Illustration: Marisa Marchetto
About a year ago, I bumped into a friend whose daughter, Amanda, used to drive me a little crazy when she was in high school. Not because she committed any of the typical teenage transgressions but because she was perfect. She got great grades, made captain of two teams, played violin in the school orchestra, and was completely down-to-earth and cheerful to boot. So it was with trepidation, as the mother of mere mortals, that I asked after this girl—by then a college graduate working at a well-known company.
“Oh my God, she is terrible,” came the grief-stricken reply. “Her life is in ruins. She has a bad boss.”
Instantly, my heart broke for Amanda. She had joined the ranks of humankind.
“Well, it happens to all of us,” I told her mother sadly.
“I know—I went through it,” she said with a sigh. “But I just quit and married Bill. Amanda doesn't have a Bill. She has only herself.”
Exactly. Some of the most successful careers I've seen have been born of women who overcame one of life's scariest job situations, the very bad boss. The experience changes you, but it can also help you become more at home—and at peace—with yourself and your work.
That may sound Pollyanna-ish. I know bad bosses can make each day feel like a little battle for your soul, but my research into women's careers has convinced me that there is a viable road from office hell to happy ending. It's not an easy process—it requires focusing more time and attention on a very frustrating situation and, hardest of all, taking yourself out of the vortex of victimhood.
Yes, victimhood. Because I would make the case that bad bosses are a choice. They can put your “life in ruins,” to quote Amanda's mother, only if you let them. To prevent that, you can start by answering four questions.