Bad Girl, Good Business

Repeating Second Grade: Dealing With Bad Bosses/Clients/Co-Workers

Reading Time: 2 minutes

My mother told me she was very worried about me when she dropped me off in my second grade classroom. I was a shy and anxious seven year old…eager to please and terrified of authority figures.

The teacher (who I will call Mrs. H in case she’s still alive), was a stern and very scary woman with a tidy bun atop her head and the personality of a Shawshank guard. In fact, she held daily morning inspections, during which cowering children were “reported” if they had dirty shoes or fingernails. The punishment included public humiliation in front of their peers.

I did not imagine or exaggerate this year of my life. In fact, we were so traumatized by the experience that one of my classmates (Peter Mehlman) who went on to become a Seinfeld writer/producer “killed her off” in the first episode he wrote. Another claims to have spent years in therapy healing from her targeted abuse and berating.

And yet, I completed that school year with a decent report card and minimal psychological scars.

What’s the point here? It was great preparation for other really rough years in my life — those periods when I had little or no control over the man or woman in charge. We’ve all been there – unbearable clients, mercurial or abusive bosses, disloyal “classmates” who pretend to be your friends but ultimately do what they need to do to remain popular.

When you find yourself in one of those situations as an adult, here’s what to do:

  1. Remind yourself that it’s not you. Recall other times in your life when you’ve overcome challenges and emerged stronger and wiser.
  2. Develop a clear exit strategy. Seek out guidance from professionals like career advisors, business coaches, and perhaps even a therapist.
  3. Distract yourself with activities that are helpful to yourself and others while you plan your exit. Volunteer, join a non-profit board, or simply take up a hobby.
  4. Limit the amount of time you spend complaining. Negative self-talk and conversations may simply plunge you deeper into unhappiness.
  5. Make sure you don’t run away too quickly. The whole frying pan/fire thing holds true. Be thoughtful about that next client or job move.

Second grade eventually ends. We may never forget the “morning inspection.” You may have other Mrs. H’s in your life. In fact, it’s inevitable in the working world. Here’s the good news: as an adult you can change your classrooms or simply drop out for a while. (Just save up your allowance so you’ll have that financial freedom!)

P.S. Be sure to check your own leadership style…perhaps YOU are being a Mrs. H at times. Bun or no bun.



  1. Well said. It’s amazing the resilience that we learn and sometimes is forced upon us at a very young age, can make or break us as we get older. And what we do with that is instrumental to our success as leaders.

  2. Nancy Fedder

    There was another Nancy in your class. That would be me, Nancy Fedder. I managed to survive the ordeal, but I am convinced at the cost of 15K in therapy in my 20’s. All of your ideas are wonderful. One of the lessons for me was the healing power of humor. I sure needed it. I was summoned to the front of the room and was asked by MISS H. to hop on my right foot. I literally froze and stood there for what seemed like an eternity. I did not do it. Perhaps if she had called my mother and told her I might be dyslexic my life would be different today. They did not know of such things when we were in 2nd grade. I was diagnosed in my 50’s but managed to have a good career after going to 10 colleges. Sigh. There was also a bonding that took place amongst the “victims” of MISS H. There is another story regarding a dress that she wore with a very revealing bra but that is the story that we share in private when there is a bathroom nearby as we all laugh so hard there are many “relief” trips. We survived and we thrived but we really want to thank Peter for taking her out. BTW, she will not be reading this.


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