Struggle Stories Help Define Patterns

Code: Opportunity for Personal Growth

After two years in the position, I found myself standing in the bathroom with a tear-stained face... again. What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I make this work? I'm not a particularly emotional person and yet, here I was with swollen eyes and runny nose... again. Why was I letting my boss get to me like this?


This wasn't the first time I found myself struggling with an abusive boss in a bad environment. Just two positions before this one I had another abusive boss. As I stood looking in the mirror, my reflection said it all: You've been in this position before that, too.

I started to look back at all of my jobs, all the way back to being a food server at an IHOP in college. There were some exceptions; I did experience jobs where I was valued, where I thrived and became the professional person I am today. Looking back though, there were far too many similar situations in my past. This was a pattern.

It took some deep self-reflection to come to this conclusion, the most humbling and difficult moment in my career.

I had some complicity here.

What an awful realization. Who wants that kind of answer to a question? No one I know wants to admit they did something wrong or that they played a part in what was wrong with a relationship or job.

I'm not for a second suggesting that bullying and abuse is the fault of the victim.

I'm not for a second suggesting that it is ever okay to treat people badly or that a victim as somehow earned abuse.

there are circumstances and patterns, though, that when we see them in our lives can awaken us to our role in our own success, if we take responsibility as adults and choose to make changes.

I learned a lot of lessons in those 2+ years; I continue to face similar challenges, now I'm more aware of my actions that might be contributing to the problems.

Here are some of the lessons I continue to practice:

  1. Your contribution may not be necessary or may not add value to the discussion. Stop. Think. Listen. Then decide how or if to weigh in with your thoughts or suggestions.
  2. Trust is good, but take the time to know a person before you share. Trust your instincts! If you observe characteristics about a person, incorporate those observations into your overall level of trust and figure out with what you can trust each person in the environment. If someone is sharing gossip with you, they're likely sharing gossip about you.
  3. Related to #2, be careful where you dump (especially if you live in a small town), and DO NOT DUMP at work. The person you want to vent about may be right around the corner and that is simply disrespectful - and you will not like yourself afterward. As bad as it is, it can be worse when you know you've earned some of the scorn. Sometimes you need to share frustrations at work, be careful not to become the person who is constantly griping and complaining.
  4. Sometimes you have to play the game. Don’t antagonize, especially if it won’t bring you closer to your goal. Always think of your ultimate goal for the relationship and your job. I once hit "send" on an email I knew I shouldn't have sent. It took me about five minutes to feel the consequences and to know how sophomoric I was for sabotaging my own day. That's where I developed the 24 Hour Rule.
  5. Be aware that your position in the project may not be what you want it to be, find out what's expected for your role and focus! Do your job with all of your skills and energy, and learn what you must to do your job well. My mom once told me that every trial you face will keep coming back until you learn your lesson from it. Remember that it's not forever and that you must "find the nugget" before you can leave.
  6. Find people you trust and who know you well, but are separate enough from the situation to provide an outside perspective, and ask them for specific ideas about where you should be looking for your next adventure.
  7. When faced with a difficult situation, reflect on how you would want to perceive it from 20 years in the future. Did you handle it well, with grace, dignity and compassion?
  8. Sometimes people are just mean. It may be time to call them on it and stand up for yourself and others, or get out.
  9. My most unpleasant lesson: Figure out how you might be complicit in your own patterns of frustration in jobs and relationships. Until you identify your patterns, you will continue to face similar situations. If every boss, or every romantic partner in your life was the same... the common piece of the puzzle is you.


There are no easy answers.


Be kind to yourself while you work through this. And know that you are a work in progress; what makes you happy and content today will probably change in the future.