I’m bossy and I have a big mouth. It keeps me out of more trouble than it gets me into. Note that if I were a man, the same characteristics would be called by different names. Maybe I’d be an ass or a jerk; more probably I’d blend right in as an ordinary, assertive person. I believe it is a duty to speak up when something important needs to be said. If I am competent at something that will contribute meaningfully, I will step up and do it. Both of these traits can sometimes be unsettling to others. They survive. I offer what I have to offer, and whether other people appreciate my effort is outside my control. My attitude determines who prefers to be in my circle.
I’ve never dated anyone who hit me. I chalk this up to being bossy and having a big mouth. Anyone who wants a timid, submissive woman to control will know in a few seconds not to bother with me. Timidity is probably a coping mechanism for many people (not just females) who have learned to keep their heads down to avoid attention. The natural reaction would be to fear angering someone who might then lash out. That’s understandable and true. Better to simply stay well away from control freaks and people with anger management problems. Nobody gets a second shot at a temper tantrum with me. Raise your voice in anger and the trust is gone. Bye. I’ve known too many people who tolerated violence and abuse. There are far more people out there who treat everyone as an equal and would never intentionally harm someone. Find one of them, or just be alone. Don’t waste a second on someone who is mean, controlling, or scary.
I married the biggest, hairiest man I could find. He’s awesome. Part of the reason I married him is that he encourages my independence. He says he fell for me the day I threw a shoe at him. He likes the part of me that wants to climb ropes and jump over open flames. He worries about me sometimes, but that doesn’t mean he tries to stop me from doing whatever I want to do. I found him one day with a satellite photo, tracing over the route I run when I visit my family, looking at the tree line. (The only trouble I ever got into up there was stinging nettle). He sometimes uses location sharing to spot me when I’m walking in our neighborhood. We travel and backpack, both together and separately, and he knows I can take care of myself in most situations. Every situation I’ve ever been in so far, at any rate. His inclination is always to help me learn a new skill rather than to try to talk me out of something.
I used to think it was my job merely to contribute to group harmony. I would sit back and try to make sure I wasn’t riding herd on everyone. I know my forthright manner can be taken differently by different people. Then something changed. I was at the airport early in the morning, on my way to my nephew’s high school graduation ceremony. I checked my email. The ceremony started early that evening, a weeknight. I realized that if we didn’t eat dinner early, we’d be leaving after 9 PM and most restaurants would be closed. There would be over a dozen of us, and it was nearly an hour from the site to my parents’ house. I’d be arriving straight from the airport – no time to cook ahead. Hangry alert! This thought chain went through my mind in about 90 seconds. I pulled up a map of the school and realized it was less than a mile from the venue where my husband and I had our wedding reception. I checked their hours and looked over the menu. Then I sent out a group text suggesting that we all meet there at 5 PM for dinner. I got on my plane, sweating a bit at how pushy I was being. Who was I to pick the restaurant and order everyone around? I landed at my layover, checked my phone, and saw that EVERYONE APPROVED. What?? We all had dinner, the food was great, and all the special diets were accommodated. My nephew got his diploma and everyone cried. The end.
It seemed like maybe what I was seeing as pushy was simply a useful application of my secretarial skills. I decided to experiment by trying it again. My family is a large one, and we’ll descend on a restaurant like a swarm of locusts. It’s common for us to show up in a group of 12-16. We get into some pretty vigorous discussions over where to go and what to eat, only to find out sometimes that the place we had chosen wasn’t open that night. In my mind, cooking for 12 is easier than finding reservations for 12. I grabbed the ladle. I chose a menu and we went to the store a day ahead. I texted everyone that I was making Mexican casserole and salad, I already had the ingredients, and I was putting the pan in the oven at 6. Weirdly, we were all sitting around the table eating hot food before sundown. Nobody so much as whispered a word about why I was so darn bossy. Their mouths were too full of second helpings.
Random people in a group tend to wander around listlessly without a plan. I’ve worked with actors, dancers, and musicians, and often their talents will lie fallow until someone presents them with a specific call to action. A lot of people need a director, conductor, or producer before they can feel inspired to perform. It’s the same when working with volunteers to do something like arranging or putting away chairs. Everyone is ready to help but nobody knows where to start or what to do. When a natural organizer such as myself walks in, everyone relaxes. How about if we space them like this? Will someone help me move this over there? Let’s get this cleaned up. Coaching is the same way. People wisely turn to a coach when they can’t quite figure out how to get on track, when something they want to do isn’t automatic or obvious yet. It wouldn’t work if I kept my opinions to myself or waited to be asked just the right specific question. They hire me to push them a bit and to ask questions that may shake up their status quo. With kindness, with consideration, with authority.
My husband likes to quote me on an anecdote from the vacation where he proposed to me. We were going sea kayaking on a windy day in spring. As we walked up to the tour building, I saw a sign and read it out. Small craft advisory. I looked at our kayak. “Is this not, a “small craft”?” None of the tour operators said anything. We all went out and had a pretty rough ride into choppy waves. I fell out four times and sprained my ankle. If I had it to do over again, I might not have gone that day; later experience led me to question the competence of the guides. I wouldn’t go hiking with them, that’s for sure. I was young and I questioned my right to speak up in an uncertain situation. Now, I wouldn’t. “Guys, I don’t know about this.” I meekly opened my mouth, didn’t get much of a response, and meekly shut my mouth again. Whoops.
Recently, I took point on a backpacking trip. I’ve never cared what place I hiked in line; we’re all going to arrive at the same time or negotiate otherwise. I can keep up a pretty stiff pace, but I don’t need to go as fast as possible. There is always someone who wants to walk in front and be in charge. *shrug* This time, I was the fastest. Someone needed to go ahead and reconnoiter, and I was… the obvious choice. I took off into the darkness, and it struck me that there I was, alone in the woods, nothing but me, my headlamp, my pack, and my trekking poles. I knew exactly what to do. I even understood just why someone would want to buy and carry a machete (and the next time I went to REI, I did). I felt competent. I felt competent doing something that would have terrified me a few years earlier. I understood that my comfort in this situation was a gift I could give to my friends. Taking the lead made their lives easier, at little cost to me.
Ultimately, leadership is a gift – an act of service. There can be a temptation to want to seek power for the sake of power, to be in charge for ego gratification, and there can be some moral hazards there. That doesn’t work out well in the long term. Step up because something needs to get done and someone needs to do it. If someone else is handling it effectively, support that and stay out of the way. Endorsing someone else’s plan can also be a form of leadership. If nothing else, manage yourself and your own life. Be the boss of yourself. Be the boss of yourself, and don’t let anyone else try to take over that job.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.