Friday, December 31, 1999


[Originally posted on January 12, 2023, at 4:15 a.m.]

January 20, my final day at the Golden Goose (which hasn't been very golden over the past few weeks), can't come fast enough. Thursday, though, we might have a reprieve, although I doubt it. More on that in a bit.

The CEO may be a scatterbrained fool, but he's on all the damn time. He told us he has trouble sleeping because his mind is always aswarm with new ideas (that don't seem so innovative to me). What this usually means for me and my boss (and even though he's my boss, we're both basically working in the trenches directly under the CEO) is that we get force-fed magazine article after magazine article that the CEO will insist on reading along with us, line by line, stopping to discuss some issue brought up in the latest paragraph, asking for pronunciation help, etc. Can you think of a more boring way to get through an English lesson? I would never treat a magazine article as an opportunity for scriptural hermeneutics. The CEO says he wants to modernize education, but this magazine-reading nonsense is an antiquated fetish of his, and he won't let it go easily because, I guess, he thinks it's effective.

I'd been told that I would need to make four PPT presentations by this Friday. Then it became one PPT by Thursday, the rest by Friday. I did one of the PPTs, plus lecture notes, earlier in the week... and the CEO liked the lesson but decided he didn't need my work. Instead, I had to work on something else, and now I was supposed to focus only on that one thing, i.e., a PPT for his Thursday-morning lecture to some Korean teachers. Over the course of eight hours on Wednesday, I hammered out the PPT but couldn't finish the lecture notes. (The purpose of the lecture notes is, essentially, to make the CEO look smart by supplying him with extra vocab info and bits of trivia with which to wow his audience.) I promised the CEO that I'd email him the lecture notes a few hours later. My boss somehow convinced the CEO to let me go back to my office in the Mido building (the CEO's office, where he holds his meetings, is in our main branch, in the Cheongshil building) at 10 p.m., 60-90 minutes earlier than normal. I went back and hammered out lecture notes (which are meant to accompany the PPT frame by frame), then left around 1:30 a.m. My boss got saddled with more stuff in my absence, then he showed up at the Mido office and got to work. The CEO then called my boss several times (keep in mind—this is now after midnight) with even more work for the boss to do. When I left Mido, the boss was still plugging away at the material the CEO wanted. This is the same boss who sternly said to me, "Don't kill yourself doing all this work." And yet, there's the boss—killing himself. See why I can't take his advice seriously?

Supposedly, the CEO's got nothing for us to do tomorrow (well, today: Thursday), but I don't believe that. He's doing more presentations on Friday, so we'll doubtless have more material to prep for him. That said, I'm going in to work a bit later than usual tomorrow (today, really) unless I get news that we have another do-this-yesterday assignment. 

Earlier Wednesday evening, while we were in the boss's SUV as we drove from Mido to Cheongshil (just a couple blocks down the street), the boss told me he thought things were going to get better once the CEO finally realized he can't maintain the current pace. I bitterly asked him, "Haven't you been saying that for years?" I'd heard this song and dance myself since at least 2017. Somehow, I think my boss still considers the CEO a friend: the boss tutored the CEO's kids years back, so they have a sort of quasi-familial connection. From my perspective, though, the CEO has dicked my boss over repeatedly, taking him for granted, constantly threatening our R&D department with nonexistence, and generally producing a ton of absolutely unnecessary stress for all parties. What kind of "friend" treats someone that way? But the boss remains, despite it all, hopeful that this is just a passing phase. I'm not waiting around to find out. (In a moment of raw honesty, the boss basically said he has nowhere else to go except this job. He lives in a huge, expensive apartment, so he needs a certain level of cash flow to maintain that lifestyle and support his family. He used to boast about places he's worked and high-level connections he's made over the years, and when I pressed him about those things recently, his response was basically that that was all in the past. He didn't say this, but I got the impression that, given his abrasive personality, he's probably burned a lot of bridges. You can't go home again, as the Thomas Wolfe [not Tom Wolfe] book title goes.)

