When Your Boss is a . . .

One of the things that I find most interesting about the legal profession is our commitment to the belief that as attorneys we can do it all. Rather than hiring business experts to operate the business side of a firm, we simply conclude that as attorneys we have the qualifications to manage as well as practice. As many of my clients and myself have concluded: just because we are attorneys does not mean that we are good bosses, leaders, managers, or mentors. So what do you do when you find yourself working with a boss (or any human for that matter) who is less of a leader and mostly just a jerk? This recently came to light in a session I had with a client who was struggling with her supervisor.


My client had been charged with managing a particularly large project that was not within her traditional practice area. The initiative required input and contributions from various practices across the firm and ongoing strategy sessions with the team. In addition to the strategy sessions, my client had regular one-on-one meetings with her supervisor. During a recent meeting with her supervisor, he indicated that he expected her to take the lead on the upcoming team discussion and that she would be managing the project from there on out. He wanted her to use this to get project management experience. When she attended the first team meeting to present the project plan, her supervisor took over and did not offer any opportunity for her to make contributions. As the meeting progressed, it became clear to my client that her supervisor and his team had not read any of the materials relating to the scope of the project and had grossly misunderstood the intent of the client. The meeting was largely unproductive, confusing for all members, and my client was pissed.

When we met, she relayed this story and went on to explain how her supervisor is a jerk, a terrible leader, incredibly disorganized, spiteful, arrogant, and childish. She said she hates working with him and that having to continually interact with someone who was such a poor supervisor was making her consider leaving her job entirely. How does someone like that get into a position of leadership!?


This kind of scenario and feedback is something that we all have to deal with at some point in time simply by being members of the human race. Although I like to think that we in the legal industry have an abnormal amount of individuals who are poor leaders and managers, the ultimate truth remains the same: sometimes people just suck.

But the problem with this scenario is that so many of my clients are driven to leave or consider leaving their place of employment due to this type of interaction. In attempts to remedy these situations, many of us vacillate between confronting the individual and outright avoiding them. We all know that feeling when you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re swimming in angry thoughts about the individual in front of you. They have no idea what they’re doing….I wish they would just shut up….why do they keep doing that….how can they be so oblivious….you’re such a terrible leader…. and on and on it goes. We feel our skin start to crawl and we actually start to believe that if we don’t get out of this place and get away from this person ASAP we’re going to lose our minds!

I get it. I have completely been there and so many of my clients have as well. So how do you dig out when every part of your body and every thought in your head is screaming to get away from this person?!

(Sound familiar? Sign up for a free consult, and let’s sort it out.)

First, we have to recognize that when we confront this person or simply avoid them, we are either trying to get the other person to change or we are trying to remove them from our orbit so we don’t have to do any work. We dream of confronting them and seeing them take our comments to heart so they can change for the better and then everything will be OK. In the alternative, we think that if we can just escape this person and not have to deal with them then everything will be OK in that scenario too. In either case, we’re trying to change or eliminate the problem person so that we don’t have to feel angry and frustrated anymore. Therein lies the problem:

wanting someone or something else to change so that WE can feel better is a futile endeavor that rarely works. Instead, our work rests solely with us and how we handle the situation.

In my client’s scenario, she truly believed that her boss was a jerk, a terrible leader, disorganized, spiteful, arrogant, and childish. She provided those details to me as if they were well-documented facts. What she didn’t see was that none of that was true. These were all optional things she was choosing to believe about her boss. All of these thoughts and judgments about this person were making her completely miserable. She wanted me to help her learn how to navigate dealing with her jerk boss but she didn’t see that her beliefs and judgments about him were actually what was making her miserable. What she didn’t see was that in order to move forward she would have to at least open herself up to the possibility that her opinion about this person may not be accurate. That she was choosing to believe day-in and day-out that her boss was a jerk. Regardless of whether or not any of these thoughts could be proven factually accurate, it was clear that by living in these judgments of this other human, she was making herself crazy. The work wasn’t in learning how to deal with her “jerk” boss, the work was in seeing that she didn’t have to believe that he was a jerk.

Our judgments of other people are founded on the belief that those around us are supposed to act a certain way.

