To paraphrase St. Francis, I am my own worst enemy.
Yesterday, I tackled the issue of my last, worst "bad boss" in an effort to put three gruelling years behind me. I have been dreaming of my last job; haunting, angry, anxious dreams where nothing goes right. Where I am abandoned by colleagues and friends.
Yesterday, writing that blog, I had a migraine: a blitzkrieg of flashing lights and tunnel vision. It told me I was on the right track: I was hitting a nerve. Today, as I've tried to write this, my depression has been so very deep and bleak.
There is no escaping that I was part of the equation in my "bad boss" experience. I need to lay bare my sins and failures, and take responsibility for them. I'll also lay bear some of my deepest fears and weaknesses.
I do this because it is (past) time to move on. If I don't, I am not only my own worst enemy - I am also my own jailer.
Let's start with my condition when I arrived
at my job 3 years ago.
There is no possible way of holding my "bad boss" responsible for my condition in 2010. I had gotten out of my long-term relationship the year before. I had met someone new after I left my husband: I moved and took a job in another city for this new man. He disappeared... and soon the job did too.
Then my money started drying up.
I made mistakes in that job: the first was taking it. I felt uncomfortable through the interview process. My immediate supervisor was a peculiar woman, and I thought, "No one will please her." And I didn't, especially when I made a mistake, as we sometimes do, in the first few months of the job.
Of course, my first mistake was in not listening to my instincts. This is a common mistake for me in the job sphere. I often dive in, and don't ask enough questions, wanting others to like and appreciate me without respecting my own needs. Or finding out who they are. If they like me, surely they will respect me? Surely if they like me, that's all I want?
No. And no.
I am very likable. My friends are varied and many of long standing. I'm a good friend. I show up and help. I angst. I call and cajole. I hug and listen. I encourage and support.
I am also very good at sourcing out positive relationships with the opposite sex. When I divorced my husband, I got into BDSM. Many people have found themselves in dangerous situations when they first get into BDSM, especially if you are submissive, as I am. Allowing a stranger to tie you up, blindfold you, gag you, beat you and fuck you can open you up to great risk. But I choose (for the most part) good, respectable, respecting and responsible partners. I am friends with most of them now, 3-5 years later. I asked the questions that allowed me to get a good feeling for these men and increase my safety.
But in the job sphere? No: I relied too much on luck, and feeling that the odds had to work in my favour (for once!) That's a risky way to behave either in a job search OR in a man search. But I did it over and over again in the job search.
I think it comes back to self esteem. I have always been challenged, professionally, in this area. I've never really been mentored. I had to raise myself as the child of alcoholic parents and I pushed myself into a professional career when the others in my family are mechanics and electricians, farmers and housewives. I'm the only person in my family to graduate from university: that includes first cousins on both my maternal and paternal sides: possibly second cousins too.
However, as a result, I've also always felt out of touch with the professional world, like I didn't quite belong.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."
My fault is I give them permission, by acting inferior, without them even asking for it. I lined up to feel inferior. I feel better, sometimes, when I think I have assumed my "place". Perhaps this "place" is safer for me, I think.
Yet I am sometimes stubborn, obstinate, mulish: dominant and loud-mouthed. I'm not inferior then. I can be arrogant about my intelligence. I have had people tell me that I am very intimidating.
But I don't want to do that either: I care about people. I'm empathetic. I have been judgmental in the past, but much of that is gone. I get disgusted, particularly by hypocrisy in our leaders: I demand honesty of (and with) myself. To demand something of others, when you give a "get out of jail free" card to yourself, is despicable.
And, yet, I might have done it, lately. You'll decide.
So, at my last position, with the "bad boss", I arrived bruised and broken, and broke. Frantic about money. I was living with a friend, who took me and my dog in. I slept in her daughter's bed.
I wanted to contribute at my last job: I had all the skills and I had the necessary experiences. I took it, at this small company, to learn how to do the boss's job - to move up. I took it at a lower pay than I had worked in 10 years, because I knew I was struggling with anxiety and my confidence. I gave him a discount because of my emotional state.
When my boss would challenge me, or try to belittle my approach, I defended myself at first. I didn't just roll over. But instead of him backing off, or developing respect for me, it appeared as though he was determined to win. It would keep escalating unless one of us changed tactics. So, I just stopped debating. That was a mistake: because it made me feel like I was wrong and admitting defeat. It further affected my confidence.
