Any Which Way

From as early as I can remember, I’ve always viewed life much like a ‘choose your own adventure book’, where we are free in every moment, to decide which fork in the road to follow. Much like Alice on her adventures through Wonderland, we are all on a curious journey to an unknown destination, with the power to change our course at any time. One day we can be sitting in a mundane, beige life, waiting for the minutes to tick by until home time. Each day dragging ourselves through groundhog day and wondering when the prison sentence we are living in will end. Being a victim of our own making, without the insight to see that the only chains that are holding us down, are the ones that we have padlocked ourselves.

Think about this for a moment. All the things in our life that are not serving us can be changed. What a powerful and sobering thought. We hold the responsibility for our own happiness. We can put an end to our own misery. Perhaps not in a day, in a month or even years, but everything can be changed and moulded. Life is dynamic and it can be as simple as making a conscious decision to follow a different path or creating the next fork in the road. We cannot necessarily predict the exact outcome of pursuing the alternative path, but what you will know for sure, it will be different than the reality you are trying to escape from. The pattern you are reliving over and over, all the while expecting a different outcome. Insanity.

We all have the power to get up and walk right out of the life we are living and straight into another reality. We can find the key that we stashed away in our ‘comfort zone’ combination vault and unlock the padlock to the chains that are keeping us imprisoned. For these chains may feel familiar and safe, but they are also tranquillising, paralysing, heavy and burdensome. By keeping these chains wrapped around us, we are perpetuating the victim mentality and crying ‘poor me’, when all along, we hold the power to release ourselves. We can unlock our own jail cell, but choose not to for fear of what is on the other side.

Therefore, I urge you to do what your heart is craving. Go on that adventure. Tell that person you are in love with them. Figure out a way to make an income from your passion. Speak the words you are to frightened to speak. Offload the possessions and limiting beliefs that no longer serve you. Go to the places in your subconscious that scare you.

For in these places we have an opportunity for greatness, growth and deep fulfilment. It may not always work out, but you can take comfort in the fact that you tried and you learned a hell of a lot along the way. Use this to your advantage and make your next pursuit even more feasible. Life is about learning and evolving and we can only do this by making mistakes. Mistakes are what make us human and humans make mistakes. Embrace your humanness, your fears and your flaws. Do what makes your heart flutter with fear and excitement at the same time.

As a final thought, here is a poem I penned when I was 15 years old and is somewhat of a mantra I still live by today. I made a promise to myself to never be this bird and when I’m paralysed by fear, to just take a leap out of my cage anyway. For who knows what lies beyond the bars of the cage, that we built for ourself.

A bird in a cage,

Stared out afar.

She knew she would never,

Get past the bars.

A bird in a cage,

With nowhere to fly,

Nowhere to live,

And nowhere to die.

She dreamed of flying,

To far away lands.

Flying over the oceans,

And dancing on the sands.

But she was imprisoned,

Her wings could not stretch.

She cried silent tears,

With a weight on her chest.

By chance the cage opened,

She was free to go now.

But she was so frightened,

And she didn’t know how.

She died in anguish,

As she gazed at the view.

Her cage was her prison,

But that’s all she knew.

Behind Your Dark Eyes

Quiet, tall and brave,

I see all that you are.

Stoic, calm and strong,

Your eyes gaze afar.

They look distant and glazed,

Like you are always reliving.

From a time long ago,

When you started giving.

All that you are,

To those who need fixing.

But you weren’t to save them,

For they were transfixing.

On selfish desires,

On meeting their needs.

Not loving you back,

No matter how your heart pleads.

You go about your days,

With duty on your back.

Your hands are all calloused,

But you know you’re on track.

You never complain,

Making your woes but a joke.

Always laughing it off,

So that you don’t start to choke.

On the tears that hide,

Behind your dark eyes.

Of love that was lost,

And hurts deep inside.

Hurts that you will never,

Pass to your boys,

For you will protect them,

And never stifle their joy.

Always good times with Dad,

Of playing and fun,

Though dirt tracks and gullies,

And shooting toy guns.

A childhood of innocence,

You wish them to have.

Without the burdens you carry,

From just being their dad.

So I see you dear brother,

Deep down inside.

All the secrets you hold,

Behind those dark eyes.

For when things get too hard,

When you just can’t go on.

Just know that I’m here,

And I will never be gone.

For here I am always,

Right by your side.

I can no longer carry you,

But I’m forever your guide.

Morning Serenity

For she who loves the morning,

All quiet, still & new.

For she who takes a morning breath,

Of fresh air filled with dew.

For she who leaves her beloved,

Warm & tight at rest.

And takes sacred time for herself,

To pause & clear her head.

She listens to no music,

No sounds to break her bliss.

Her quiet time is magic,

It’s vital not to miss.

It sets her up for the day,

And puts her in good sted.

