Thank You, Awful Managers, For Teaching Me The Importance Of Setting Boundaries

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 
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I would have never suspected my first couple of jobs would end up teaching me so much more than customer service, work ethic, and sales. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is important too, but the most important life lessons came from bad bosses, teaching me to set boundaries.

I’ve been a craft store employee, a luxury cosmetic line makeup artist, and a loan officer, among other things. But you’d never guess the bizarre and downright awful experiences I encountered at those jobs that otherwise seem pretty dull and ordinary. I’m talking about a real-life “The Devil Wears Prada” situation — and being a witness to workplace abuse of a manager that should have gotten someone fired, but instead promoted. (He was a dude, so naturally, this was the easiest way to get him out).

We’ve all had bad bosses. There are plenty of horror stories floating around on the worldwide web. While it’s taken a long time for me to find the silver lining from these experiences, I like to think I’ve done just that. I learned how much bullshit I wouldn’t put up with, and neither should you.

Of course, I’m not saying it’s only bad bosses to blame. Other factors like company culture, the suits (aka upper management), and the people you work side-by-side with can definitely impact your experience. But take a lesson from someone who failed to set boundaries at work time and time again: A paycheck, no matter how big, is not worth compromising your boundaries.

A Tough-Luck Kind of Approach

Ah, Miranda Priestly. You hated her but kind of loved her all at the same time. Especially when she’d give off just a sliver of respect, leaving you thinking that maybe if you tried just a little bit harder, you’d get into her good graces. Yep. That was my first bad boss. We worked for a luxury cosmetic line, and while some of us recognized it as just another sales job in a department store, she placed it on a whole other pedestal. Basically, you’d think yours was the most important job in the world to get your client that $160 face cream. Oh yeah, ’cause that whole 3% of commission really made all the tomfoolery worth it.

What is the tomfoolery that I speak of? Dedicating all our time and effort to soliciting pre-sales twice a year. Literally, I think we dreaded the five months leading up to the month-long semi-annual sale more than anything else. Case in point, I distinctly remember being in a hospital bed on my Blackberry, talking my boss through trying to find an order I’d put in my pre-sale binder. Thankfully my mom, who clearly had more sense than I at that moment, took the phone out of my hand and said she has to go. She’s going into emergency surgery. What can I say? I was 18 and incredibly eager to prove myself.

Long story short, she was a good woman, just not someone I’d ever work for again. ‘Cause y’all, if you’re calling me for anything while I’m on my way into surgery, it had better be to wish me well — not to ask where I left a piece of paper. Did I learn my lesson in setting boundaries then? Well, not quite, but I did take a step forward in the right direction by leaving that job.

I’m A Strong Woman, Therefore … I Will Put Up With the Bullshit

After I left that job, I moved on to what I thought would be a better job in banking. I mean, I would have my nights and weekends back. Work-life balance could finally be a thing. Did I mention I was working at a branch, not in a back-office corporate-level job? Hah. Work-life balance, my ass.

As a consumer, I never thought of banking as a sales job. But oh, how wrong I was. The job was all about how many customers you got in front of. But more than that, how many accounts (or products) you could get them to open. Yes, these were the days before this company was called out on its bullshit.

Again, my bad boss was a good person, but also a woman who let men walk all over her. She thought it made her worthy because she could take the bullshit. Yes, please do disrespect the hell out of me, and I’ll let it roll off my back because I’m not an emotional stereotype. I make the distinction because one of my male colleagues would constantly burst into her office unannounced, whether someone was in there or not. When foot traffic was slow, he’d complain and cause trouble. Worst of all, when he disagreed with something (or someone), he’d literally start swearing and slamming shit.

Talk about a toxic AF work environment. It’s not like she didn’t see it, and I know for a fact this unacceptable behavior was brought to her attention. (Yes, I was one of the people who said something.) Guess what the solution to the problem was? Promote him. I mean, yeah, it got him out of the branch, but it was also reinforcing bad behavior. I thought maybe when I was out on maternity leave things might change, but of course, they didn’t. In fact, when my not-even three-month-old ended up hospitalized with a fever, the only call I got was to ask when I was coming back to the office. That’s when I decided there was no fucking way I’d be returning.

You’re a Person, Not Just An Employee

With experience, you get wiser. The hoops I used to jump through to please my bad bosses even made me shake my head and sigh. At the moment, it felt like the only thing I could do because I was so conditioned by society to think that I needed the job, not that the job needed me.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a billionaire, millionaire, or even a hundred-aire (if that’s a thing). There have been times in my life that I absolutely couldn’t afford to be unemployed, but it’s worth pointing out that these companies wouldn’t exist without us (their employees).

It’s important to set boundaries as employees because if you don’t, some managers will take advantage of that. You are a person, not just an employee. You have feelings and deserve to have your boundaries respected. Be badass — and don’t put up with bad bosses.

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