How to get over the ‘boss’ complex – by being one

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By Vicky Stoakes, Communications Director at Red Setter

Everyone wants to be a boss, don’t they? Liz Truss was desperate for the top job. But, as Liz quickly found, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Like many high-achieving Gen X-ers, the goal from the beginning of my first graduate job was to eventually be the boss. Working in London in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was immersed in a work-hard, play-harder lifestyle. The focus was on promotion after promotion. The goal: to reach “boss” status as quickly as possible.

At the end of my twenties, I found myself as an Associate PR Director at a leading agency. After rapid promotions, I’d finally hit a wall and felt there was nowhere else to go. Unless I started my own agency.

Joining forces with a co-worker who had similar aspirations, we set up on our own and set about finding clients. We became the bosses.

Early days of excitement

Launching in 2006 at the beginning of a recession might have seemed insane at the time, but it was good for a new little PR agency with zero overheads (we were working from the kitchen table). And we were gripped with the giddy excitement that comes with a business card and email signature that showed that we were in charge.

We found clients easily and, as word spread about our new venture, old contacts got in touch, knowing my new agency would be a safe pair of hands or for the client they were recommending us for.

We won clients from showing energy, passion and a can-do (and will-do) attitude. I didn’t take anything for granted: except for assuming that I would love being a boss.

Is this it?

We grew quickly, got an office, built a team. But I was fighting conflicting emotions. Part of me was proud and excited – “I did it. I built an agency!” – but another part felt disappointed. “Is this it?” I wondered.

I was a boss, but I was also HR, finance, new business, client services, admin. Even when finances allowed us to delegate some of those tasks to professionals, the mundane reality of agency running was deeply dissatisfying for me. I also found it more stressful than I ever could have imagined.

I was fulfilled by the chase, then working with clients, the creative elements and the results but when I had to tackle any kind of HR issue, financial question or problem with our cleaner, I just wanted to hide under my desk. Not the best response from a boss.

I was a boss but not a happy one.

What did that mean for me as a boss? I was respectful, encouraging. I believed I inspired my team to be and do their best. Many of my old team are now PR leaders themselves and always thank me for my support and encouragement at the beginning of their careers.

Yet, I now see I was not a good boss because I was unhappy in the role.

The realisation

As I wrestled with my inner turmoil, it turned out my business partner was feeling the same. It came to a head when we finally realised neither of us were happy. We had fulfilled our ambition to run a PR agency, but it was time to move on. It was a huge relief that we were able to close the agency under mutual agreement.

My partner left PR all together. I ended up keeping some of the clients and worked one-on-one with them without the agency-strife. Except this quickly led to another realisation: PR really is a team pursuit.

You need people to cheer you on and being my own cheerleader didn’t have much charm. And really, I wanted to be an employee again: to go home on time, to not have to think about my clients 24/7 and not take my laptop on holiday anymore. I wanted to flip that “off” switch badly.

New beginnings

So, I joined a young PR agency working in the creative sector that welcomed my client service skills. And joy of joys, I had not just one, but two bosses, who are joint managing partners.

This agency is progressive in many ways and even has me rethinking the boss thing all over. Like any good agency, it puts the ownership of your career on your shoulders. You have a choice in how hard you push for your own achievement and goals. I’ve done more training here, than at any other stage in my career. I’m more fulfilled by work than I’ve ever been. At the end of the day, you will always be your own boss.

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