Dear Vicki: I’m having trouble with a new boss and wonder if you can help. Alex was brought in last month to manage the restaurant where I work as a waitress while I’m in college. It’s a well-respected chain and I make good money, but it’s no longer fun. Alex has a dreary personality; he’s a real downer. We all used to laugh and joke around a lot, but since he’s been there, it seems like the joy has gone out of everything. Alex doesn’t like any of us, either, especially me; he’s cut back my hours and told me to get some rest. Really? He’s such a control freak. I’d planned on staying in this job until I graduate next year, but now I’m not so sure. My mom knows a lot about the Five Elements – she’s the one who suggested I write you – and she says I’m a Fire and Alex seems like a Water or Metal to her. Can you help? I don’t want to quit my job. It’s so fun. Signed: Waitress in Wautoma
Dear Waitress: I agree, your job can be great fun. I worked as a waitress while in college and thoroughly enjoyed it. There is usually a fair amount of camaraderie between the staff in a restaurant, plus the customers are out for a good time. You probably do well there, too, because your Fire tendency to be outgoing and enjoy connecting with people is perfect for working as a waitress. But for a restaurant to run well, not everyone should be a Fire. Can you imagine what it would be like at work if everyone always said “Yes!” right away, if no one stopped and thought through the ramifications of a specific decision, or took time to submit the food and beverage orders weekly? It would be chaos and the restaurant would soon be out of business.
In fact, your restaurant is a perfect example of the Five Elements model in action: it needs all of the elements to be successful: Waters for creativity and envisioning potential, Woods for getting things done, Fires to keep people happy and engaged, Earths to handle the food, and Metals to manage the business end. As the Five Elements model says, if any part of this gets out of balance, the whole will suffer.
For example, if the ambiance in the restaurant gets stale and old, people won’t want to come back. If things aren’t running smoothly, people won’t want to come back. If the staff is sullen, tired, and lacks engagement, people won’t want to come back. If the food is terrible, people won’t want to come back. And if the business doesn’t make money, the restaurant will close and then people won’t be able to come back. For the restaurant to be successful, it takes balance and active participation from all of the elements. And that means that, as a Fire, you need to be able to work with Waters, Wood, Earths, and Metals, as well as the other Fires, so let’s see what we can do.
The problem you’re having with Alex is that the two of you relate on the Controlling Cycle. If he’s a Water, his Water will put out your Fire, which guarantees that he will feel like a real “downer” to you. If he’s a Metal, exaggerated Fire will threaten his Metal, which will probably make him appear not to like you. Metal is also the element with the most structure, and your Fire has the least structure. In fact, Fires often resist structure because it hampers action and movement, key attributes of the Fire personality. This is another reason Alex might not be your favorite person. But in truth, he may be the exactly right person to be your boss. Let me explain.
No one likes to feel controlled, but often that’s what’s needed for our own good, or at least the good of the whole. Left to their own devices, Fires will keep going and going and going. When young, Fires often get away with burning the proverbial candle at both ends. But that takes a toll and impacts others. Out of balance, Fire will go either to a place of hyper activity (excess Fire) or decreased activity (deficient Fire). Excess Fire can be off-putting because it’s hyper, loud, and “in your face.” This doesn’t make for a pleasant dining experience. Deficient Fire lacks the energy to connect with anyone, or care about anything, which also doesn’t make for a successful dining experience.
You mention that Alex cut your hours and told you to get some rest. Is it possible that your Fire is at risk of burning out? College is often a time when we do burn that candle at both ends, and no one is more likely to do that than a Fire because Fires love to say yes to everything. I wonder if Alex senses that you need a break and in a quiet Water way is trying to help bring your overdone Fire back to balance. Or maybe in a quiet Metal way he is trying to provide you with the structure necessary to take a well-needed break. I would strongly encourage you to take an honest look at the pace of your life (likely to be on “overdrive” as a Fire in college) and decide if you might benefit from the presence of some Water and/or Metal in your life.
Regardless of whether you take a break now or not, you will need to find a way to get along with Alex in the future. Understanding why he affects you as he does is an important first step. Understanding that we all have times when we need a little help to maintain our balance is another good step. If you don’t see any way that Alex’s actions toward you are coming from a good place, then it’s possible that Alex himself is off balance. Your comment that he is a control freak suggests he is a primary Metal (with the Water your mother mentioned as a secondary). Over controlling is usually too much Metal energy and you are the perfect antidote for that: Your Fire will melt his Metal. But you will have to be mindful to moderate your Fire around him. Be friendly, but don’t over do it. Laugh, but not too loud. You want to allow your Fire to warm him, but not threaten him.
In truth, this will actually be easier than you think because most Metals naturally enjoy the sparks and heat of moderate Fire; at some deep level they must sense that it’s good for them. Just be a slightly restrained version of your cheery, joyful self and it’s very likely that Alex will loosen up enough to be personable, but still structured enough to keep the restaurant successful. That will be the greatest good for all brought about by the very best of both of you. Good luck!