Who had a big influence on you and how did that affect the direction of your life or career?

OK, so Kami tagged me. All my fault. One day I will learn!

So here’s my story of the single most influential person that affected my direction in life.

Doris was my boss. Thanks to passing time, and my concerted efforts to forget her, I can’t even remember her last name (crap – I suddenly just did! But I won’t share it here). I do recall vividly what she looked like though. (Please, do not let me go to sleep with that image in my mind).

peewee_as_anne_ramsey1 You know the “momma” from “Throw Momma From The Train“? Doris was like her – but without the sunny disposition and the stunning good looks.

She was my boss, way back in 1985 – in San Francisco.

Doris was NOT a “Dilbert” style boss. Dilbert’s “boss” is an idiot. Doris was not stupid. She was smart AND evil.

I was a Respiratory Therapist – and a good one. I taught at Southwest Texas State University when I was just 23. At the same time I was a member of a medical advisory board for Neonatal Critical Care in San Antonio. I knew my stuff. I was a damned good Respiratory Therapist.

I also had a lot of common sense. That, more than anything, is what Doris hated about me. I questioned her. I questioned why we did things the way we did, and I would not take, “Because we’ve always done things that way” as an answer. She had been in her position since before Respiratory Therapy was even a defined job. Of course she knew better than anyone.

I was “Web 2.0” to her dial-up. To say we didn’t click would be a huge understatement.

So after 8 months of working for this boss from hell I left work at 7:30 am, drove home to Novato, CA and went to my local Radio Shack – to pick up something I had special ordered. Doris and I had had an especially heated conversation that morning – I had spent nearly the entire night working on a single patient – a “bridge jumper”. Someone seemed to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge every month or so – we had a special room set up just to treat jumpers. I was on that trauma team.

People that jump off the Golden Gate Bridge just don’t show up in good shape. Even the ones we saved were forever changed, and not just psychologically. MANY things get broken – bones, internal organs, etc. The ones we did save took many many hours of constant care – often intensive and invasive care.

Some of my other (routine) tasks were not completed by the time I left the next morning. Doris didn’t appreciate that. After a 12 hour shift busting my ass to save someone that wanted to die, I really didn’t care much for Doris, or her opinion. I believe I told her that. I’m sure I must have – I’m fairly vocal.

In any case, I hated my boss. Between Doris, and crack babies and AIDs babies, I was losing more battles then I was winning. I needed out of healthcare – and Doris out of my life. I was just 23 though, and besides medicine, I had no other real skills.

So I approached the Radio Shack and saw a sign on the door, “Help Wanted”. I have never worked another minute as a Respiratory Therapist since. When I called to give my two week’s notice Doris said, “Thank God – don’t bother coming back”. We were both very pleased.

That very afternoon I was working at Radio Shack (a job I actually loved). Four months later I was the manager of the store. Six months after that I had one of the most profitable stores in the district. I also had VERY cool customers. Industrial Light and Magic, Robin Williams, Francis Ford Coppola. I was having a blast, making decent money, and running “my own business”. I was 23. Not shabby.

I learned a lot about business by managing “my own” Radio Shack. When I became the manager my District Manager handed me the keys and told me, “Run it like you own it – but never forget you don’t”. That advise has served me very well over the years. I follow it to this day when dealing with my clients. I care for their business as if I owned it. But I never forget that I do not.

Radio Shack also taught me about dealing with people – employees, managers, and customers. I also learned about managing costs, salary, marketing, hiring and firing, etc, etc.

But most of all – the most important thing I learned – I never wanted to be Doris.

So thanks, Doris. You were a mean, conniving, cruel, self-centered nasty human being. But you made me a better boss than I might have been had I not met you.

At Radio Shack I learned to program computers (thanks to smart employees). I turned that into a Shareware business that made me some money. Eventually I turned that into a career in Tech – helping invent WiFi, managing a global Customer Support department and an international Software Quality Assurance group. I had employees all over the planet. And I made darned good money.

Those experiences gave me the skills, and the confidence, to try consulting (which I absolutely love).

So, thanks Doris. If you were just a bit more human I might have stayed in healthcare.

And now, as Kami reminded me in the comments, I need to tag some people. I’ll try moving the meme around a bit – to some other circles. Paul Claessen, Shel Israel, Steve Clayton, Maryam Scoble, Jason Calacanis.

Of course, I have no idea how many of them will respond ๐Ÿ™‚

Update:ร‚ย  Maryam Scoble joins the memeร‚ย 


  1. I guess it’s too early in my life, but I *do* have a few *authorities* I’ve met here at school which I don’t want to become (I can’t divulge details right now because they can damage my entire way to college now, but I’ll do it as soon I can). Really. One of them just came to our class yesterday and spoke some of the most charged, abusive language I’ve ever heard in my lifetime. I’m goanna remember him forever for *that*.

  2. @Eric – That makes sense. I haven’t used StumpleUpon as a "friend" service at all.  I just told it what topics I wanted to read about and clicked the Stumble button.

    Methinks I should start adding friends in there and see if the information flow improves!

  3. Actually, I think it was Kami whose Tweet got me here, and I Tweeted again, because this resonated so much with me. 

    I used to think StumbleUpon was too random, but then I started clicking on the toolbar icon for "friends’ stumbles", and find it a great way to find good stuff.  If someone sends me to too many crappy sites, I unfriend them.  Not out of spite, but just to keep from clogging up my reading with irrelevant stuff.

  4. Aw come on Rob… how did you really feel about Doris? Funny how really awful experiences can often be more motivating than the positive to which we can get accustomed all too soon.

    Kudos to your vivid writing
    – Kare

  5. Eric has a wonderful habit of Stumbling posts he likes.

  6. @Susan – well, golly, thanks for following Twitter (my favorite “Web 2.0” tool I didn’t help build) – and I know exactly what you mean about bosses in love with their bosses. I went through that once as well.

    There really isn’t a better way to emasculate a boss (male or female) than to have them sexually (or emotionally) involved with THEIR boss.

    Yet we move on, and flourish!

  7. Hey Rob, I found your blog through Eric Eggertson’s post on Twitter. Great post! I once had a boss (early in my career) who despised me and I her because we were both women. Instead of mentoring me, she competed with me. It’s sad that this happens, but it does. I watched her as she was in love with her boss and had to wait out his first marriage, etc. My favorite day in that position was when I told her I was moving to Atlanta…I tell you, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

  8. You have to love StumbleUpon – thanks to whoever submitted this post.

    The Stumblers ARE here! ๐Ÿ˜›

  9. @Eric – nobody should have to “manage up”. First, you probably weren’t getting paid for that – and your boss was getting paid for something they were NOT doing.

    Thanks for your comment. I really truly didn’t like this lady ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  10. Great story. I’ve had a few unpleasant bosses in my day. Walking away was the right thing. I stuck to one boss for almost two years thinking there was some way I should be “managing up” that I wasn’t doing. Finally realized they just wanted someone to crush regularly. I was gone that month.

  11. @Kami – good point. I’ll tag some people tomorrow. I have had a most interesting day ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Wow Rob, you really know how to tell a story. My favorite posts are those where you tell a tale from your past.

    One quibble. How will this ever become a meme if you don’t tag anyone? LOL!


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