There are many times in one’s life where we question our values, our way of thinking and whether we are doing the “right thing”. Once upon a time, I worked in a job where those life altering questions ran through my mind every day. Every. single. day.
It’s not that I was bad at what I did. In fact, I was great at what I did (managing people) and I am extremely proud of my accomplishments in that job. Questioning the core of myself on a daily basis was due to the backstabbing, lying and manipulative ways of my co-workers. Not to turn this into a sob story, but at each moment I had to watch my back lest someone do or say something to undermine me, take credit for my ideas or generally make me look like I was a terrible employee. To top it off, my manager had no idea that those people were acting in that manner because as luck would have it they were also extremely good at sucking up to people in power. They were the type of people who would do anything, step on anyone, and make up any lie to get ahead.
To say this was stressful would be an understatement. It was more than that. I felt like I did not fit in because I did not agree with 99.9% of what happened in that department and eventually I had to face the truth that I hated my work environment. I started skipping team lunches (which was almost every day) to sit alone. I started becoming suspicious about everyone else I worked with, thinking that they would stab me in the back as well. Worst of all, there were times when I wanted to give up, quit my job and join the unemployment line because I felt so utterly different and alone.
But, I survived and things did get better! How? Well first, I thankfully found a true friend to confide in (hi Wendy!) that felt my pain too. Second, instead of quitting, I focused on getting a better job in a more supportive and collaborative environment (which I did!). And last, when I felt like giving up, I listened to that voice in my head that said “stay true to who you are because you will survive and things will get better.”
Now that I have moved on from that job, you would think I have left all of that drama behind me but it’s hard to avoid at times since some of those people I still see in the coffee room or cafeteria. I try not to let the sight of them aggravate me because I don’t want to be reminded of those difficult times. So, I try to focus on the positive which is that these terrible ex-coworkers remind me of who I really am (honest, trustworthy and hardworking) and who I am not (manipulative, willing to do anything to get ahead, a liar).
Being the type of lady that works hard in whatever career she chooses is a noble trait, but sometimes working hard is not enough, as I so quickly learned in my nightmare job. Like me, you may also have come across obstacles at work that make you question who you are and what you value. Sometimes you might even wonder if you will ever get ahead without lying, cheating manipulating others. So how can we get ahead with our true graceful selves in tact and survive workplace politics? How can we stay true to ourselves and still find career satisfaction? Here are some lessons, upon reflection of my job from hell, that I have learned:
1. Be nice: Always be polite, courteous and diplomatic to everyone. You never know when you might meet them next. Maybe one day they will even be your boss!
2. Don’t always be nice: Know when you have to be frank, bold and demanding so that things get done right.
3. Say yes: Don’t be afraid to step up for special tasks and projects – you have many talents so why not show off all the great things you can do?
4. Say no: You cannot be all things to all people. At times a project or task will require a skill that you are still acquiring or do not have and you will have to rely on the help of others to get things done efficiently and quickly.
5. Stay silent: You cannot always be open and direct with everyone – you will have to keep your opinions and thoughts quite at times to protect yourself. Observe your staff, peers and superiors so that you know who you can trust with confidential and private information.
6. Speak your mind: In the right situations (meetings, brainstorming sessions, when asked by those who can make real changes in your company) you must speak up and speak freely on the issues that are important. Don’t miss out on this chance – you cannot always get this time back!
When I leave work at the end of the day, I want to feel like I have done my absolute best but also have stayed true to who I am: an honest, trustworthy and graceful person. Reminding myself once in a while of the things that I have been through, where I am now and where I know I am going helps reassure me that getting ahead with grace is possible!