My client’s boss was supposed to be a good mentor, a good cheerleader for her, and supportive. She had this whole perception of who he was supposed to be. Her conclusion that he was a jerk was at odds with how she wanted things to be. That tug of war with reality was causing a tremendous amount of discomfort and frustration for her. So much so that she just wanted to get away from it. But as many of you know, anytime you leave one experience for another we often encounter the same types of humans who elicit the same types of challenges all over again.

We end up creating for ourselves a pattern of moving from place to place, identifying a new jerk in each situation, and moving on again and again.

Rather than showing up to work believing that her boss was a jerk, she had myriad options available to her as to how she could potentially think of the situation. She could instead recognize that he was showing up exactly how he was meant to. He was being everything that is uniquely him. And that is completely OK. In fact, that is the beauty of this world. We all have the ultimate right to show up and be whomever and however we want to be. So rather than showing up in judgment and stewing in anger and frustration, my client could instead look at this person as an opportunity for her to experiment with compassion and unconditional love. She wasn’t frustrated because of him or the things that he was doing. The reason she was frustrated was that she was focusing on who she wanted him to be and was marinating her brain in all of these negative judgments about him when he didn’t fit her mold. So instead I asked her, how do you want to think about this person? How do you want to show up in this experience?

She revealed that she wanted to be calm and collected. She wanted to advocate for herself. To step in and LEAD just like he had asked her to. She wanted to focus on the fact that she knew he never wanted to be a manager and that he seemed to be trying to do the best he could with the position that he never sought out.

This didn’t make her feel warm and fuzzy. It didn’t make her want to stay at the firm forever. But it did allow her some neutral emotions and some space to look at this person from a different perspective. It allowed the judgment to subside and along with that came a reduction in her frustration and anger and her desire to flee. Instead, we developed a plan for her to have an honest and curious conversation with him about the project. A conversation that was not intended to CHANGE him but one rooted in compassion and a desire to better UNDERSTAND him.

After all, it’s so much easier to speak your truth from a place of neutrality than when you are fueled by pent-up anger and frustration.

Imagine how much happier we all could be if instead of judging everyone around us and believing that things should be different we chose to believe that everything was happening as it should and just tried to love those around us? It’s not easy but it certainly feels a lot better than the alternative.

I truly believe that the only thing preventing us from loving everyone around us is our thoughts about them. If you could change that, imagine how much happier you would be.


Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Being Treated Differently

Humans will be humans. They will make terrible mistakes and bad choices. And sometimes, even “good” people make bad choices about the things that they say or choose to believe. These thoughts are often unconscious. Habitual, automatic thinking.

These automatic, programmed thoughts and ideas don’t make them a bad person it just means that they have bad thoughts that they haven’t examined through the lens of implicit bias….the jokes that people make or that people laugh at, the automatic judgments they make about others without questioning those judgments. The reason this matters is because those small actions, those unconscious reactions, and judgments are what are keeping so many segments of our society from moving forward. It’s not necessarily explicit hatred of another group but it is implicit bias masquerading in a prettier outfit.

Most of us have our own experiences being treated differently. I remember a few years ago, I was attending an early morning meeting where I was the only woman. As background, I have two white Shiba Inu pups and anyone who knows anything about dogs knows that a person who owns more than one Shiba Inu is a masochist. A masochist who loves having dog hair all over every article of clothing they have as well as in their icebox, refrigerator, underwear drawers, deli meat, and attics. I ALWAYS have dog hair on me.

On this particular day, I was wearing a long black pencil skirt. As I approached the breakfast bar to grab some coffee and a bagel, I felt a presence close behind me. Then I heard an older gentleman speaking in a low, private voice right into my ear, I think your dogs left you a present on your skirt this morning. Embarrassed and confused, I turned to look and saw that my backside was covered in the white hair of my beloved pups. As I thanked him and turned to leave the room to redress the situation he smiled and said you have no idea how much I wanted to wipe that off for you. You just have to let an old man have his fantasies.

WTF

I was immediately floored by his comment but I told myself He’s harmless. He’s a goofy old man who doesn’t think before he speaks…I was so shocked and startled and I wasn’t sure how to respond but I knew I didn’t want to make a scene at 7:00 o’clock in the morning in a room full of men.

