Day Ninety-Four: Sober Boss

It’s partly about the people, and partly about confidence. A few years ago, I was on the agency side of the marketing equation, and taking clients to dinner was a thing I did. Now, I’m hiring agencies to work for me, and they’re taking me out. Which is, oddly, a different sort of pressure. And it means being sober boss.

While when I was on the agency side, there was a huge incentive to have the client like you. Personally. To make sure you align, understand each other, are easy to work with. This is doubly important with qualitative work. But I’m feeling an almost equal pressure now to have the agency like me. Partly this is because I’m a neurotic Woody-Allenesque mess. But it’s also partly because I know, as an agency, how much harder we worked for the clients we liked. We worked hard for everybody, make no mistake. But some people inspired us to stay later, try harder, dig deeper. So it’s still a present pressure on the opposite side of the table.

So I was nervous about ‘coming out’ as sober. Because drinking is still a thing, culturally — so is being vegetarian/vegan — and these things require some finesse or everyone gets awkward. Sober boss still wants to be cool.

Frame ‘sober boss’ as a trial

One easy trick is to avoid absolutes. Absolutes freak people out. “I don’t drink” is a flat and powerful statement. It’s a great internal statement. But it immediately inspires the question “why?” and “what do you think of me, a person who drinks?”. It’s an awkwardness generator.

“I’m not drinking right now” is something that people can kind of wrap their head around. Maybe you’re on antibiotics. Maybe you’re trying to lose weight. Maybe you’ve had a health scare. Who cares?

If you can pull it off, “I’m trying a thing where I’m not drinking for a while” is gold. Something to feel out with a relationship, though. But it lets people know you’re not drinking, it gives them a why — you’re trying a thing! — and conveys that you’re not Judgey McJudgerson about them drinking. You’re trying a thing. It’s got nothing to do with them.

I think I pull off sober boss well. It’s a quirk, to be sure, and a point of conversation if you want it to be, but it’s not a negative.