to be a part of

This past Saturday night, I met my two bosses for drinks at a brewery in the Arts District. This was a totally unremarkable event for them, but a highly significant one for me.

My work life, such as it is, has been a bizarre and staggering trajectory the starts and stops of which add up to so much WTF. None of the things that I have done for money in the past twenty years have anything to do with one another. Dancing? Its own crazy chapter. Editing a wedding website? Uh, okay. Hacking HTML to design blog templates? Cool, I guess. Personal assistant to a deranged millionaire inventor? Sure. Great. Why not. 

There's nothing about any of it that speaks of pursuing meaningful, skills-appropriate work. It was all just shit I either fell into or did for lack of knowing what else to do with myself. But worse than that, none of these jobs afforded me experience in a typical workplace environment - or familiarity with any of a typical workplace's gratifyingly normal elements. Face time with coworkers. Break rooms. Water cooler gossip. Performance evaluations and meetings and HR and conference calls. 

Getting close enough to your colleagues to consider them friends. 

So now here I am, in the very normal and everyday position of growing closer to my higher-ups, but not really knowing how to navigate the waters. Feeling awkward and shy and probably overly grateful to have the hand of friendship extended to me by the same people who hand me my paycheck. It's a good problem to have, I know. 

My two bosses are themselves very close. They run two stores together, clocking lots of long, stressful hours side by side. They are an amazing duo, and even when they occasionally crab about one another, they always have one another's backs. And now, mine. Some of my favorite moments at my job have been the hardest ones, the times when I was utterly exhausted and burned out and frustrated and breaking - and one or both of them dropped whatever they were doing to be there for me. We're talking emergency-group-hugs-in-the-parking-lot type there for me. Slowly I have come to accept this support without feeling shame or a sense of failure. Running a restaurant means drama and stress, and the pressure can push people together or splinter them apart. And little by little they have brought me into their often chaotic world of management. Trusting me with more, confiding in me more, inviting me to have more say in how things should be. There even may or may not be some group texting of questionable professionalism. 

And it has all felt really good to be a part of something with them. 

---

I took a personality test the other day, and it reaffirmed much of what I've learned about myself in this job, in the past year. Namely that I love being a source of support. I love assisting. I love taking things off my boss's plate, and knowing I've just made her day slightly less stressful. But I need my efforts to be acknowledged and appreciated. I'm addicted to praise. Thankfully, luckily, she gets this. I keep her Christmas card to me - the one in which she calls me her rock - where I can see it every day. I live for her delighted surprise when I take the initiative to clean up some aspect of our workplace, whether digitally, logistically, or just physically. 

But the test also said that I don't necessarily want to lead - also true. The "manager" half of my assistant manager title is the hardest for me to get into. I tiptoe around outright telling people what to do. I ask, and I nudge. And in those instances where I have to come down on my coworkers - I hate it. I am deathly afraid of being unliked by anyone.

And it was this very feeling I expressed to my second boss, our head chef, on Saturday night over drinks. 

"It's why I could never manage," I said, gloomily, not really sure if I meant it or not. It was the three of us plus three other couples, everyone two or three rounds in. A decent-sized group of drinkers. But in this moment, my voice was low enough to just bounce around us three in the middle of the table. 

"Yes, you could," he said, looking hard at me. I shook my head, but as the group's conversation picked back up, he said it once more, quietly. "You could."

I only spent about three hours with them, before leaving to go meet Timo. And most of the time we were jumbled up in short-burst conversations with others. But their invitation, a first, felt like a massive and heart-filling milestone. And before I went to bed that night I couldn't resist texting them: 

I'm really high right now, which is when I always get sappy with my friends, and I hope I'm not waking you guys up, but I need you both to know how much you inspire me, how much I've learned from you, and how grateful I was to be let in a little more tonight.

I didn't get a text in response (it was 3am). But when I got to work the next day, I did get a hug.