After the meeting wrapped up, I went back to my office and tried to put the strange encounter out of my mind when I heard a knock at my door. I looked up and found the same old gentleman standing sheepishly in my doorway and waiting for me to notice him standing there awkwardly.   This time he was apologetic and thanked me for not getting upside with him, “just an old man,” and the “stupid things” that he says. He begged me to tell him if I was upset by what he had said. I brushed it off, told him it wasn’t a big deal, and we moved forward with the relationship and our days.

At the time, I found myself confirming that, if someone else had made the same comment, someone that I thought intended to be suggestive or probing, I would have reacted very differently. I was so focused on the individual and my knowledge that he didn’t mean anything by it….he was a kind and goofy old man with no malice. But why did that matter?

Through this work, I now realize that my response is part of a larger problem. I was focusing on the intent driving the individual to act that way, allowing space for his ignorance. People’s actions are just as important as their intentions. This gentleman did not intend to sexually harass me but the fact of the matter is, his conditioned thoughts and his words went there. He was thinking of me and my presence in a way that was not acceptable or safe. Even if he wasn’t seeking anything out of line, his words communicated to me that as a woman, I will always, in part, be seen as a sexual object. By brushing it off and not acknowledging the problem with his words, I was trading his discomfort for my own. To avoid making him feel uncomfortable by calling out his actions, I swallowed the pill and felt uncomfortable enough for both of us.

I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable but it was okay for me to be uncomfortable.

Why? Because my predominant thought was “Let’s not make this a big deal….I don’t want you to think I’m overly sensitive or can’t take a joke.”

But the truth was, it was a big deal. The fact that I can still recall that moment so vividly and point to it as one of the many moments when I knew I did not belong is significant.

Those thoughts did not serve me at the time and they are not serving any of us today. Anyone who acts or speaks in a way that indicates you are not an equal in the workplace is a problem. It is not acceptable to stifle our concerns in favor of not making waves.

Instead of retreating in fear of confrontation and drama, I could have made better decisions and clung to better thoughts.

I want to feel angry when I feel like I am being discriminated against. I do not want to feel like “It’s okay.” I want to be open to the discomfort that comes with taking a stand and speaking my peace. These are essential emotions. I don’t want to feel good about these circumstances. I don’t want to pretend to be okay to avoid these negative feelings.

In those moments, I want to believe: This is an opportunity for me to be honest and develop my relationship with this human. I am not a victim, I am simply shining a light on the situation.

I am not trading my truth for your comfort.

The fear-based, glossing-it-over approach is not working. What does work is looking at people’s actions and challenging those actions where you see them. Rather than focusing on the person’s intent and formulating thoughts from there, shift your focus to the larger goal. I can address this and be honest with this person about what I think about what they’ve said or done. Demeaning words and actions, even ones that lack explicit malice, are indicative of tired thinking that begs to be challenged. If we keep condoning the actions and focusing only on the intentions, we sacrifice diversity of thought. We sacrifice honesty in our relationships.

In my experience, none of the people I have worked with were intentionally sexist/racist/homophobic. However, in my experience, many of those colleagues made sexist/racist/homophobic comments. They did not harbor hate but they did harbor ignorance and unacknowledged bias.

As humans in this world, we all have a role to play in fostering the evolution of thought. While that might mean we have to place ourselves in uncomfortable situations and call out actions that we know are not mal-intended. Unless we’re honest with people about how their words or actions impact our abilities to show up, to stand up, to speak up, we will never make the progress that our world so desperately needs.

Having trouble finding the words to speak your truth? Don’t make the same mistakes I made. Develop the tools to stand up for yourself and those around you. Coach with me and let’s make this journey together.

We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers. The proof that one truly believes is in action – Bayard Rustin

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

Quick Fixes

We all want to be able to “fix” the problems that we see in our lives. Once we understand what is causing chaos and suffering, of course we want to fix it. It’s only natural to want to resolve it as soon as possible. What we overlook in this worldview is that when it comes to ourselves there is no such thing as a quick fix. Not only does it take time and effort to transform your relationship with yourself and reconfigure your automatic thinking,

The desire for a quick fix truly ignores the most important work that must be done.

