid roof over my head through at least August 2014. And, as regular blog-followers learned last week, I have pretty much THE most supportive, equanimical “Bonus” imaginable. Further, I’m reasonably certain that if I flail and fail at school, finding alternate gainful employment won’t be too hard.

In short, I am fully prepared, fired-up, and fortified to face my future — come what may. The problem isn’t saying hello to the future. It’s saying goodbye to the past.

Specifically {and the following admission will likely elicit head-scratching disbelief from many, if not all of you} I become a 100% certified TOTAL-TRAIN-WRECK-MESS whenever I think about what my life will be like without my boss, Q.

As an indicator of how much the man means to me, the FB profile picture that immediately preceded my “Bacon & Bicycles” pendant actually was of the two of us (Z & Q). We were all dolled up for a black-tie event at which we both received awards for our pro bono work on behalf of Veterans.

A FB profile picture with your boss? You betcha.

Q and I go back a long time. 13+ years, as a matter of fact. At first, when we were both practicing corporate/securities attorneys, he was just a boss. He was organized, incisive, disciplined, rigorous, and -above all- tough — and, frankly, I didn’t like him all that much back then.

He was all business and he taught me a lot about business — mainly by holding my feet to the fire and demanding excellence at every turn. He was a ball buster. And, guess what? I became a bit of a ball buster, too.     In a good way.     I think…

Anyhow…

When I broke ranks and joined the Peace Corps instead of accepting partnership at the Firm, he was bemused. He didn’t think it (my Peace Corps stint) would last. And about 6 months into my service, *I* didn’t think it would last. Nevertheless, Q’s response to the Dispatch I sent about the abject despair I felt after my unfortunate Hokey Pokey-induced meltdown (you can find a modified version of that event here) was to adamantly encourage me to stick it out.

Indeed, he provided crucial advice at several junctures in my Peace Corps service, as did other Manatt colleagues. Thanks to the support of the Manatt troops and many others, I persevered. I finished my Peace Corps term and changed many lives for the better, including my own.

When I got back from Ukraine, fully bitten by the “do good” bug, there was precisely ZERO chance that I would return to practicing corporate law. Q knew that. But he also knew that he wanted me back at Manatt.

He proposed several non-corporate-law options, all centered around law firm management roles (a transition he made, himself, while I was in Ukraine). None of them interested me. I wanted to DO GOOD and you can’t “do good” while working for Big Law.

Or so I thought…

Q thought differently though, and thus the position of Director of Pro Bono Services at Manatt was born. And over the past nearly-8 years, our little “baby” developed into one of the country’s most-respected pro bono programs. I have loved (almost) every minute of this job and it’s no coincidence that many of my favorite pro bono stories involve Q’s active participation — at my side, pushing me from behind, or leading me from the front:

* Like the day he joined his 4-year-old, Spanish-speaking client in coloring a picture of Simba for me while we waited for their case to be called in Family court.

* Or the months he and I spent working together, side-by-side, listening to the harrowing-yet-inspiring stories of several different Holocaust survivors, including the gentleman who managed to escape from Dachau, join the resistance movement and then kill a couple of Nazis whose gold teeth he later made into a Star of David ring [*This is a whole ‘nother blog-worthy story in its own right…].

* Or the time we both harkened back to our corporate-and-securities law roots in order to help a nonprofit organization develop a new funding mechanism to make college financing less burdensome for students from low-income families. It was remarkably fun for us to revisit those “old” skills in this new way, and -yeah baby- we still had it!

* Or any one of the 50+ pro bono clinics for homeless veterans that we’ve jointly staffed over the past ~7 years — all of which involved tales of resilience and redemption and made us unfailingly grateful to be in a profession that can truly change people’s lives.

* And let’s not even talk about the 40+ events we’ve gone to together to accept pro bono awards on behalf of the Firm! Shining moments, all — and made all the brighter by the fact that I usually could convince Q to give the acceptance speeches so that I could kick back, have an extra drink or 2, and avoid the excruciating (to me) pain of the public spotlight!

I could go on, but the main point will be the same: Day-in and day-out, Q has been more than just my boss, more than just a mentor, and even more than just a dear friend — he’s pretty much been an extension of me in many ways and I truly don’t know how I will function without him…

Although I remember almost nothing about the 4 days I spent in ICU after my head smashing, I DO remember being very insistent, repeatedly, with my doctors, family, and anyone else who happened to be in shouting distance, that Q had to be called and I must be allowed to to see him, ASAP. My doctors were NOT happy about this. In fact, they viewed this as an obvious sign of my brain damage. “Well” people don’t ask to have their bosses let into their ICU rooms…

But Q is not “my boss.” He is Q. And Q knows how Z’s brain works even better than she does. Heck, in many ways, Q helped to build Z’s brain!