Meanwhile, the CEO has inserted himself so fully into my life that I literally no longer even have time to go nighttime shopping at my building's grocery. The grocery closes at 11 p.m., and except for this past weekend, I haven't had a chance to visit the grocery in days because our meetings—daily meetings, mind you—run past 11. The CEO is going to America next week, but he's already told us he plans to have Zoom meetings with us every day, three hours per meeting. Which means we're not off the hook. This is not a cat's away, the mice will play situation. If we're Zooming every day for three hours, we're going to have to produce enough material to last through such meetings. God only knows what that material will be, but at a guess—more fucking magazine and website articles.

That's life right now. Get into the office around 12:30 p.m., work on whatever the CEO's assignment is (my boss, who knows the CEO's mind better than I do, usually has to make the assignment clear to me) until our meeting time—usually 7 or 8 p.m.—endure a meeting that lasts until at least 11 p.m., then in most cases, go back to my own office and work on extra stuff that the CEO just thought up for us to do at the last minute. These are 13-14-hour days. In some cases, we then find out that what we've worked on is no longer needed, so we scrap it. I just had eight hours of PPT work go down the toilet. Any apologies? Nope. Any awareness of hard work done in vain? Nope.*

One of the vocab words in the PPT I just did was reversal. I ran this sample sentence by my boss: With a wishy-washy person, you can expect a lot of reversals. The boss chuckled and remarked, "I don't think he'll get it." Sure enough, as we read through my PPT frame by frame (just like with those magazine articles), we got to that sample sentence, and the CEO wasn't introspective enough to ask himself whether the sentiment applied to him. That may be a trait of many leaders: lack of self-awareness. Maybe it's a requirement for the job.

Just eight more days after today. At least my boss isn't saying guilt-trippy stuff like, "You're putting me in an awkward position"—the way he did to my ex-coworker M. Maybe it's because the boss is suffering alongside me, being taken for granted just as I am. I've told some people that I'm enough of a whore that I'd consider staying if the CEO offered to double my current salary. I could suffer a year of bullshit if I knew I was socking away a lot of money for a move to... somewhere. (The Korean riverlands? Wyoming? Dunno.) I'd also consider staying if the CEO suddenly had a flash of satori and realized that my boss and I do, in fact, produce material of value—shit that the other, Korean-run R&D departments in our company can't produce for lack of English fluency and general pedagogical competency. If the CEO were suddenly to say, "You know, you two guys really do produce good material, and I now want you to go back to your regular R&D duties to produce a whole line of company-brand textbooks that emphasize your pedagogical approach," I would be ecstatic and would un-resign myself in an instant—even if that meant no extra pay. (I'm paid at a very comfortable level right now, so I haven't made any noises about a raise.)

I just asked ChatGPT, which has now become my therapist/god, the following:

How do you deal with an overly micromanaging, stress-inducing CEO?

The response:

Dealing with an overly micromanaging, stress-inducing CEO can be challenging, but there are a few strategies you can use to manage the situation.

1. Communicate clearly and regularly: Clearly communicate your progress and accomplishments to your CEO, and ensure they are aware of any challenges or potential roadblocks. Providing regular updates can help alleviate some of the micromanagement and reduce the CEO's stress levels. 

2. Ask for specific feedback: Instead of being told to redo everything, try to understand what the CEO is looking for by specifically asking for feedback. It may help to ask them to be specific about what they want you to change, or to provide examples of what they consider to be good work. 

3. Set boundaries: It is important to set clear boundaries around your responsibilities and the scope of your work, and communicate them to your CEO. This can help to reduce confusion and prevent you from being pulled into tasks that are not your responsibility. 

4. Show initiative: Take the initiative to solve problems, improve processes and come up with new ideas. It might show the CEO that you are more capable than they think, and that their micromanagement is not needed. 