Even before the pandemic, I would characterize myself as a bit of a reclusive introvert. I love my time alone. And I have managed to find a partner whose 24-hour shifts afford me ample opportunity to enjoy my time alone at home. What this also means is that I tend to avoid going out in public if I don’t have to. Again this was still me prior to the pandemic…now it just seems I have more people in my club. I have all my groceries delivered and I do as much shopping as possible online. I have my favorite liquor store delivery resources and my go-to grocery delivery resources. There are very few things that require me to actually leave my house. Everything is available at the click of a button. If I want an extra bottle of wine for my dinner party it can be at my door in less than an hour. If I wanna get extra pool floaties for my dogs I can order them on Amazon and have them at my house tomorrow. Feeling like sushi at 11:00 PM on a Tuesday? No problem, it will be there in an hour.

In today’s society, we are so accustomed to getting what we want immediately without having to wait for it. We are so wired and used to the quick fixes; however, there are aspects of our life that are not conducive to a quick fix no matter how much we want them to be.

This desire for a quick fix often comes up when I find a client in a rush to make a big decision or implement a big change. They just want to get it done, they want to file for divorce, quit their job, rip the band-aid ASAP.

Whenever you find yourself acting in a rush or a frantic kind of manner I urge you to stop and ask: what am I trying to get away from?

What is it in my current experience that I’m wanting to stop?

For many of us, we will experience transitions between jobs at some point during our professional careers. Once we open our minds to the possibility of leaving and start engaging in the search, the desire to leave becomes incredibly persuasive. It almost develops this weird urgency especially when your present state is unhappy, toxic, or stressful. We consider leaving and then suddenly are brains scream YES, this is the answer to all our prayers. This will solve everything. Let’s get out of here and NOOOOWWWWW!!

This drive to leave is your biology trying to keep you safe, running toward the closest exit. Your brain is not loving the current vibes and just wants it to stop — this sense of urgency happens because we don’t want to experience our current experience any longer. But when we act from an urgent panicked space we don’t often make the best decisions

Furthermore, we foreclose the opportunity to learn what’s available to us at that moment.

Whenever we are experiencing something negative that’s so intense we are driven to run away from it and rush into something new. When we do this without questioning the response, we ignore the pattern that we’re creating for ourselves. That negative experience is largely created by ourselves and our thinking. If we don’t utilize that opportunity to explore what’s really going on and work to clean up the panic, we overlook an opportunity to grow. You develop a pattern of running away from discomfort instead of facing it.

Anytime we feel rushed to make a decision or execute a plan it’s often because we’re running away from some type of negative emotion and feeling. Is that the kind of pattern you want to create for yourself? You will be challenged again; you will be uncomfortable again; wouldn’t it be better to develop skills to experience those emotions rather than run away from them? Whatever thinking you contributed to your current negative space will absolutely come with you into the next.

There is never better than here.

Because where you go, there YOU are.

Frantic acting and that desire to get out as quickly as possible assumes that once you get out, things will be better….that THERE will be better than HERE, that the grass will be greener on the other side. That is never the case. Your challenges will be waiting for you, no matter where you go because they are challenges you are meant to work through. Running away from them won’t change that.

While the fast order, quick-fix society that we find ourselves living in certainly has its perks, there are aspects of our life that will require the heavy lifting from us. While it’s certainly OK to reach for the quick fix at 11:00 PM on a Wednesday when you really want some sashimi, it’s not OK to run away from a challenging conversation into a new job with the expectation that you have “fixed” the problem.

Quick fixes in our emotional lives are never truly fixes, they are just delays.

To truly resolve anything in our personal lives, we have to dig into the ugly. We have to dig into the thinking that contributed to our present reality and try to understand it. Only then can we deconstruct the pattern and truly make “there” better than here but only because we have done the work to show up differently there.


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Why You Are Frustrated

At the core of this work is accepting that our emotions are wholly created by our thoughts. That whenever we are experiencing any feeling, it is because of the thoughts we are having. So if we find ourselves experiencing an emotion that we don’t want, it is up to us to shift our thinking to generate a new emotion IF we want to be feeling differently about a situation.

