Why I Consult My “Manager,” and Why She Always Takes My Calls.

Do you sometimes feel as if you’re two people? For a long time, I struggled to identify the metaphor to describe the tension between my two selves—between now-Gretchen and future-Gretchen, between the want-self and should-self. Is it Jeckyll and Hyde? The angel and devil on my shoulders? The elephant and the rider? The ego, the id, and the super-ego?

Then in a flash, I saw how to think about the two Gretchens, and how to think of myself in the third person, as a way better to understand myself and direct my actions. There’s me, Gretchen (now-Gretchen, want-Gretchen), and there’s my manager.

I think I was inspired by my sister’s Hollywood workplace lingo.

Who is my “manager?” Well, I’m like a fabulous celebrity. I have a manager. I’m lucky, because I have the best manager imaginable. My manager understands my unique situation, interests, quirks, and values, and she’s always thinking about my long-term well-being.

I’m the boss, and I don’t have to take my manager’s advice—but on the other hand, I pay my manager to help me. I’d be an idiot not to pay attention.

These days, when I struggle with something, I ask myself, “What does my manager say?” Often it’s very obvious to my manager what course I should follow, even if I can’t decide (weird right?). It can be a relief to be told what to do; I agree with Andy Warhol, who remarked, “When I think about what sort of person I would most like to have on a retainer, I think it would be a boss. A boss who could tell me what to do, because that makes everything easy when you’re working.”

My manager is the executive who works for me—very appropriate, because my manager is part of my executive function. There’s no need to rebel against my manager, because I am the boss of my manager. (Not to mention, I am the manager.) Out of freedom, I can accept her instruction.

My manager reminds me to follow my good habits: “Gretchen, you feel overwhelmed and angry. Get a good night’s sleep and answer that email in the morning.” “Gretchen, you say you have no energy, but you’ll feel better if you go for a walk.”

My manager stays compassionate. She doesn’t say things like, “You’ll never be able to finish,” or “You’re lazy.”  She’s comforting and encouraging, and says things like, “It happens,” “We’ve all done it,” and “Enjoy the fun of failure.”

My manager stands up for me when other people are too demanding. She insists that my idiosyncratic needs must be met; just as Van Halen famously insisted on bowls of M&Ms backstage, with all the brown ones removed, my manager says, “Gretchen really feels the cold, so she can’t be outside too long.” “Gretchen is writing her new book now, so she can’t give a lengthy response to that email.”

She makes claims on my behalf: “Let’s figure out how to get you what you need,” “Let’s throw money at the problem.” On the other hand, she doesn’t accept excuses like, “This doesn’t count” or “Everyone else is doing it.” She tells me uncomfortable truths. I can’t sneak anything past my manager, because she sees everything I do.

As an Upholder, however, I’ve learned to be a bit wary of my manager. I love my manager, but I know how she thinks. She’s very impressed by credentials, legitimacy, and pay-off. She’s sometimes so focused on my long-term advantages that she forgets that I need to have a little fun, right now. My manager is helpful, but in the end, I’m the one who must “Be Gretchen.”

How about you? Do you think it would be helpful to think about your “manager?”

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  • frugalfamilytimes

    I’ve learned that I am a much better mother to my children than I am a caregiver to myself. I’ve taken to trying to be my own mother. To give myself the unlimited compassion, kindness and wisdom that I give them. Giving myself loving kindness and guidance doesn’t come naturally to me, but it does to my (self) Mother. Sounds a lo like your manager. :). Robin

  • comsprof

    This makes me want to go read Buber again.

  • peninith1

    I used to question this idea of ‘splitting’ myself . . . and then I read some exercise that asked me what my worst problem was . . . followed by the question ‘what would a great spiritual leader say to you about this’ . . . and after I wrote my answer and turned the page, found the words ‘Thank you, oh great spiritual leader.’

    In other words, the answers are very often within, if we consult our higher mind. This is risky business, of course–outside sources should probably be consulted as well on matters of great importance. But the principal remains–if we have a conscience and an inner compass, we can ask that wiser part of ourselves to speak.

  • Sarah

    Have you read Dr Steven Peters the Chimp Paradox?

    • gretchenrubin

      No, I’ll check it out.

  • Abby

    I do this in my journal, asking my higher self to comment on what’s happening in my life and I’ve even begun to use a different pen when writing the answers. They come from a deep source and are most often quite illuminating.

  • stlgrannie

    What a great way to look at this! I often talk to myself, as in “OK, Linda, you can do this,” or “Let’s just walk out that door; you will feel so much better.” I just didn’t realize it was my manager. I love it.