5. Address the issue with your CEO: If the micromanagement and stress are affecting your ability to do your job, it may be necessary to have a direct conversation with your CEO. Explain how their behavior is impacting your work, and offer solutions to address the issue. 

6. Seek support: Sometimes the situation may be difficult to handle alone, and it is essential to reach out to colleagues, a mentor or an employee resource group to discuss the situation and get an objective perspective.

It is important to remember that the situation is not personal. Try to maintain a professional and respectful attitude throughout this. It may take time, but addressing the issue in a constructive manner can help improve the work environment for everyone.

All so commonsensical, yet kind of empty, like eating those corn-based packing peanuts. My new god, ChatGPT, is the god of environmentally friendly packing peanuts. In response to the above advice, I can say this:

1. Oh, we communicate regularly, and the boss is even so bold as to tell the CEO outright that we've been working a series of 14-hour days. The CEO's response: an irritated "Don't count." (i.e., "Don't count the hours. Just work.")

2. Getting specific feedback from a pathological "P" person is a joke. "P" people, especially the extreme ones, don't like settling on anything. It's a wrestling match, at the end of every meeting, to figure out what exactly my action items are. When I just worked with my boss, he at least had a specific vision for every project. I didn't always agree with his vision, but I can respect the fact that he had a specific direction to go in.

3. Set boundaries? Yeah, I'd love to, and the boss is constantly trying to with the CEO. But the boss is also putting more hope in a better future, which I'm not doing, so maybe we're not trying hard enough in this arena. The way I see it, it's better just to hunker down and not get fired since I'm already set to resign.

4. Showing initiative is what got me in trouble. The CEO loves my lesson style, which is very student-centric, with the teacher constantly checking knowledge at every step. Now, the CEO only wants more, more, more, as Billy Idol would say. Or is that too creepy an image?

5. Yes, inevitably, I'm going to have to address the issue with the CEO at some point. He's off to the States next week, and my resignation will happen while he's away, so I foresee a Zoom meeting that's not going to be pleasant.

6. Seeking support might be nice, but I work at a hagweon, which is by nature a toxic environment. Always has been. The people I like and trust are in no position to do anything, and the people in power either don't know me or don't care.

This exposure to the CEO has given me a lot more appreciation for what my boss was shielding his R&D department from all these years. On a distant, intellectual level, I got that the boss was protecting us from the standard Korean-management bullshit, but now that we're both under the CEO's Sauron-like glare, the situation is much more real—painfully so. Somehow, the boss remains hopeful despite the agony. I don't know how he hasn't given up in disgust yet. I guess it comes back to what he confessed about having nowhere else to go.

I checked with my buddy Tom about teaching at his uni, but he's positive that they're not hiring, so the search must go on. With all the money I've saved up, I'm not too worried—yet.

Oh, yeah: if I'm so tired, how did I have the marbles to bang out this blog entry?

Simple. Anger. I need to sleep, but anger keeps a body awake. And focused.

Current goal: make it to January 20 without suffering a second stroke.


*The Korean expression 헛수고 (heot sugo) comes to mind: hard work done in vain. The 헛 is the "in vain" part. 수고 means "hard work."


John Mac said...

Incredible. There's nothing quite like working in hell. No way you could maintain that kind of pace without some serious health implications, not to mention having the joys of life obliterated. I had been on the fence about the wisdom of leaving your job before you had something else lined up, but no more. The sooner this nightmare ends, the better.

What did the CEO do to fill his hours before he began abusing you and your boss? And what will happen to your boss after you leave?

Kevin Kim said...

I imagine my boss will try to hang on, but I can't worry about his fate.

The CEO's always swanning about, doing something. And as the boss says, a lot of people are whispering in the CEO's ear. I'm sure the CEO has so much to do that he can fill his time with any number of agenda items.

I think the CEO said he'd done a lot of self-study in English before we became his personal tutors.