Don't let my Italian surname "Genova" fool you. Half of me is Eastern European with the surname of "Miksza," which a streetsmart uncle changed to "Mitchell." That half is the Mad Russian part and accounts, I'm now convinced, for why I have had more than the usual share of dysfunctional clients.
Growing up, what felt normal and even safe and secure to me was craziness, the wild Cossacks type. The Mikszas even looked the part. Some had flaming red hair. Most were always animated. Moods shifted fast. How I loved the action.
And that's exactly what dysfunctional clients bring, or more accurately, brought to my unaction-filled life once I fled the family in Hudson County, New Jersey and relocated in WASPy Connecticut.
Dysfunctional clients were pure intensity. Although they, like my uncle Frank Mitchell, were savvy enough to take on the protective coloring of professionalism, they weren't able or willing to sustain appropriate behavior. Inevitably, they defaulted into chaos: Very early and very late phone calls, ham-handed attempts at manipulation, reluctance to pay, and almost a family-business paranoia that outsiders (like me) would destroy their business.
In running my little my communications boutique I sought out and got clients with serious emotional issues. The wildness mirrored the high and low points of my childhood. But, I left my family of origin, right. And it was only a matter of time when I would eventually have to stop acquiring those kinds of clients. It's all too depleting.
In 2003, I stopped or tried to.
I took a job outside my field. It was as a contract loss prevention officer in Home Depot, Bridgeport, CT. Clear as a bell it became: Most people don't have to do crazy things to earn a living. My fellow loss prevention officers came to the job for the paycheck, benefits and some socializing.
For five months I consulted with a cognitive therapist Amy Karnilowicz, West Hartford, CT. Slowly then rapidly I saw myself much like the writer Zuckerman in Philip Roth's "Human Stain." What I had believed all my life to be right had turned out to be wrong. Karnilowicz and I worked together to try out some other ideas about living.
I took a vow of poverty or renounced excess materialism. I wouldn't need to earn tons of money any more, right. So, I could now choose my clients, right.
Well, initially I chose the same kinds of crazy clients. I figured, wrongly, that since I had changed, the dynamics of the relationship with clients would change. In no time I was looking forward again to the aberrant phoning habits, their temper tantrums, their arguments about the fee for service.
Call it grace, or maybe the universe started smiling on me or maybe it's the reduced energy and reserves which come with aging. But, in the past few months I let the most dysfunctional of the pack go. And the merry misfits haven't gotten back in or even tried to. Maybe I am finally sending the message that the Cossacks don't live here any more. Maybe there's just a time lag between learning something and living it. Whatever. Each of the new clients is, well, normal. Shock: I can live with normal.