Logically, this makes sense to us but in the heat of the moment, it is often incredibly challenging to remove ourselves from the experience and examine our role. I remember one instance many years ago when I was just starting this work. At the time my partner had just moved into my home with his dog and my 2 dogs to create The Brady Bunch of dog families. I had lovingly decorated my home with beautiful blinds and floor-to-ceiling curtains that accentuated the high ceilings and 100-year-old architecture of my home. One morning, I was enjoying a leisurely breakfast and looked over to my white linen curtains and realized that the bottom half of one of the curtains was yellow. I quickly began investigating and realized that my boyfriend’s male dog had been consistently marking this particular curtain in the dining room…and when I say “marking” that is my eloquent attempt to say that the dog had been pissing all over the nice things in my home. I was livid.

Later that day, I was talking to my coach about it and I explained to her how frustrated I was that this dog was ruining all the nice things in my home! She very simply asked me, “Do you want to feel frustrated about this?” Emphatically, my answer was NO.

Then she asked, “So why are you frustrated about it?” Naturally, I once again launched into my rant about the horrible dog destroying the house (because clearly, she wasn’t getting it) and she started to laugh.

She was laughing because it was pretty clear that I believed the dog was what was making me feel terrible rather than my thoughts about this dog peeing in my house. From there I went on to realize that while I can certainly choose frustration about this experience in my life, I didn’t want to be frustrated about it. Truly, I wanted to not be frustrated and show up more proactively in my life. I didn’t want to let this dog get the best of me and cause friction in my relationship. That was the crux of the issue.

If I wanted to not be frustrated about the situation I was going to have to accept the possibility that there was more than one way of thinking about it. It didn’t mean that there wasn’t validity to my thoughts that were making me frustrated but what it meant was that there were also alternative truths about my experience. It meant that I was going to have to gravitate toward another line of thinking that didn’t make me want to scream at the damn dog. I needed to find another “truth” about the situation that I could throw my emotional weight behind.

Having realized that the dog was not, in fact, implanting frustration and anger into me, I took ownership of my role in those feelings. From there I found an alternative truth: I shifted to believing that if this was the worst thing that would happen when cohabitating with my boyfriend, then life was pretty damn good. I also shifted to believing that this was just another obstacle that we are going to have to figure out as a couple. Neither one of those thoughts were pretty or flowery or made the situation OK. Rather, those thoughts allowed me to live in a space other than frustration. They allowed me to see the bigger picture, ditch the anger, and start strategizing. It allowed me to foreclose an angry blowup with my boyfriend and an unnecessary battle with his poor dog.

This situation sound familiar? Get support with your frustrating situation by signing up for a free consultation now.

That’s really the heart of the work that we do. I could certainly have chosen to live in those thoughts that I felt so strongly about. I could continue to believe that the dog was ruining everything and that he was a horrible monster destroying all of my nice things. But that would have to be my conscious choice. When asked how I wanted to feel about it the situation, I truly didn’t want to feel frustrated. I didn’t want to be happy about it but I didn’t want to live in a dark pit of annoyance and bitterness toward this dog that I actually loved and that was loved by the man that I loved. That meant that if I wanted to feel something other than frustrated, I was going to have to work at it.

When we find ourselves living in frustration over the circumstances of our lives we must take a step back and acknowledge that what is making us frustrated is not the events around us but rather our thinking about them. From there we can truthfully ask and consider do I want to be frustrated and if so I will continue with these thoughts. If not, I am going to have to do the work and find some alternative truths. We must shift from seeing our perspective as the only truth and invest in believing that every situation can have multiple truths available to us.

The next time you find yourself frustrated, consider whether that is your conscious choice or whether there is another way to show up in the situation.


Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

“Old School” Thinking (how to deal)

“Some humans are really bad at being human.”

Scott Mescudi

If I could teach my clients how to change other people, I would. If I could help my clients persuade their bosses that working from home periodically is not the end of the world, I would. If I could show women how to get their significant others to be more loving, supportive, affectionate, romantic (this is a long list), I would dive right in. But I can’t. Coaching is not about helping you become a manipulation magician or specialized in your methods of *helping* others see the light.

When it comes to other humans, coaching is largely about putting down the boxing gloves and walking out of the ring.