Eventually, my sisters convinced the doctors that Q’s visit actually would be good for me. So Q became my first non-family member visitor at the hospital. And as I went through the recovery process, Q called me every single day save one (the day that our Firm’s founder died). He visited me every week. He came to both hospitals. He smuggled in a venti iced triple-shot mocha. He came to my house. He bought me a Roomba after I said I didn’t have the energy to vacuum. This is decidedly not normal “Managing Partner” behavior.

When I told him that I was ready to return to work, he said, “Z, I know you’re ready. I know how hard you worked in your re-hab and I know you could return tomorrow, but I want you rested. Don’t rush back for our sake. The work will be here. We will be here. Give yourself a break. Take another week before you jump back into work.”

And of course he was right. I needed that “extra week.” In fact, I needed a lot more than that. And as I navigated my way back into the rigors, and routine, and joys, and annoyances, and miracles of my job, Q was always at least a half-step ahead of me, smoothing the path.

This may all sound just a bit too idyllic, but don’t worry — things are about to get disagreeable…

Given what I’ve written so far, you won’t be surprised that Q has been unfailingly supportive of my decision to forsake the pro bono realm to pursue full-time studies in the neuroscience arena. Although he’s not exactly “thrilled” about this move, he has consistently gone above-and-beyond in providing encouragement to me, personally, and in ensuring support for the pro bono program as an entity. During the transition period of the last ~6 months, we have seen eye-to-eye on nearly every issue. Every issue except one, actually.

The one issue that brings us to loggerheads is How to Say “Goodbye.” Not to each other (that’s just a verboten topic, in principle), but, rather, how I’m supposed to say goodbye to The Firm As a Whole (and vice versa).

Attorneys leave the Firm every year. Every once in awhile, if someone leaves to take on a juicy in-house gig, the Firm may host a small cake-and-champagne party in hopes that the departee’s fond memories may be converted into future business referrals. More commonly however, departures are marked by goodbye emails of various lengths and tones sent to mailing lists of varying organizational depths. Occasionally, a departee may opt to enjoy a final happy hour with a few close colleagues. And every year at least a couple folks just slip quietly into the night. Our time-honored tradition is that each individual gets to choose what works best for them and no one in management says anything about it.

*This* individual would like to send an email to all Manatters who have ever recorded pro bono time, to thank them for their service and encourage them to keep it up + a second email to a limited group of colleagues to provide my personal email address and invite them to follow this blog. That’s it. Nothing more needed or wanted.

Q, however, insists that there WILL be a going away “party” and that I do not have any choice in the matter. I must: (a) attend, (b) be regaled, (c) provide inspiring public comments, and (d) somehow not totally lose my sh-t when I look at the sea of faces and listen to people tell me how much I’ve meant to them. He demands this even though he knows full well that I DO NOT FUNCTION well in group settings. There is a reason that he’s done 95% of the award speeches…

We have been fighting this “Big Public Party / respectful email departure” battle for several weeks. We’ve engaged in epic negotiations and he has dispatched several emissaries to try to charm me into relenting.

No dice. I’ve held firm. … Until 2 days ago.

The aforementioned “Bacon & Bicycles” pendant led to a possible detente tied to a major bacon bribe. The offer on the table is this: If he takes me to NY for dinner at Peter Luger prior to Jan 31, then I will attend whatever soiree he’d like plan in L.A. that day.

When I sat down to write this missive, my #1 goal was to build major blog-o-sphere support for “let Z go out how she wants” plan. Or, failing that, at least get y’all on board with the “Bacon Bribe” detente scheme. I had mentally composed several beautiful paragraphs centered around these themes.

But then I got distracted by some bicycling photos on FB. And that took me down a rabbit hole that eventually lead to a bunch of cycling blogs, including one with the following post topic:

Your life is not your own.

Holy balls. Wanker’s right.

My life ISN’T my own.

It took me 4 tries to get through the Wankmeister’s post because I kept having to wipe sheets of snot and rivers of tears away from my face. His post is a work of brilliance on so many levels. It stopped my mental gears cold.

It doesn’t f*cking matter what I want. What matters is what I can give. What matters is filling a need. … I thought I learned that lesson with the whole Hokey Pokey thing, but sometimes we need a refresher course on life.

I get it now. It may take courage to admit it, and Wank said it best:

“[O]ur lives, however personal, are not our own. They are not our own.”

So, Joe, if you’re still reading this, tell Q he can have his party. And he doesn’t have to take me to Peter Lugar — but it would be really nice if he did!

3 Responses to “Life without a boss”

  1. Carissa Barker January 10, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Stin, Goodbye parties aren’t for the person leaving silly. Let them have their party to say goodbye to you! And say thank you to the universe you are so loved.

  2. xwsemperfi June 20, 2014 at 11:11 pm #

    What a heartwarming story, with an even more heartwarming ending. I’m happy for you.

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