"You know, I am not that person. I can't go down there and tell people to stop picking on you."
These were the words my boss used when I spoke with him about the work environment in which I found myself months after taking my latest job. He knew some of the managers I worked with were intentionally stone-walling me, undermining me, and generally engaging in back stabbery. But he would do nothing at all about it.
This was not the first time I had experienced this type of thing in the work place. In fact, I have experienced it in most of the places in which I have worked. This was different though in that my boss made me no false promises, and that, in a way, gave me permission to do what I needed to do to take care of myself.
And this was a first in my professional life. In every other case, I was asked, little by little, to bend, little by little, to forget small parts of myself that, while very important to me, were getting in the way of a smooth operational environment at work. Over the course of my work life at any job, I would lose a sense of myself, little by little, until finally, I would have to quit just short of losing my mind.
Losing yourself by inches is a profoundly painful thing to witness, because you know that you are participating in your own disintegration. You watch as those around you, the people who have been treating you so badly, get to go through their days as if nothing is a problem, and no one gets in their way, all the while knowing that you are making space for this to happen. Over time, this can really be discouraging. Over time, this can really affect the way you view yourself and your place in the world.
So with his permission, I handled it myself. I handled it myself for two years, until I could no longer do it. It turns out that it is a lot of work securing your boundaries and having confrontational conversations every time you witness someone trying to fuck with you. But I did, and every time I did, I felt better about myself, and when I quit, it was happily, and with no regrets, because I never had to bend and I never had to be less than who I was. To the contrary, every time I had a conversation with someone who was engaging in unprofessional behavior, I grew.
Being trained in this way to take care of myself really elevated my awareness of what I felt I was worth. In the end, it was what encouraged me to leave. Quitting was not hard, because it was just another way in which I was taking care of myself at work. I saw that the job was not worth all the things I had to do to put up with it, and it also showed me that I did love the place I worked, and I wanted to keep loving it, even after I left, so I left while I was still pretty happy. And I am happy still.
It has also spread into other areas of my life. I won't bend or diminish in favor of another, not in work, not in love, and not in life. But many people do, because we are asked to do it in school, at home, in every place we get to practice being human. But this practice, this training of non-diminishment is important, because even as I do not give way for another, I also grow, I expand, and I begin to understand just how valuable I am.
Are you important enough to ask for better? Yes. You are. So ask for it. Demand it. Do not make yourself smaller so some other person can satisfy their ego. The more you do it, the more you will see and feel your value, and the easier it will be to guard and care for it.
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