I recently had a client we will call Mary. Mary had a boss who was “driving her mad.” He kept trying to instill his values and beliefs in her, lecturing her about how to succeed (work more, obviously) and how to build a thriving practice (focus on high-value projects rather than projects you enjoy). According to Mary, he was always saying offensive things and flying off the handle. He wasn’t interested in training her and he was unwilling to give her any feedback. But at the same time, Mary saw some good in him and wanted to continue to work with him. If only we could figure out how to “get him to be better.”

Sound familiar? Sign up for a free consult now and let’s chat about your horrible boss.

Mary’s explanation of the situation and her description of this man were dripping in judgments and criticisms. “He just doesn’t get it…he’s completely offensive…he has a screwed sense of reality…he doesn’t understand me…” Once she was on a roll telling me about this ogre of a man, it was hard to get her to stop. She was energized and animated in her criticisms and she was fully invested in this story she was weaving. He was clearly the problem and we needed to fix him.

All that energy built up and invested in those criticisms and what was it getting her? Absolutely nothing. The truth of the matter was that she was wanting him to be different much the same way he was wanting her to be different. They were locked in this tug-of-war trying to get the other person to change. My advice to Mary and other clients in this same position: drop the damn rope.

You are never going to succeed in changing other people. When has that ever worked for anyone?

There are so many better ways that we can use that energy. When we stop wasting energy ranting about the faults in our neighbors, we can instead use that energy to figure out how to better deal with them. Rather than ranting and raving about how your old school boss won’t give you any feedback, what if you spent that energy figuring out how to make that feedback happen? What if you put that energy into scheduling meetings with the man and directly and sincerely asking him for feedback?

When we waste energy complaining about the humans around us and how their shortcomings negatively impact us, we give them all the power in the relationship. We overlook any opportunity to make it happen on our own terms. To ask for what we want and start taking actions to get it. When we believe that other people have to change in order for us to get what we need, we will lose every time. We will give them all of our power and relegate ourselves to the role of victim stuck in a never-ending drama.

When we let other humans be who they are we can allow space for the yin and yang of life. If you have a boss that isn’t great at being a boss, we can let him be and recognize that his shortcomings are part of the job description. When you recognize that we are choosing to have these people in our lives and we agree to let them be who they are, we take ownership of the 50/50 of our life. In Mary’s case, sometimes her boss is going to give her unsolicited advice she doesn’t agree with. He is going to say things that get under her skin and he is going to be reluctant to give her feedback. That is her 50/50. That is part of what she signed up for. Unless she decided to quit, she was choosing to engage in these challenges by remaining in that job.

We have to stop fighting reality and accept that when reality involves other humans, things are going to suck at least half of the time.

And. That. Is. Okay. Nothing has gone wrong here and nothing has to be fixed.

Well actually, the only thing that has to be fixed is our own thinking. We have to drop the rope and stop the “I wish you would change” tug-of-war. We have to stop swimming in judgment and criticisms of the other and start looking inward and asking “Who do I want to be in this relationship? How can I take my power back? How can I take action to get what I want?”

Ultimately, you know what just might help them change their old school thinking? Watching you find success your way with grace and integrity. It’s hard to deny hard evidence right in front of you, even for those stuck in “old school” thinking. Start creating success on your terms and stop battling old-school mentalities, use that energy in a way that better serves you. Need support? Grab a free consult now.

Blame

“Doodah made me do it.”

When I was a little girl, my brother had an imaginary friend named Doodah. Every time he would get into trouble for putting spiders down my shirt, he would insist that Doodah made him do it. Nothing was his fault when Doodah was around!

Not all of us had imaginary friends when we were kids but, like all other kids, we were never quick to take the blame for our actions.

We’ve all seen those kids in the airport. There you are waiting for your bags to plop off the carousel and while you wait, you watch two kids, worn out from travelling, annoying the goodness out of their harried parents and each other. Then, inevitably, one of those kids will haul off and smack the other one. Hard. While seemingly no one is watching.

Naturally, this results in an avalanche of tears and lots of drama punctuated by the aggressor-child insisting they “didn’t do anything”, indignant at the accusation. Such a comical and common display of our basic human instincts.

As adults, we like to tell ourselves that we have grown out of that propensity. Most of us would never outright deny doing something that we clearly did or that could easily be proven – hello, there are cameras EVERYWHERE!

