Learning to deal with your worst boss.


A few days ago, my wife Jenny and I had a conversation. It went like this:

“Why are you taking so many Advil?”

“Because my neck hurts. I’m stressed because I have a lot of work to do.”

“Then you have a horrible boss. And it’s you.”

Ugh. She was right. I’ve learned something surprising recently.

The worst boss I’ve ever had is me.

That guy is a huge jerk.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked for demanding people before, but never like this guy. It’s never enough with him. I tweet, I blog, I facebook. Come April 7, 2015, I will have published 5 books in 5 years. I’m speaking across the country and working harder than I ever have before.

And he still thinks I should be doing more.

There’s always one more opportunity to chase, one more tweet to send or one more moment to capitalize on. It’s exhausting and the worst part is, unlike every other boss I’ve ever had, he lives with me!

When I lay my head down on the pillow, it is him who chases me into fitful sleep.

When I rise, it is him telling me I slept in too late.

When I shower, he’s even there, shouting ideas over the sound of the water, a cacophony of tasks that I must see to that day.

His favorite word is “more.” More hours spent behind a laptop, more blog posts written, more emails answered. More. More. More.

The confusing part is that this relationship started off so well. We used to be friends. Years ago, when I was frustrated at my job, it was he who told me I could be more, that I could do more. On the mornings I didn’t want to write a blog before going to my corporate job, he was the one cheering me on.

But the cheers have turned to jeers, the encouragement to discouragement. The advil from occasional medicine to regular candy.

What’s the solution? That’s what blog posts need right? Somewhere along the way I started to believe a blog post was like a sitcom. People are busy. String a couple of jokes together, transition to a problem people relate to, wrap it up with a solution in under 400 words. Cue golden retriever to run through as the credits roll. You take the good, you take the bad, you take it all and there you have, the Facts of Life.

But life isn’t like sitcoms and blogs shouldn’t be either. (Unless it’s The Wonder Years. That was my jam growing up. Winnie Cooper!)

I don’t have a solution to this miserable boss haunting me. Just a confession. I have a horrible boss right now. As I type this, he’s swearing I should be focusing on something else. As I close my laptop I know he will say, “You should have written two posts, not just one.”

If you have a horrible boss too, let’s be honest about that. Let’s drag these dragons into the light. Nothing ruins a dream like a nightmare of a boss. And he’s coming for your dream too. She’s coming to tighten her hands around the joy you initially start a dream with under the guise of “improvement” or “hustle.”

The days of my horrible boss are numbered. I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I know he doesn’t have long left. I’m on to him. I’m done playing a role and acting like I’ve got it all together. I don’t. I don’t care if he tells me I’m a published author and have an image to maintain. That’s stupid. Horrible bosses are the worst.

If you’ve got one too, let’s hear about it.

It’s going to get messy. And loud. And at the end fun. Why fun? Because we’re about to get better bosses.

You in?

  • Joey E
    Posted at 04:48h, 22 September Reply

    I feel like I could have written this about me. Except of all the success part.

    But The Wonder Years & Winnie Cooper? Yeah, that would have been the same.

    • Shelli
      Posted at 21:12h, 22 September Reply

      Ha! Me too. I have a horrible boss who tells me I am never doing enough – but I haven’t had much success with my writing!

  • David Mike
    Posted at 06:09h, 22 September Reply

    There is a fine line that you can cross. It lives between striving to do your best and trying to get it all done. It’s maddening and debilitating. For me it’s the need to provide for my family. Having two jobs creates a scenario in which I have less energy for my family that I’m trying to take care of. Recognizing the problem is a step in the right direction.

  • Laura Crosby
    Posted at 06:32h, 22 September Reply

    Yes, yes, yes! When we’re our own boss I think it’s easier to get sucked into the “more” that feeds our false self – the one that’s dependent on “likes” and “retweets”, “follows” and sales. It’s harder to set boundaries, take Sabbaths, and sit in our belovedness as children God delights in regardless of our productivity.

  • Josh
    Posted at 08:57h, 22 September Reply

    “Let’s drag these dragons into the light.”

  • Nick
    Posted at 10:27h, 22 September Reply

    My boss really haunts my work performance. Weird, you would think he would be helpful!

  • Wally
    Posted at 10:27h, 22 September Reply

    You don’t have to be self-employed to have this guy as your boss. He’s an expert in middle management.

  • Brian Darby
    Posted at 10:28h, 22 September Reply

    The problem is that you forgot to look at the size of your elephant.

    “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”?

    I know this because I’ve done it. I’m just eating away at the elephant, plate by plate, mouthful by mouthful. Some days I start with big pieces and work my way down, sometimes I start with little ones and work my way up. But if you don’t look at the elephant from time to time, you forget how much you’ve eaten, and if you don’t pace yourself, you may finish the elephant well before you should have.

