Working for My Partner Was a Big Mistake, But a Good Learning Experience
A couple of summers ago, when my partner, who owns a business that puts on running road races (5Ks, marathons, and so on), needed some extra hands and I needed some extra cash, I agreed to work a couple of weekend races with his part-time staff.
I’d done some editing work for him in the past, which worked out fine, great even—but I’d never been a part of the race-day crew, and I was kind of looking forward to being on this side of things and seeing him run the show. After all, how often do you get to see your loved ones actually doing their job (rather than just talking about it)?
I was put to work early Saturday morning, setting up timing mats at the finish line, organizing tables for water and energy drinks, and preparing the registration table with race bibs and safety pins. My boyfriend was as focused as I’d ever seen him, giving instructions to his crew (including me) left and right.
And while there was a part of me that could acknowledge that he was in “work mode,” there was another part of me that wished he didn’t seem quite so laser-focused on the day’s goals. It was almost as if the words “please” and “thank you” had disappeared from his vocabulary as he led the pre-race prep. I’d certainly seen him determined before, but never quite in this way.
At one point, when I tried to appeal to him as his girlfriend and not a staff member, he shot me a look that said there’d be none of that out here on his professional turf. He looked at me pointedly, waiting for me to carry on, and I continued lugging gallons of water to the table, seething inwardly and thinking of what I’d say to him later—after work.
All day long, he was in boss-mode, in charge and in control of the event, delegating and overseeing our various posts. He meant business and that was all there was to it. Sneaking behind a Porta-Potty, I furtively texted my sister about how much I disliked working for him and how I couldn’t believe we had six more hours. “Not happy!” I typed, upset and kind of incredulous about much our boss-employee dynamic unnerved me. She suggested that maybe I was being sensitive, which, of course, only further set me off.
Back at home, I said, “Well, we’ll never do that again!” I waited for him to apologize (for what exactly, I don’t know. Leadership skills that I didn’t approve of? Delegation tactics that I wasn’t familiar with?), thank me for my help, and tell me I was being ridiculous, that next time would be better. But to my surprise, he said he agreed, said my working for him was a terrible idea and not good for our relationship.
He was going to run his business how he wanted, and that didn’t involve changing his leadership style to make me, his girlfriend, feel better. While I look for managers who I can communicate freely with throughout the day, he made it clear that he didn’t think that constant back-and-forth was necessary. He simply didn’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings when he asked them to do their jobs without profusely expressing his gratitude.
There were plenty of opportunities for him to demonstrate his appreciation, and it’s true that he did so regularly with benefits, perks, and social outings. He just wasn’t into thanking someone every time she checked an item off a to-do list. My management style, I was beginning to learn, was very different than my partner’s. So while I’d certainly choose him as a life partner (which I did, thank you very much), I would never choose him to be my boss.
Looking at things that way, I guess it’s fair to say that I learned a lesson working for my partner—besides the fact that it’s not in our best interest for me to work for him when our views on effective leadership vary so greatly.
I also have a stronger, more concrete understanding of the kind of person that I work well with in a professional setting. In addition, I’ve accepted the fact that the people who bring out the best in you personally, might not bring out the best in you professionally (and vice versa). It’s the rare friend who can become your manager, and the rare manager who can truly become your friend. And, knowing what kind of boss does bring out the best in you is a major part of finding fulfillment at work and in your career.
Fortunately, I have no complaints about my nine-to-five situation (or my five-to-nine situation), and have come to terms with the fact that I’m much happier running my partner’s races than working at them.
Photo of couple working together courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
Stacey Gawronski is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author