  • Xandra | Fashionably Light ★

    I’ve had a tendency to be a ‘manager’ since a young age. In high school two of my friends were pursuing creative careers (singer/songwriter and film producer), and I was like, boom – here’s what you have to do. I helped them identify goals and get stuff done. I find it harder to do this for myself, but maybe if I put on a special hat or something [um, probably a theoretical hat. probably.] I can play that role for myself too. It’s a process!

  • Kate

    I love, love, LOVE this suggestion and am going to try it. So much more helpful to have a manager on staff than my inner critic who is constantly belittling me.

  • Katie Milton

    @Gretchin- Great post! I’ve recently struggled with negative self talk and have spent some time identifying the difference between the “saboteur” voices and the voice of my “wise self”. Your manager theory resonates better with me than my “wise self” as my “wise self” isn’t perfect either and when I think of that, the cycle begins anew. Thanks for the change in perspective!

  • David Laprise

    Lately I found myself often struggling between what part of me knew would be best for me and what another part did not feel like doing at all. No matter which part I decided to follow I felt bad in some way.

    I love this new way of looking at the inner conflict/duality! Thank you!

  • Skye

    I really like the idea of a manager! I, too, have always approached myself as a duality (I’m always saying “we” as in “we need some more groceries”, “we need to get to bed earlier”) and sometimes wonder if it’s a bad thing. But putting that duality into this kind of context is wonderful! I’m definitely going to try it.

  • Felicity

    Manager! That’s great!

  • SJ

    Ha! Interesting. I sometimes think of myself as my own personal assistant, but this approach, being the “manager” is a more empowering concept.

  • Nancy

    Actually I do the reverse. If there’s a job I don’t want to do I say “OK, I’ll ask Nancy to do it!”

  • Mime Hana Sztarkman

    Love it! This is such a possitive and empowering approach, I’ll use it with my coaching clients.Thanks!

  • Emily Cakes Rowlandson

    I love this idea of being your own manager, very clever. I think it could even work for me, even as a questioner. Thank you.

  • Stefanie

    Fun Fact: Van Halen used the M&M clause in their contract as a subtle test of determining whether a venue had thoroughly read their contract before performing. Brown M&Ms meant the lighting, sound, or sets might not be right and someone should look into it immediately. Guess it was their manager looking out for them after all. Heard originally on This American Life: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/433/transcript

  • Maria

    Thanks to you I just found out I need a manager. Brilliant.

  • Claire

    I have Delicate Claire and Sturdy Claire. DC has a delicate constitution and finely tuned sensibilities. SC is highly practical, logical and tough. I practice letting them work together and look out for each other. Related to this, I recently discovered I fit the profile of the HSP personality trait (high sensitivity), which I certainly think is related to this dynamic in myself. Gretchen, I would love to know if you’ve run across this notion before or have any thoughts:

  • Katy

    I’ve sort of split myself into a whole team and most of the time I see the true me (Katy) as a compassionate and curious observer. Lucy is my conscious thought and because of this she is the closest thing to a manager. Over the years Lucy has matured, becoming much more humble and aware of her profound limitations, increasingly leaning on and trusting the rest of the team. Matilda is the body, naturally reticent and insecure, but gradually discovering her strength. Gaia is the unconscious – wise, artistic, but at times hampered by her introversion and complexity. Shirley is the socialite/extrovert and plays an important role because of the introverted tendencies of everyone else. Jeb, the one male is the IT guy and he gathers any tools (i.e. software) that can help everyone else excel. Skip is the playful dog that keeps everything grounded and fun.

    In general life works better when the whole team comes together to support and problem-solve together. Lucy has learned to pose requests or questions to members, giving them space and time to work on their own. A favorite and usually enlightening meditation is to just go around the room and listen patiently to what each has to say.

  • RedGramLiving

    I love this story and the comments from all of your amazing readers. As a mom, consultant and writer I have to wear many hats every day. Often I am rushing between the roles or demanding myself to do “that other thing” that needs to get done. I love how you speak to yourself with compassion. I love how your “manager” looks out for your needs. I am writing a memo to my manager right now to make sure she understands my needs and can communicate it in a professional way to everyone. Thanks Gretchen!

  • Funny and Dangerous, but a very necessary self exercise to do if we really want to be UP! Tks for share, as always!

  • Dear goodness sakes alive, you just gave me (REBEL) the best contextual view of Planning Me and Now Me EVAR. Seriously, I’m full-on Rebel, and this is the best way I’ve ever seen to think about and cooperate with my own bad self. For this, and for helping me to realize my personality type and how it’s helped and hurt me over the years, thank you so much.