In 2007, I spent 7 months working for a toxic employer.
By the time I left my job, I was close to the highest I’ve ever weighed, at my most negative and always whining, feeling sorry for myself, and feeling pretty hopeless about everything, especially about writing, which I’d been sucking at for nearly a year at that point.
I quit that job, even though I was always taught leaving a job in less than a year was a crime I’d be judged heavily for. I realized one day in August that, if I didn’t leave, it’d be the end of any Steff I ever knew; I was approaching the negativity point of no return.
My present employers were also my past employers. Much of my last decade has been spent with the company I now work for. I’ll never get rich there, and it’s about the loveliest dead-end job one could ever have — it’s taking me nowhere any time soon, if ever. But everyone at the party knows this, and that’s why it’s the most flexible, easy-going, comfortable place in the world to work. Everyone there is well-adjusted. As left-wing artist-types, we’re all moody sometimes, but if an occasionally-sullen office is the worst it gets? Hah, envy me.
The job from hell in 2007? Not so much.
It destroyed me. Working around someone who was so constantly negative, resentful about every little issue that came up, and who played the woe-is-me victim card often, was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.
My outlook, even today, is a struggle — staying “up” and positive? I’ve always had an issue with maintaining a “bright side” perspective, because, as a writer, as a schooled journalist, I’m not given to sunny-side-upping my life. I look at everything for what it is — I see all the negatives and faults, but I try to see the beauty and humour, too. It’s a conscious choice, the perspective thing. I really do see the big picture, that’s what defines me as a writer — yet I try to see potential and lessons, good and great, from all these things that happen to us.
And when the person with the most control over your existence — your paycheque, your day, your free time, and whose wall-less office/desk is five feet from yours day-in and day-out — operates from a skeptical place of distrust and loathing, it’s a very hard perspective to balance.
I fell to the dark side.
After seven months, I made the choice that I could not live my life working for a cancerous soul like the woman I was working for. I gave notice.
Woe-is-me types piss me the fuck off now. You know what? I’ve had my problems. Life’s been hard. Know what I think about it? SHIT HAPPENS. Why’d it happen to me? Dumb luck, man. No one’s got it in for me. It’s a cosmic crap-shoot. Realistically, I can handle, and have handled, every goddamned thing I’ve had thrown my way so far, so that’s taught me a lot about who I am.
When the woe-is-me whiner is someone who had as much in her life as my ex-boss, it makes me wish I was a more violent person. Seriously — you’re choosing to suffer. You’re choosing to see these things happening to you as some assault. You’re choosing to feel like it’s all YOU having bad luck. You’re choosing to fail to realize that, in between all those struggles, you still have those sweet, good moments available to you that make life worth living. If you choose to have them, that is.
No matter how bad my life’s ever gotten, I’ve never stopped making jokes or finding a small, little thing to enjoy to take the pain of life away. I find my things in different ways, perhaps, than others, but find them I do.
These spiritual/emotional growth areas of mine, they’ve really exploded in the last five years.
It was five years ago, in 2005, that my job became shaky and lay-offs began happening. I’d be laid off that year, too. Hindsight’s 20/20 and I now realize my productivity shortcomings over 2004-2006 were because of a head injury I suffered and the healing fallout that comes with, but then none of us knew that it was related to my nearly dying on the scooter & the brain injury I suffered. If *I* didn’t realize it, how could they?
I was laid off for a short time and brought back to work, but by then I decided to act on the fatal flaw that would upturn my world for the next two years — I honestly believed my unhappiness was because of my job. I wasn’t able to prove myself, it was holding me back, it was a dead end, yada-yada-yada.
So, I let my bosses know I was “looking for something better”.
In the end, my next two years became a variation of something Ken Kesey once wrote, something along the lines of, “If you can’t find God in your back yard in Kansas, you won’t find find him in Egypt, either.”
I went from shitty job to shitty job for two years, failing to connect to any, while doing part-time work at my old company and whatever else it took to make ends meet.
But, for me, it was about finding happiness. If I couldn’t find my happiness in myself, I wouldn’t find it in my job. It’d take me two years to realize this was true, and another two years to make it start to play out.
Ironically, after I left Job from Hell, I returned to the job I’d left because it was “holding me back”.
I realized in those two years, I’m not about my job. I’m not about the work I do to get by in life — that’s a paycheque. It’s what I do so I can do what I love, which is write. Somewhere over the last four years, I lost the writer inside of me, and much of my struggles and work have been to reconnect with her. Writing’s about truth, and if you’re not honest with yourself, you can’t be honest in your work, and without that honesty, nothing you write will ever resonate.
And that’s why I returned to the place I’m at now. I realized, if I’m not about my job, then working in a place with well-adjusted good people, with flexibility, and a lowkey job that allows my mind to wander onto things like writing, working in a place like THAT would let me find the writer within.
And find my happiness, too.
Since fall, 2007, I have worked on every single area of my life. I’ve changed greatly. I still have moments of Old Steff, and even of Toxic Employee Steff, but changing so many years of Fail into Fantastic doesn’t happen overnight. This was a five-year plan of mine, but two years in, I’m kicking ass. I’m ahead of schedule.
It’s with great irony that I left a job because I thought it was the source of my unhappiness in order to take a job that then BECAME the source of my unhappiness, only to return to a job that will never make me happy but is a huge factor in how I’m becoming happy. Yeah, I know. Weird.
I’ve learned, then, that the trick is in knowing what’s making you unhappy and knowing exactly how your employment may or may not contribute to having that happen. Because, realistically, it’s likely not your work that’s the problem — unless you’re working for cancermongers who like ruling by fear and shame, like I was for that short time.
These days, when I’m unhappy, it’s good to know it’s not about my job. My job’s just “there”. I’m blessed that it’s the most flexible, trusting job I’ve ever had. I’m surprised I didn’t appreciate that when I was younger. Still, honestly, I hope it’s the last job I ever have. I’d like to be living the paid-writer life within the next five years, and suspect I will be. I haven’t had the desire to make that step yet. Soon, I will, and I believe in my ability.
If I play my cards right, I can stay happily employed in a dead-end job with awesome people that allows me to pursue every little dream I have until I make those dreams reality.
Sometimes, that’s better than any lofty paycheque you can land. You can’t put a price on an untroubled soul, my friends.
In 2007, I spent 7 months working for a toxic employer.