    And the bad thing for me is, when I get close to being done, I see another elephant. I get discouraged. I think, “My family NEEDS me to eat all these elephants!” No they don’t. They need you to make enough money to keep them fed and clothed. That’s it. That’s all they NEED you to do. All the other stuff is extra stuff. So focus on that elephant.

    And if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be busy taking my own advice.

  • Rick Theule
    Posted at 10:29h, 22 September Reply

    Jon – Tell your horrible boss to ‘shove it’, and then tell yourself this phrase every time he walks back in the room: “You are enough.”

  • Fred
    Posted at 10:36h, 22 September Reply

    Jon – it is great to put this out in the open. Once you recognize it, you can start implementing a plan to change it. Start now!

  • Mike Asbury
    Posted at 10:37h, 22 September Reply

    It’s all true, Jon, but remember (just like with everyone else in the world) that we also have to forgive ourselves. Our perfectionists and drivers are no more perfect than the rest of us. We can work to tame them, but they have some well-established habits! Be patient with yourself.

  • Jody
    Posted at 10:44h, 22 September Reply


  • Debbie Davis
    Posted at 10:49h, 22 September Reply

    Every type of personality comes with it’s own set of strengths and limitations. The very qualities that drive you to succeed can so often cause increased stress, anxiety, and a drop in self-esteem. I’m very glad that Jenny is there to help you not only see but also reign in that miserable boss of yours.

  • Mike Dell
    Posted at 10:54h, 22 September Reply

    I know that guy! 🙂

  • thannon
    Posted at 10:54h, 22 September Reply

    As soon as I read the title my boss said, I am your worst boss. My real bosses are great, but the me-boss is what stresses me out at home and at work too. It’s so hard for me to talk about it but it is still the painful truth that I am the meanest person to myself. She’s a bully. In the mirror, in my unfinished tasks and lists, in my parenting too, she is just a hard critic who is never pleased. The only thing that helps me relax the grip I have on myself, is reminding me that even when I was the messiest, God chose me, and loves me. And nothing I do or don’t do according to my standards will change that fact. He made me unique and loves the person I am: procrasstonator, messy, not who my brain says I should be. Just me like that. Blows my mind when I think about it. Loves me… No matter what… God is good, all the time.

  • Toni Hammer
    Posted at 10:55h, 22 September Reply

    I had the same problem, fired that boss, and got a new one. My new boss sets super attainable daily goals.

    Why? Why not set massive goals that will make me feel like I won the Super Bowl when I reach them?

    Because I have two toddlers to take care of, a house to clean, a book to write, and a blog to maintain. My day’s are busy from sun up to sun down. So I set achievable daily goals because then one of three things will happen:

    1. I won’t reach them. That’s okay. Sometimes life happens like that.
    2. I’ll reach them. Yay!
    3. I’ll reach these easily attainable goals, have a few more minutes, and surpass that goal with more work. I find that my motivation is fueled by reaching smaller goals so I’m more apt to exceed them when given the opportunity.

    I hope you find a new boss, Jon.

    • Suzewannabe
      Posted at 13:18h, 22 September Reply

      Oh, I like this.
      Just for today I will.
      1. Wash my hair.
      2. Go window shop and sign up for food delivery from whole foods.
      3. Watch 1 video on molecules unless I really get to enjoying myself…

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 15:36h, 22 September Reply

      That is a great idea! I love the concept of setting attainable goals.

  • Adrienne Fajen
    Posted at 11:06h, 22 September Reply

    This was something I hadn’t factored in when I became an entrapeneur! Thank you for helping me look in the mirror at my own worst critic and toughest boss again. It really helps!

  • Cheryl
    Posted at 11:20h, 22 September Reply

    Yes! The great irony is that many of us who have what it takes to be our own boss also have what it takes to the that horrible boss. I have struggled mightily with this. Three years ago, when I formed my consulting company, I said I would be content if I could just replace my prior salary. I did that easily in year 1 — and then some — but I wasn’t content. There was more to be done, more success to be had, more security to be tucked away, more clients to wow. I have been miserable. I have started saying, “No” and it feels great!

  • Josh Martin
    Posted at 12:17h, 22 September Reply

    this is my daily struggle for the past 6years…thanks for sharing.
    especially lately when headache medicine seems to be a staple every 4-6hours…so maybe I should stop letting my boss tell me it’s just the Canadian weather!
    If I come up with a good solution I will share also…

  • Maurice
    Posted at 12:40h, 22 September Reply

    oh gosh…so so relevant. I think anyone hustling for better can relate to this. I’m excited to continue reading some or your ideas for dealing with your horrible boss – would love some tips on dealing with mine too – thanks for sharing!