But just because our logic-reasoning skills have improved and we know that it’s not prudent to lie about things that are likely memorialized on camera, it doesn’t mean we have gotten any better at accepting the results of our actions.

In fact, most of us have just gotten really good at dressing our blame up in prettier clothing: victim clothing.

Years ago, I found myself working in an environment where I did not fit in. I was one of very few women working in a role other than secretary. I was working in an environment where I felt completely isolated. I looked around and saw that the vast majority of my co-workers and nearly all of the organization’s leadership consisted white men from the same colleges and grad schools, even from the largely the same high schools. Most of them practiced the same religion if not the same parish. Most of them were in the same political party and most of them grew up in the same city. Lastly, the majority of them had the same family structure –  2-3 kids with a stay-at-home wife, even where those kids no longer lived at home.

Being alone on an island certainly takes its toll and while every organization comes with its own unique challenges, I quickly started to feel like there was no way I could be successful in that space. They will never take me seriously…they will never understand me or my life…I will always be different and they will always see me as a token: something to be regarded and retained but not taken seriously…My brain was filled with angry pronouncements about my workplace, its leaders, and my co-workers.   

I believed all of those thoughts and I carried them around with me every day. Every time I told myself that my complaints were disregarded, every time I thought my comments were bowled over, every time I felt I was interrupted more than the men, I clung to those thoughts – you will never take me seriously because I’m a woman….you can’t comprehend a woman with a brain and an opinion…you will never treat me like a peer because you don’t believe I am your equal. 

Over time, I found myself having screaming matches with them in my head. If I saw a member of the leadership team in the hall, you could bet I was yelling at them in my head, telling them they were sexist and old school and on and on and ON…Every challenge I encountered in that place was cast in a veil of sexism and anger. It was exhausting.

Now look, I am not saying that any of these thoughts couldn’t have been true. Maybe some of those guys were sexist. Maybe they lacked the skills and experience to treat me as an equal. Maybe it never would change. I don’t know and it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because I realized that I could not control them. I could not change them. I could not make them into the kind of men I would respect. They were grown adults who were entitled to act and treat me in any way that they chose. I realized that the only thing I could control was myself and my thoughts and at that point my thoughts were making me miserable. I trudged through each day unhappy, grouchy, unsatisfied and disappointed. It was a terrible way to practice.

I started working through my thoughts and endeavored to re-cast the situation. I had to let go of my anger that these people were falling short of my expectations for good leadership. I started focusing on the fact that my angry thoughts about the situation were making me angry and bitter. No one was negatively affected by my diatribes but me. Eventually I left. To put it more accurately, I RAN out of that place as fast as I could.

Later when I would think back to that time in my life I would find myself bubbling with anger. I blamed them and judged them for my leaving. I blamed them for my unhappiness. If only they had been willing to act in accordance with their values. . . if only they were capable of accepting their short-comings . . . if only they weren’t so freaking insistent upon taking care of their own…if only they were willing to accept different points of view as valuable… I had nothing good to say and every time it came up in conversation or I thought about it, I would find myself fuming with rage and indignation.

That’s when I realized that I was making myself a victim. I knew who the villain was – and so did everyone who made the mistake of asking me about my prior employer! That made me the victim. Yikes. I never thought of myself as a victim or a blamer and the realization stung.

As I thought about it more, I realized that I was blaming the male partners and leadership for all my unhappiness there. I was blaming them for me leaving. I got to work picking through those thoughts and one stuck out in particular: I will never be successful here because I am not one of them. I believed that down to my core. But then I started to probe it. Was that true? Were there really no women there that were successful? Nope. My thought wasn’t entirely factual.

There were women there who had found some form of success and happiness. They worked a lot more than I did. They made less waves. They were willing to “go along to get along.” They worked hard and didn’t make time for indignation – it’s not that they didn’t see it; they just didn’t spend energy on it. That’s when it clicked for me. I was wrong. I could have been successful there and I could have become one of them. I chose not to. I chose not to make those same sacrifices and I chose to use my voice. I chose to leave in honor of my principles and values. They didn’t force me to leave. They weren’t the villain and I wasn’t the victim. I made a choice to leave. I didn’t have to make that choice and no one forced me to do it.

