Wednesday, August 1, 2018
As I approach my 42nd birthday this fall, I've been doing a lot of mental and emotional processing. You could say I've had a lot to process the last four months, besides the normal reflections of middle-age. This is the time where people normally decide to either start living or continue the process of figuratively dying. Middle-age is also a time where people usually decide who they're going to be for the second half of their lives, evaluating what's worked, what hasn't, and what they need to do to embrace the changes they've decided to become. Some of us more reflective types have been doing that for decades, but why not take the time to do it when it you've accumulated enough wisdom to make it seem more real?
That's what I'm going to attempt to do here. Those of you who have been reading this blog for years or who have gotten to know me well enough in person realize this "reflection thing" is a core part of who I am. You also know how easy it is for me to oscillate between choices because I see, value, and am so many different things. Well, approaching 42nd birthday aside, for the past four months I've been processing a lot of mixed emotions and difficult choices. There's been resolve, resolution, relief, frustration, longing, sadness, some happiness, some regret, confusion, a desire to hold on to people, a desire to let go of people, a desire to let go of falsehoods, identities, and tasks, a desire to be honest, a desire to keep being the better person, self-examination of my contributions to the dynamics, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and hurt. A lot of hurt.
During the past four months, I left an employer I didn't really want to, but I let go of a job and an environment that had become toxic for me. I'd felt for years that it was time for me to move on, but someone always ended up leaving before I decided to put it in writing, or a big project and a lot of work was looming, or I was needed to do something else or support someone else.....everyone else except me. It's a long-winded way of saying I made decisions based on my perception of what others needed, not what I needed.
I also tolerated years of mistreatment - from bosses, peers, subordinates. When my fuse would finally start to spark, it was too much too late. And people didn't understand why nice, overly compliant, overly supportive, and overly agreeable me would be any different. Actions I took seemed unacceptable for me, but they certainly were acceptable for everyone else. I could be yelled at, demeaned repeatedly (often in front of others), misunderstood, interrupted, dismissed, and talked to condescendingly without consequence. But if I even started to resemble those things, it was game over. I didn't feel human anymore. I couldn't agree, I couldn't disagree, I couldn't take the time to think. There wasn't any support for my mistakes. In fact, it felt as though there wasn't any support at all. I was a punching bag and a dumping ground, and as long as I continued to fulfill those roles everything was okay.
Others who worked with me (some of them not even in the same department) pointed out my unhappiness and mistreatment long before I was willing to admit it to myself. I'm grateful for that and for the opportunity to take other jobs in the organization, even though I ended up not following through because of the nature of the job itself. I wanted to stay and I wanted to work with the people I would have worked with, but I didn't want to end up with a potential misalignment with my true interests and the responsibilities of the position. I'm also grateful for those who forgave my less than ideal (re)actions, and for the talks that validated my perceptions of what was happening. Thank you for offering to go to bat for me, even though I wanted to have the conversation myself with the people who were at the core of my feelings of betrayal and hurt. I never did have that conversation. I always felt as though I were walking on eggshells and I let my desire to please/avoid confrontation override the need to be honest and to honor myself.
I wanted to be honest, but the trust was long gone. And I didn't know if it would come back. Three years ago it was blown apart and I was hurt. Not the first time, but I was hurt to the point where I couldn't speak because what I felt as a result was so overwhelming. I couldn't process or identify the swirl of negativity that had happened. I knew what had happened was bullying - mobbing to be more exact. But I chose to say nothing because I wasn't sure if it was part of some sort of misguided, bizarre ritual that took place with everyone, if I had become a target because true to my conscientiousness I was a "model employee," or if this was retaliation for thinking for myself and choosing not to go along with what someone else wanted me to do at the time. Plus, when I'm shocked, uncomfortable, or a past trauma is triggered, my mind and entire body freezes. I lose my words, can't make decisions, and I can't act. I suppose a professional might call this an effect of PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder, but since it's been with me since I can remember I consider it "normal." I had made a mistake, maybe several, yes. But the instructions I was given were to try and someone else would fill in the blanks, if needed. I didn't realize I was being set up to fail and then publicly humiliated for it, among other things that I did not have knowledge of and/or were beyond my direct control. At that moment, I stopped trusting. I stopped being completely honest. And I stopped wanting to continue trying.
I knew from life experiences that people hurt others because they themselves have been hurt or they're carrying angst they don't know how to process in a healthy manner. I also knew at that point I started to disengage and thought of leaving. I started to line up possibilities. I was ready to leave, but I didn't because someone else beat me to it. And once again I chose to put the needs of others before my own. Looking back, I should have left anyway; regardless of what my absence would have meant, because I was only prolonging the inevitable. I carried the hurt and the shock of that experience for three years. I wondered why someone would choose to publicly humiliate and berate someone for making mistakes without clear direction. If you set someone up to fail, it isn't fair to punish them for not meeting your expectations. Why not use it as an opportunity to coach or mentor in private? Why not ask why certain directions and choices were made, and then explain politely and constructively why other directions and choices were more optimal?
But as humans, we often model what we've been shown or what has been done to us without realizing we're doing the same thing to others we told ourselves we wouldn't. After that "incident," I was no longer able to trust some of the people I needed to trust; people I was supposed to be able to trust. So for three years I wasn't fully authentic. And of course making that type of decision cost me a piece of who I was. And the job and its environment started to mirror the same experience I had separated myself from in 2011. It was more or less the same lesson given from a different angle. When will you listen? You matter. Your needs matter. What do you really want? It matters. Not what others think or what they want you to do. It's about you.
It seems selfish, but the truth is authenticity is the foundation of being able to give. And if you sacrifice your passions, your needs, your wants, who you are, you simply can't be anything to anyone else. And those who are around you or asking and needing things of you because of a mask, shouldn't be there. It's not healthy and it's better to let go.
Suffice it to say that letting go of an employer I didn't want to (but had to) is only one of the changes I've been processing. As my forty-first year of life comes to a close and my forty-second one begins, I'm hoping I can take better care of myself. I'm hoping I no longer tolerate toxicity and actually stand up when it happens, not when it becomes engulfing. I'm also hoping I learn to say "you hurt me. can we fix this if you're able to give me what I need." If not, I release and forgive you, but goodbye.