Today I feel like like writing about some tough stuff. I’ve been trying to write this post for several weeks now (yes, before I actually launched the blog), but I kept stopping because I couldn’t quite find the right words to express my thoughts.
I used to think that I was a fairly strong person. You know, that I had a somewhat strong sense of self-worth and would be able to not only recognize but also take action when I was being treated badly by anyone, incuding an employer. (Since I was privileged enough not to experience true workplace bullying before my early twenties, most of these thoughts were purely hypothetical.) As it turns out, it is much easier to dole out advice to others and think of potential outcomes in your head than it is to recognize when you are the one who is in a toxic work environment.
I had previously alluded to feeling stuck in a job that was at once unsatisfying and degrading. Now that my contract has ended, I keep thinking about why I felt so dissatisfied and what I should have done differently during my time there. No one wants to spend six days a week feeling upset, frustrated and, yes, angry but what happens when your circumstances leave you with so very little choice?
What happens when you’re in a job that you feel is important and have never stopped putting a lot of effort into but that one or two people in your team make so unbearable that you start to question every work-related decision that you make? When you regularly take work home and wake up early to put in extra hours, but are still faulted for not writing enough or (what is perhaps most upsetting of all) not writing well?
What should you do when, in private conversations with your employer, he says that not putting in overtime that you.are.not.paid.for means that you are not dedicated to the job? When that same dedication is questioned at every turn because you refuse to make a job that pays less than minimum wage your life by coming in on your one day off or not skipping class to do more work? When you stay at the workplace past midnight at least once a month (and no one, besides one other coworker, does) and are told the next day that sleeping in the office sometimes is just part of the job because some people before you had once done it?
What do you do when you are condescendingly told that “you’re not a bad writer, but it doesn’t seem like you try very hard” several times in a few months? When you are presented with this terrible Catch-22 at every turn: take intiative and be faulted for producing work that is irrelevant to the oranization or do the bare minimum and be faulted for not taking initiative?
What hapens when it is both stated outwardly and implied inwardly that you are the reason the organization is going down the gutter? Just how are you supposed to act and feel in that situation?
What steps should one take when the passive-agressive sarcasm from one of your employers becomes so normalized that you have to think twice about how to ask for help without sounding stupid? When you refrain from bringing up a broken computer for weeks because the last time you did that you were condescendingly asked if you had tried turning it off and on and then told to deal with it yourself?
When unresolved issues between members of the team become so convoluted that there’s no way to tell if you are actually doing something wrong or if personal dislikes are coming into the equation? When the favoritism becomes so egregious that you are derided for asking to leave ten minutes early to get to a second job while someone else can just not show up on numerous occasions?
What should you do when you try to be open to learning and improving but are instead put into a situation where you are expected to sign a contract that changes the terms of your work agreement and is not expected of other people or face being asked to leave? When, due in large part to legal ignorance on your own part, you have no idea if what is happening to you is illegitimate?
File a complaint? What happens when the only person that you can complain to is the one who is, in large part, the one causing the problem? Or when you’ve already tried to address serious concerns but still felt like they were shoved under the rug nine times out of ten?
Get up and leave? Well, what happens when you are emotionally tied to the job and want to see it through? When you feel like leaving would be letting down those members of the team who had worked equally hard with you and kept you up with kind words or Facebook messages during especially difficult moments?
It’s also not as easy to just throw in the towel when you had scheduled your whole year around the job and kind of just blatantly need the money because you moved into an appartment where you could be closer to the office and have plans for the summer that affect not only you but also people that you care deeply about.
I’ll tell you what happens. You stay and let the anger slowly boil inside of you. You start to question your work, your writing, your commitment to the industry, your everything. You read things that you wrote and think “this is crap” even more than you already do as a writer. You stifle any creative impulse that you may have and just try to follow specific instructions. You get a lot better at keeping your mouth shut even if you know deep down inside that what is happening both to you and around you is so, so wrong. You try to just do your best and hope that it will be recognized by some people at some level. But, naturally, you do not show up to work with the same enthusiasm that you had at the beginning of the year.
While I have never been someone who required gold stars for everyhing I did, it is pretty fucking discouraging when you are putting in your honest best and still feel downtrod upon again and again. I still have no idea what I should have done differently and I still feel as though I was somehow weak-willed or dishonest with myself for staying. I still question myself (and what I might have done wrong) every day.
I do know on thing, though: I put a lot of effort into all of my work and I have a right to be proud of it. While I am in no way perfect and still have so much to learn, I will never allow anyone tell me that I am uncomitted to my writing again. That stops now and that stops forever.