Now when I think about my time with that organization, I am filled with pride and sadness instead of anger and indignation. I am proud that I clung to my values and I am sad that women are still fighting to be treated fairly and equally. I’m no longer villainizing their failures – that is for them to sort out. I made a choice that was all my own and I was not a victim to some faceless villain.

Could I have stayed there and found happiness? Sure. It would have required a lot more time working through those thoughts. I could have found a way to be happy. But here’s the thing. I didn’t WANT to feel good about what I seeing and experiencing. I did not WANT to be okay with that environment. That was also my choice. I chose to be unhappy during my time there. Life is not meant to be 100% happiness all the time. My experience at that organization was my time for struggle, challenges, growth and sadness. That, my friends, is how life works and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Cheers!


Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Toxic Beliefs

There are going to be people in your life who are going to challenge you. As an attorney, I can fully buy into the idea of toxic work environments and all the challenges that go along with them. But today, I want to back up the conversation one step and examine what it means for someone or some place to be “toxic”? What I have found is that this idea of “toxicity” is filled with more drama than fact.

Typically, when we identify something or someone as toxic, we are the only ones who show up ugly and toxic.

I focus my coaching on recognizing our own innate power to create our reality and our own happiness. My clients will tell you that I have helped them see the role they are playing in their own struggles. However, as a reiki master, I can also agree that our lives are filled with energy–our energy and the energy of those around us. When we characterize an environment or a person as “toxic” there is so much work to be done on that conclusion. Through coaching, I help my clients more closely examine that conclusion and challenge it BUT we are not doing that today.

Today, I want to allow space for this concept of toxic people and toxic environments. I want to go along with the idea that people and things can be toxic and ask:

When we characterize a person or an environment as toxic, what is the impact that has on YOU?

Our brains are not capable of processing all the information at our disposal in every moment. Rather, we give our brains direction and focus with our thoughts. We tell our brains where to focus its energy and our brain will buzz along compiling evidence to support that thought-directive. Evidence from both our past and present experience.

This is critical awareness because when we believe that someone or something is toxic, we become the victim of our own confirmation bias. Our brain is only going to gather data to support that directive and it is going to disregard data to the contrary. We essentially put on information blinders.

We all like to believe that we are open-minded and willing to see things from someone else’s point of view. But it is not possible to be open-minded when we are running around with these types of beliefs in our minds. It is not possible for us to see the opposing evidence when we allow ourselves to draw these types of conclusions!

A belief, any belief, will inevitably overlook contradictory facts and opposing evidence.

Furthermore, when we characterize those around us as toxic, this can be a subconscious green light to show up like a total asshole. Our negative characterization of the other person will impact how we show up and, let’s be honest, it’s not often our best. We see these toxic people as not worth the energy to be polite or kind to: we give ourselves a pass to show up as so much less than our best.

This robs us of the opportunity to grow. “Toxic” people are your perfect opportunity to show up as your best self. You don’t have to be affected by what they say or do. Practice disconnecting your emotions and thoughts from their actions. Practice allowing other people to be whomever they want to be — it only has to affect you if you let it. It only affects you if you allow their actions to shift your own energy.

It’s easy to label people or circumstances as toxic. The hard work comes from honing our ability to show up as the best version of ourselves. There will always be difficult people — practice dealing with them and stop practicing running away from them.

When you find yourself challenged with a “difficult” person or situation, be cautious not to place a negative label on it. That label will cloud your judgment and prevent you from being the open-minded person you strive to be. You will be blinded by your own confirmation bias and you inhibit your ability to show up as the best version of yourself.

So what do you do when you find yourself pulling your hair out and frustrated about a person or situation? Get curious. Stop investing and participating in the drama and become an observer. Watch the scenario as if it were  a movie — a movie staring you and your boss the chauvinist!  Whatever it takes, make efforts to disconnect from the drama and your judgments. Examine the experience from outside of yourself. Ask yourself what the situation has to teach you. Get curious about why people act the way that they do and try to foster some compassion. Be open to seeing the good in the other person — what might they be struggling with?

It’s hard work but no one ever said that being the best version of yourself would  be easy. Look around at the people in your life you have labeled negatively and start using them as your greatest teachers. How much better would your life be if you could transform those relationships? Get started transforming those relationships today.


“It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.”

― Mahatma Gandhi