In a job that seems lifetimes ago, I was a Bug Guy. I worked pest control. I went into people’s homes and solved their problems. Except for this one… I went into their home, and they solved one of mine. And I’ve been forever grateful for it. Let me tell you a story…
It was 1999. I was young, brash, and had a firm grip on what life had to offer. I was making pretty good money. We had just bought a house the year previous and our 401Ks were getting fatter. I was 27, and unstoppable. I had been working pest control by that point for about three years. Long enough to get several licenses, and declare myself an expert at what I was doing. Long enough to know that I didn’t really want to do this for the rest of my life. Long enough to know that I wanted an escape from that job, but I was making good money and had a mortgage and had no right to be unhappy with my job.
In fact, it was a constant battle inside me. I was no longer fulfilled by my career. After three years…I just felt stuck. Every time I walked by a mirror, I would look at myself and shake my head. This wasn’t the uniform I thought I’d be wearing at this age. Life, while pretty good, wasn’t panning out the way I was hoping and…I blamed myself for it. So, every time I looked into the mirror, I saw the reason I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life. And I lashed out at it. “Look at you. Bug man. So this is it. This is where you’re going to be forever. This is what happened when you didn’t go to college. Loser.”
Day in and day out, I would lash out at myself for not being the success I wanted to be. I pushed myself in the mirror to do better. To BE better. To not be who I was. To be something or someone else. Anyone but who I was at that moment.
“So, what do you REALLY want to do?”
One day, I got my schedule for the day and there was a house that I hadn’t treated before. I asked the other guy who’d done the house and he told me they were really nice people, but that they were usually working a lot so it was a quick service so they could get back to work. Good! I loved the quick easy houses. It meant that I wasn’t going to run into problems and have to spend too much time there, throwing off the rest of my day. Awesome.
So, I get there. I ring the doorbell and this short balding man opens the door. I introduce myself and he asks where the other guy was. He didn’t reference him by name, just asked about that other guy. I told him that we switched territories and I was going to be taking care of them now. He told me to do what I have to do, and that he’d be working in his office. I started inspecting the inside of the house, making my way from room to room, looking for bugs, and treating anything that needed it. Then, I get to his office.
It was disconcerting to say the least, because he never looked away from his computer as he asked me questions. First they were simple questions. Name. Age. What made me want to be a bug guy. Was I married? Kids? The usual stuff. It was all pretty benign. Then he spins his chair around to face me. “So, what do you REALLY want to do?”
I was taken aback. I mean, nothing that I had said up to that point was anything negative about my job. But, there he was asking me point blank what I REALLY wanted to do for a living. I told him that I didn’t know. He said, “That’s not an answer. I don’t know, is a cop out. It’s an answer we give when we’re too chicken shit to dig deeper to the truth because the truth can be scary.”
I stammered out, “I don’t kno—” before he stopped me. “That’s not an answer.” He was never loud or overly commanding…but he was definitely in charge of the conversation. Long story short, we had about a 20 minute conversation that ended with me finally saying out loud that I wasn’t happy. It was the first time I had said it to someone and it made it more real. I remember leaving the house feeling like like someone had just stirred up a bunch of silt that had been settling over the years.
Three months later, I got the paperwork for their service. This time the paperwork was listed as “1925 Only”. That was my tech number. It meant that they only wanted me to come to their house. I got there, and again, this small balding man opened the door. He greeted me by name, and welcomed me in. The service went the same. Except his questions just picked up where he left off the time before. Mind you, I’m telling you this story with the benefit of hindsight. It wasn’t until a few services later that I found out this dude was ranked as one of the top ten clinical psychologists in the U.S. and had recently been awarded “Clinician of the Century” by his peers.
THIS GUY WAS PSYCHOANALYZING ME!!! And I had no clue. He was just that damn good. He helped me process my mom dying of cancer. He helped me process my being sexually molested as a child. He did all of this because…well, I have no idea why. He never told me. Over the years, I was their bug guy, I followed them to their new house when they moved, and even after he and his wife retired. I was his side project, I suppose. I helped to keep his game sharp in a way.
Maybe you should fire that asshole…
Any way, this is a long way to say that during one of our conversations, he said something to me that fundamentally changed my life. It was during one of our many conversations, when seemingly out of the blue he turns to me and says, “You need a nicer manager.” I stopped what I was doing and looked at him. Sure, my manager and I could butt heads on occasion, but my bosses were pretty stellar people to work for, so I was confused.
He then looked at me and said, “Okay, you are the boss of you. Sure, your work bosses can tell you to do things, but you…you are your own manager. So, when you look in the mirror, ask yourself if you would tolerate your boss talking to you the way that you talk to yourself?”
I hadn’t told him about any of that. Yet, here he was flaying me open and calling me out on being an asshole to myself. “You need a nicer manager. Maybe you should fire that asshole you currently have in place, and hire someone who is a bit more patient and forgiving for a change. The next time I see you, I want an update on your manager.”
Guys, I was shook. I left there stunned. Until he pointed it out, I hadn’t realized how horrible I was to myself. I hadn’t realized that if ANYONE had said half of the stuff I told myself, I’d have punched them! But, because I was saying it to myself, I was saying it in my voice, I believed what I was saying. I was tearing myself down, but I wasn’t building myself back up. I was the worst boss I could have possibly had.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because, over the last week, I’ve two other dads open themselves up in the most raw and painful way. And, what I read, hurt. I saw two men who were tearing themselves down and not building themselves up. I saw two awesome dudes who need a nicer manager. It got me to thinking. They can’t be the only two out there. They can’t possibly be it.
So, here’s what I’m telling you, dads, men… You need a nicer manager. You wouldn’t tolerate a boss or spouse tearing you down and jabbing your weak points. Don’t tolerate it from yourself. Fire the asshole. Bring in a nicer guy. It’s hard! Don’t get me wrong. It took about two years to finally bring in a nicer, kinder, more understanding manager. But, the change has been immense.
Do I still get down on myself from time to time? Yes. I’m human. But, I don’t stay down on myself. Instead of berating myself, I look me right in my eyes and I tell me that I love me and that I have faith in me and by God, I can do it. And to go out there and give it another try. I don’t always succeed. But, my manager is nicer…and life got easier with one less person trying to knock me down.
If you’re that guy. You can do it. It’s hard, but worth it. Hire a nicer manager. Your family will appreciate it too.