Do you sometimes feel as if you’re two people? For a long time, I struggled to identify the metaphor to describe the tension between my two selves—between now-Gretchen and future-Gretchen, between the want-self and should-self. Is it Jeckyll and Hyde? The angel and devil on my shoulders? The elephant and the rider? The ego, the id, and the super-ego?
Then in a flash, I saw how to think about the two Gretchens, and how to think of myself in the third person, as a way better to understand myself and direct my actions. There’s me, Gretchen (now-Gretchen, want-Gretchen), and there’s my manager.
I think I was inspired by my sister’s Hollywood workplace lingo.
Who is my “manager?” Well, I’m like a fabulous celebrity. I have a manager. I’m lucky, because I have the best manager imaginable. My manager understands my unique situation, interests, quirks, and values, and she’s always thinking about my long-term well-being.
I’m the boss, and I don’t have to take my manager’s advice—but on the other hand, I pay my manager to help me. I’d be an idiot not to pay attention.
These days, when I struggle with something, I ask myself, “What does my manager say?” Often it’s very obvious to my manager what course I should follow, even if I can’t decide (weird right?). It can be a relief to be told what to do; I agree with Andy Warhol, who remarked, “When I think about what sort of person I would most like to have on a retainer, I think it would be a boss. A boss who could tell me what to do, because that makes everything easy when you’re working.”
My manager is the executive who works for me—very appropriate, because my manager is part of my executive function. There’s no need to rebel against my manager, because I am the boss of my manager. (Not to mention, I am the manager.) Out of freedom, I can accept her instruction.
My manager reminds me to follow my good habits: “Gretchen, you feel overwhelmed and angry. Get a good night’s sleep and answer that email in the morning.” “Gretchen, you say you have no energy, but you’ll feel better if you go for a walk.”
My manager stays compassionate. She doesn’t say things like, “You’ll never be able to finish,” or “You’re lazy.” She’s comforting and encouraging, and says things like, “It happens,” “We’ve all done it,” and “Enjoy the fun of failure.”
My manager stands up for me when other people are too demanding. She insists that my idiosyncratic needs must be met; just as Van Halen famously insisted on bowls of M&Ms backstage, with all the brown ones removed, my manager says, “Gretchen really feels the cold, so she can’t be outside too long.” “Gretchen is writing her new book now, so she can’t give a lengthy response to that email.”
She makes claims on my behalf: “Let’s figure out how to get you what you need,” “Let’s throw money at the problem.” On the other hand, she doesn’t accept excuses like, “This doesn’t count” or “Everyone else is doing it.” She tells me uncomfortable truths. I can’t sneak anything past my manager, because she sees everything I do.
As an Upholder, however, I’ve learned to be a bit wary of my manager. I love my manager, but I know how she thinks. She’s very impressed by credentials, legitimacy, and pay-off. She’s sometimes so focused on my long-term advantages that she forgets that I need to have a little fun, right now. My manager is helpful, but in the end, I’m the one who must “Be Gretchen.”
How about you? Do you think it would be helpful to think about your “manager?”
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Of everything I've ever written, this one-minute video, The Years Are Short, resonates most with people.