    • Jon Acuff
      Posted at 15:34h, 22 September Reply

      Thanks Maurice, glad you liked it!

  • Suzewannabe
    Posted at 13:14h, 22 September Reply

    I seem to have 3 bosses.

    One at my day job I like. Best one I have had in years-hands-off and trusts me to do my job. I just submitted an abstract to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. While on medical leave.

    Boss 2: Superscthientisth with a Cape: Appeared just after surgery #5 for endometriosis and the giant appendix that ate Houston. “Well, let’s learn Biology, Organic Chemistry and Genetics! C’mon! We have youtube! Look at all those molecules! It’s interesting and we need to solve this and post on welliebellie.com and find a better treatment or cure before we die, right?”

    Boss 3# The “Marine” (Viking from Kattigat): c’mon you Swedish wuss! Well, when you recover from MAJOR SURGERY, it’s time to hit that gym again and stay on the protein-only diet! Lose that last 10 lbs and keep it off. Ok, SOME GENTLENESS with the follow-up surgery, but then, whack! Back at it!!
    I hate her the most. Food is now so incredibly boring. I hate it.

    See a theme here? I have to VENT by writing. I love to write!

    Suzewannabe.com (money), binge-watching tv and genealogy are fun hobbies!

  • Michelle P.
    Posted at 13:53h, 22 September Reply

    My horrible boss likes to take turns with the horrible mom and horrible wife voices to make me feel like an utter failure in all areas. They really like to bring insomnia to the party and hang out until 1am-3am several nights a week. I wish they would all move on!

  • Leslie
    Posted at 19:39h, 22 September Reply

    Oh goodness, get out of my head!! My boss is telling me I shouldn’t be wasting time commenting on blogs, but I’m punching fear in the face! Thanks for the honesty and putting things in perspective, so needed right now…

  • Tom Swan
    Posted at 05:44h, 23 September Reply

    Wow Jon-

    Just when I thought you had written your best post ever you top that with another outstanding post.

    Great job!

    For me it’s not so much that my inter boss is demanding because lets be honest sometimes we all need to be pushed. But the real problem is he never appreciates what I do get accomplished. A little gratitude does a lot for my attitude!

  • Jennifer Jones
    Posted at 16:43h, 23 September Reply

    you nailed it! I beat myself up constantly! Never satisfied with my accomplishments. More, more, more and that attitude is where putting work above everything else begins! And that’s a recipe for disaster! We must have a championship faith & family first, then we can have a championship business.

  • Kristin Meador
    Posted at 02:37h, 24 September Reply

    That’s it – I quit! Or am I fired?

    I so get this. Since horrible people like you have ruined my life by encouraging me to dream (of course, I’m kidding), my boss has not been able to control me. I have no idea what my job description is, and I am still formulating the mission statement.

    In all seriousness, I find it curious that pursuing our dreams and freeing ourselves can also become more internally demanding. When will we believe that we’re already ‘enough’, and in turn, be free to pursue the BEST of who we are and what we can create?

  • ikechi
    Posted at 01:38h, 25 September Reply

    Hi Jon

    I understand how you feel but I have learnt that you need a balance

  • Jason Scott Montoya
    Posted at 11:46h, 25 September Reply

    Jon, I appreciate you sharing this 🙂 There are two gifts God has given us which I believe help us with the issues you have brought up. Prayer and the honoring the Sabbath. Both acknowledge our limits and are choices we make where we choose not to act. In my journey, I had to learn to do less and trust God to do more. Honoring the Sabbath and intentional consistent prayer are what God used to help me to do this.

  • Abby
    Posted at 17:06h, 25 September Reply

    Honestly, I usually don’t push myself hard enough. But when I read this post… I was home sick with the flu, and beating myself up for not being as productive as normal. Lol! Yeah, I’m a crappy boss.

    Time to reset my goals for the day… Thanks for the post!

  • Kristin
    Posted at 13:25h, 29 September Reply

    I also have a horrible boss. I can always come up with more things for myself to do. I use a web app called IQTell to put all the little tasks and things I want to accomplish. Every night, I pick five from the list to work on the next day. If I can accomplish those, the little voice in my head starts to shut up a bit. I have also noticed that I can get my boss to quiet down if I can dump new ideas somewhere. I also use IQTell’s “Someday” feature for those ideas that I don’t want to lose. It’s a great app.

  • Robin E. Mason
    Posted at 11:50h, 05 January Reply

    sounds rather like the difference between prefectionism [a wicked taskmaster] and excellence. I know, I lived under that taskmaster most of the years of my life. Godly excellence is different because He allows for shortcomings, and comes alongside to make up that difference. don’t get me wrong, I still have to face down the Taskmaster sometimes, and remind myself to be kinder, gentler – less demanding – with myself. oh, and as a writer, some of my best “work” is done daydreaming!!!

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