"What are you most proud of in your professional life?"
I am sitting in a room, being interviewed for a job I want, and this question passes the lips of one of the three people interviewing me. I think, for only a moment. I know what my answer is, it comes right up in my head, but I know if I say it, I most likely will be disqualified, because my proudest professional moment was the moment I had finally had enough at my last job and decided to do something about it.
In that position, over the course of four years, I had been felt up by the college president, dragged through the mud after I found out a colleague was stealing from the college, overheard my boss and a colleague badmouth my abilities, incorrectly, to cover for my colleague's inability to do her job, and undermined by some of the faculty who did not like the rules that applied to them. These events are only the highlights of a tenure that was filled with misogynistic dealings that I had to contend with on an almost daily basis in this position.
The moment I had had enough was when one of my employees told me that my new boss had been badmouthing me. I decided to use it to my advantage, and I did. When I was finished, they paid me to leave. I will not go through the strategic wizardry I pulled off in order to make this happen, let's just suffice it to say that it was worthy of a Lifetime Movie Event.
In the end, I told this story in my interview, and as I predicted, was disqualified from the competition for the position, but, to this day, I hold that this was still my finest professional hour, because against all odds and what I have been brainwashed to do, I stood up for myself and won. I was able to keep my cool, operate in an ethical manner, and come out on top.
After this, handling the ridiculous undermining and backstabbing that occurs at some jobs was pretty easy, because I realized that the best way to handle misogynistic behavior is to not engage, but document EVERYTHING. The thing about bullies at work, and yes, they are bullies, there is no better word for them, is that they are looking for the fight. They are looking for the struggle. They want to engage in the power games they create. When you don't engage, they lose. When you don't engage and keep a daily journal that you share with HR, you win. When you don't engage, document everything, and build an alliance at work among your colleagues you can depend on to stand with you, you are at all-star level professionalism.
I did not get that job, which turned out to be just fine, and from then on, I never used that as my answer to that particular question again, but I hold to it.
There have been so many times in life when I have felt like I couldn't stick up for myself because if I did, I would have been punished. I have felt like I was caught in a losing game where only the cruel and under-handed could win, and I was too afraid of losing what I had to stand for the right thing. If I told my boss to take his hand off my knee, I might be fired, or lose a chance at the promotion I had been working for. If I told a colleague that she would not get away with blaming me for her shortcomings, she would make it more challenging for me to do my job. If I told my boss that one of my colleagues was stealing, he would turn the tables by accusing me of even worse.
Over time, the more I allowed, the more it wore me down, the more badly I felt about myself, and the more I would allow. It was a vicious cycle and over time, it began to ruin me. It also began to effect how much I wanted to work, how good I could be in my position.
I realized in that moment, when my employee told me what my boss was saying, that I didn't care. I decided I was more important, and that if I lost the promotion, or the job, or what have you, that was okay. I was so tired of letting people walk on me. I was done with allowing people to get away with being shitty.
Now that I have come to this point and crushed it, I am no longer afraid but prepared. I know that I will stand up for myself no matter what. This mindset gives me power and confidence in almost any situation that no matter what occurs, I will choose me, even if I lose an external goal or reward I have been working toward.
No matter the arena, I will choose myself, and in that, I will be a better employee, boss, friend, lover, mentor, artist, writer, or whatever else I choose to be.
Next month will be the fourth year anniversary of this blog. I have been writing it consistently, almost every week, and I started with this same message.
Choose yourself first, always. The more you do it, the easier it is, and the less you will be willing to give up for the comfort of others. Be strong in your convictions regarding your value. We live in a culture which profits from our self-doubt. Do not allow that to convince you that you are worthless.
You are not.
Dig it. The power people have over you is the power you give them. Keep that shit for yourself. It is yours. Use it to do good in this world. We need it now more than ever.
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