I could have responded a different way. I could have been tackled the different communication styles we had head on: I had in previous jobs, and it had almost always turned out to be positive and created more understanding. But my lack of confidence led me to listen to my colleague (she of the "Mean Mommy" theory). She told me he didn't appreciate those kinds of conversations, and so I never had an honest conversation with my "bad boss".
Only I can take responsibility for that. I KNEW that honesty and being forthright was the best way to tackle issues of this nature, but I did not do it. I retreated. And as a result, I drifted further from my self, and diminished my sense of confidence.
I began to be insecure and behave defensively. What was I, if I could not even write a human resources manual? What was I, if I could not even propose a strategy? I had done such work for a large national organization but now I appeared to "know nothing" at this tiny organization.
And I bought into this idea that I knew nothing.
Then there was my work style: if I sent an email to my colleagues, asking a question, I was wrong to do so. I should walk out of my office and talk to them. Of course, the only person that bothered was him: I talked to my colleagues about how I did things. And often the email was a follow-up or a reminder for discussions they and I had had about the issues I was working on. It gave them a chance to send me content for things like proposals and newsletters. When I sent an email, the goal was to get an email response.
But nothing I did was right. Me, who had tackled issues around human resources, conflicts of interests, personality conflicts in the workplace: I was told I did not handle human relations well. Me, who had coached my subordinates back from substance-abuse and job termination to be productive members of the team, was told I did not know how to supervise people.
And I bought it. It took a while, but even as I started to realize that my supervisor was a "bad boss", I also started to FEEL like I was an immense loser. I felt broken. I contemplated suicide at least once a week for the first 18 months I worked at this organization. I had no money, I was a failure, I could do nothing right.
But I persevered. I got out of bed 18 or 19 days a month for work (there are on average 20 work days a month). Some of my colleagues were sick much more often than I was (it was that kind of place).
I should have left: some will ask my why I didn't. Given my financial situation, I couldn't quit without another job or employment insurance. I did look for other jobs: but if I got as far as an interview, I fell apart. Afraid, unsure how to sell myself. And each job I didn't get, became another reason to hate myself.
My anxiety was high, my thoughts were bleak, and my energy was shot. My confidence was less than zero.
That's when I started being unproductive, and letting things slide. Some things overwhelmed me. Some things I simply forgot, due to stress and anxiety. I'd try to track things on work sheets, like I used to in my earlier career, but because there was no accountability, there was no successes. No supervision, no encouragement.
It was frightening to try to bring my mind to something, to solve a problem, and feel my mind skitter sideways, like a horse afraid of a car back-firing. It made me think of Alzheimer's, dementia, and a hundred other disorders. My mind had always been my servant: now I was its victim. I sought help from my GP, from a psychologist, from friends. It didn't seem to help. Sense of self, discipline, strength, fled me.
I became the bad employee all employers dread. And I had only myself to blame.
I hated myself. I hated my fears. I hated my situation.
I've talked about how my "bad boss" demanded a meeting in January one year, to discuss my performance, and then, despite telling me not to "let him off the hook", refused to meet with me the 8-10 times in January and February that I asked to meet with him.
Five years prior, I would have walked in to his office, shut the door, and sat myself down and demanded his time and attention. I would have been honest but professional. But I didn't have the confidence to do that. His discomfort (and I know he was uncomfortable) inspired self-loathing in me. I felt like I was beneath his consideration.
I should have been the person I am. I should have been courageous and just told myself to "fuck it: let him see me as I am". But I did not have the courage. For the first two years I worked there, I considered how I would kill myself if I lost my job. While I had my car, I considered driving into the lake. I thought of jumping from tall buildings.
I hated myself for getting rid of all the migraine medication I no longer needed: it might have been enough to kill me.
Now, this day, I struggle with the idea that I have no talent. That I am a dried up, waste of a human being. I'm still many, many positive things, but fearful I am. I freeze up at the sight of a blank page. I don't know how to do things that I used to be celebrated for.
I am afraid. I am afraid of failing. I am afraid of being told that what I do, what I know, what I AM, is not enough.
I live with this fear. I had it, in a gentle bud, when I met my "bad boss": but I allowed it to grow. I nurtured it and fertilized it with his words and my doubts.
It started to turn around for me when I met my current partner. He grounded me. Reminded me that I loved ideas, communication, people, and the work that I did. I did start to improve, the suicidal thoughts abated until this month, but the relationship with the "bad boss" was too far gone to change my situation at work.
Now, my fears are my biggest enemy. I have to cut those back, and prune them. Become functioning and contributing again.
I don't know how to do that anymore.