Last week was a board meeting for my company, Brazen Careerist. I used to hate the board meetings because there is so much to prepare beforehand, and if everything is not going great, then you have to really face that.
1. Hide your feelings if they are going to be trouble for someone.
I am still a major shareholder in my company, but I do not work at the company day to day. I would like to say that my neediness issues and fear of abandonment do not follow me to my workplace, but in fact, they are huge there. And I spend a lot of time worrying whether people listen to my opinions because they care or because it’s easier to listen than to try to get me to shut up.
When the board meeting rolls around, I get nervous. I don’t know if I should go or not.
I like to go because I like knowing what’s going on. Well, and of course, I like giving my opinion. I also like hanging out with the board. I really like Ryan Healy now that I don’t have to work with him. And everyone on my board is someone who did a huge amount for me at one of the (many) very tough times in my life. (Like this time.) So I just really like everyone.
So, while I am deciding if I should go to the meeting or not, Ed Barrientos, the CEO tells me that the company would pay for me to go. Ed is incredibly cheap when it comes to any company expense, so I take this to mean they really care about me being at the meeting.
2. Focus on clothing because it’s easier to control than personality.
I wear my dark J Brand jeans and a purple shirt from Banana Republic. The clothes I choose are really important because I don’t want people to think I’ve lost my edge on the farm. I can’t look too farm-y. I have worn jeans and a black top to every board meeting ever. That’s fine for men, because the only criteria men have for clothes is that you look hot. But now that there are women at the company, and I will have to stop in and say hi, and the women will think I don’t know black is out.
So it is out of my comfort zone, but I wear purple. I work really really hard at looking like I fit in. Which you have to do if it’s impossible to fit in. If you fit in, you can think about being a little bit special. I try just to not be special.
3. Act nonchalant about things like a private jet. Making any scene is bad.
The board member who has a plane, Erik, has had, for a very long time, the job of keeping me in line. When I had a screaming fit at the attorney’s office about the investors lowering my salary, they brought Erik in to talk to me. And he never stopped.
I love his patience for me, but I also love his plane. Did you know that companies do not put their logos on their corporate jets because it’s bad PR? So I fly in and out of airports that look like all the planes are full of CIA operatives.
4. Acknowledge that you make people uncomfortable.
On the plane, Erik reminds me that I should try to behave well at the meeting.
I tell him that I know he didn’t like the time that I made paper airplanes to keep myself occupied.
I tell him that to assure him that I know what bugs him. But the mention of paper airplanes seems only to remind him of bad things, so I assure him that I brought new pens to keep myself busy.
Board members do not like hearing about Jelly Rolls. I did not know this is a rule, but I infer it from the look on his face. Just not immediately. I wish I had noticed sooner.
5. Suffer in silence. If you talk about pain, people will think you’re a pain.
Then my abscess tooth starts to hurt. It was already hurting that morning. So I put a few Vicodin in my purse, which I have from the dentist who said I might need some in the few days I’m waiting for the oral surgeon.
The thing is that was two years ago. Two years ago when I was supposed to get my tooth pulled. It is dead. Or whatever an abscess is. The dentist said I’m very young to have a dead tooth.
I cried. I didn’t tell him that it’s not fair that I’m losing teeth because for my whole bulimic life I was really careful to brush my teeth after every vomiting episode.
I also didn’t tell him I wasn’t going to have the tooth removed. I mean, I will. Just not now. It’s too upsetting.
6. No mind-altering drugs on short notice.
Erik and I land and I thank the pilots. I have noticed that Erik, the King of Being Normal, is always gracious to everyone. And I am oblivious to everyone. So it stands to reason that for him to think I’m normal, I need to be gracious.
I thank the driver for being there to meet us and then I thank him for waiting for me to go to the bathroom.
The tooth is hurting a lot, and I am worried I’m going to pass out. It would actually be good to pass out with Erik. He would figure out what to do and he’s a get-things-done kind of guy. But he would not like it. He wants to feel secure in the idea that I’m stable and he won’t have to rescue me again.
So I think of popping a Vicodin, but what if it makes me loopy? Then maybe they wouldn’t invite me back to a board meeting. Then they’d tell me to dial-in, and I’m a notoriously bad listener on the phone, so they’d assume I was checked out, and then it’d be like I wasn’t there at all.
So instead of a Vicodin, I take ten Advil.
7. Try to do what is expected in each situation.
In the car, on the way to the meeting, Erik looks at his email, so I do that too because if you want someone to like you, you should mirror what they do.
Then Erik stops to pick up lunch. He asks if I want lunch. Everyone at the company knows that I hate eating with a group. So he only asks because it’s the normal thing to do. He knows I will say no. But it’s good to be normal. I get it. So instead of saying, “No, of course not,” I say, “No, thanks.”
I see the line for sandwiches is really long. So long that I’d have thrown a fit and demanded to go somewhere else. But Erik is not a fit thrower. So I see that I’m going to have some extra time.
8. Fend off all possible emergencies.
I go to the bathroom to investigate the tooth situation. On the way to the bathroom, I pass a dentist’s office. That gives me confidence. Because something really bad would not be really bad too long because I could just slip right into that office and ask for some help.
In the bathroom I take out my earring and use the pointy part of the earring to work on my tooth.
The puss was more like popping a big yellow zit. It sprayed onto the mirror. I popped it a few more times, a few more sprays onto the mirror.
Then I clean everything up. The mirror, my mouth (now there’s blood dripping, which is how I know I got all the puss) and I redo my makeup, which takes a while, because I pretty much have to wash my face and start over.
When I get to the car, Erik is there. Waiting. I say, “Oh. Sorry. Were you waiting long?”
He says, “Yeah. Did you take a tour of the building?”
9. Explain yourself so people don’t assume the worst.
That is Erik’s way of asking if I did something bad. He knows me well. He sees possibilities. He is worried I did something not appropriate.
So I need to tell him something because it is not normal to walk around a strange building for twenty minutes. Which, it turns out, is how long I’ve been gone. I want to let him know that I was doing something okay.
So I tell him that I have an abscess tooth and I had to pop the puss part.
“It was interfering with my speech,” I tell him. I try to convey that I was just worried about being normal for the board meeting. Which is true.
He is not going for it. He thinks I take insane risks. Which, to be fair, is the only reason there was even a company for him to invest in: because I took insane risks. But whatever, risk takers always look exciting from far away but never up close. So I try to tell him that I definitely made a choice on the side of caution because I made sure there was a dentist’s office nearby and also, I did not take the Vicodin.
He says I didn’t need to tell him that.
I’m not sure what I needed to tell him.
10. Get a list of expected behaviors and then execute on that list.
I am well behaved for the meeting. I do not tell everyone that I think I know more about Brazen Careerist’s traffic than everyone else even though I don’t work there. People do not want to hear that from me. And someone with good social skills would say it differently. So I keep quiet while Ed talks.
And I keep quiet when people talk about the weather and sports. Well, not really. I say no, please, don’t do smalltalk. It’s so awkward. And then they talk about it anyway. Which is a sign they think I am on good behavior.
At dinner, everyone compliments me on my good behavior at the meeting. I paid attention, I had no outbursts, and I did not do anything completely inappropriate.
I breathe a sigh of relief and then spend five minutes ordering because I’m terrified of not having complete control over the contents of my plate.
11. Recognize the crazy people and don’t follow their lead.
Then the guys reminisce about farm times in their childhood and it turns out that they have been cow-tipping.
“That is not nice,” I tell them.
I tell them we would never do that on the farm, and that one of the signs of a child turning into a sociopath is treating animals poorly.