To give her all, to those she loves,

Before worries fill her head.

In the silence she is free,

To listen to the voice.

That speaks directly to her her heart,

And drowns out all the noise.

The voice that guides her on her way,

And keeps her safe from harm.

The voice that tells her what to do,

To keep her cool and calm.

For mornings are not just simply,

For quiet time alone.

They’re the time where she can reflect,

On the house she made a home.

The home that soon will be filled,

With idle chatter, noise & fun.

The home that will start to ask her,

“What’s for breakfast, mum?”

It really is important that,

She takes these mornings for herself.

For in this time she remembers,

The young woman she left up on the shelf.

The woman who was fierce & brave,

Who fought for things she loved.

She looked down into her arms,

At the little faces tilting up.

Then suddenly she felt a rush;

A stirring deep inside.

Her heart beat faster; cheeks a flush,

Her chest swelled up with pride.

That young, brave woman was still in there;

And she was ready for a fight.

To defend those whom she loved the most;

And protect them with all her might.

Then she paused, with a smile,

Which was only for herself.

What she wished for had come true.

The young, brave woman inside her heart,

Held far more power than she knew.

Drunk Dialling Your Old Boss Is Never a Good Idea

When an ex-employee phones you out of the blue, it’s usually for a reference or because they want to seek advice and pick your brain about career advancement options. I’ve given countless references over the years and am always happy to help someone out when they are on the hunt to make their next career move. Sadly, yesterday I received a phone call which had much more sinister intentions.

I had just finished work and arrived home to start my Christmas break. I was feeling festive and relaxed, pottering around in the kitchen and chatting with my family. When my phone rang, my holiday bliss was disturbed. Displayed on my phone was an ex-employee’s name, who I had last seen in person, when I was in the unfortunate position of collecting her company belongings, after terminating her employment. This particular name did not bring back nostalgic feelings about the ‘good old days’ of working together; it made me hold my breath for a second and let out a long, exacerbated sigh.

Several years before, I had the difficult experience of having to issue her with a final warning letter. Subsequently, I had to performance manage her to the point of termination, as she had failed to lift her game. She had made some unethical (bordering on illegal) choices in her role and this had led to severe disciplinary repercussions, which she seemingly, still refuses to be accountable for. It wasn’t a nice experience for anyone involved and it’s something I really would have loved to avoid. However, it’s one of the warts and people management it’s a ‘warts and all’ gig.

Hesitating, I decided to let the call go to voicemail, as it was around dinner time and I was busy cooking for Christmas dinner guests. Ironically, the dinner guests were other previous employees, who had since become become good friends after I left the organisation. No message was left, so I assumed she had phoned in error. The phone rang again a minute later, so I decided to take the call in case it was something important. Deep down I knew this wasn’t going to be good, but curiosity got the better of me, as I hadn’t heard from her in over 2 years.

What I received on the other end of the line was a drunken, word slurring, vindictive mess, hurling abuse at me from a place of ignorant contempt. The coherency level was akin to the infamous speech that Anna Nicole Smith gave at the Billboard awards in 2004. However, instead of spreading love and laughter, she was spitting toxic, poisonous venom. Rest in peace Anna.

I imagine that she had been celebrating (a little too hard) with her bitter, old work buddies and they decided to top off their Christmas lunch with a good old ‘bitching’ session. I suspect the main topic of conversation was surrounding how unfathomable and inconceivable it was for them to have to report to a young, female manager, who expected them to perform at a high standard and in a professional manner…..at all times! What a bitch! They would have bonded over copious amounts of cheap wine and Christmas delights, which unfortunately could not drown out the bitter taste of career regret, jealousy and broken dreams, which was the true source of their hatred.

Instead of owning her errors in judgement and honourably accepting the consequences of her previous dishonest workplace behaviour, she decided to blame me for essentially doing my job and holding her accountable for her decisions. Instead of furthering her education and taking charge of her increasingly outdated skill set, she decided it was easier and more appealing to her fragile ego, to call up me up in a drunken stupor and try to make me feel as miserable as her; at Christmas time nonetheless. Instead of taking a good, hard look in the mirror and wrestling with the demons she saw on her shoulders, she decided to stew for the best part of 2 years and make me into the monster. This was the easier option for her and although I don’t agree with the small mindedness, I understand that she’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was easier for her to phone me and spew out all sorts of obscenities, than to peek inside her own subconscious, for the true source of her pain and self-loathing. Trying to hurt me was her ‘quick fix’; her analgesic if you will, to mask her self-directed pain, even if just for a short while.

Unfortunately, in my experience, the high school ‘mean girl’ mentality sometimes graduates to the workplace. On occasion, I’ve worn the brunt of this, when I made the transition to management and I can assure you, it hurts just as much as it did in high school. What’s worse than a group of nasty teenage girls you ask? A gaggle of middle aged, damaged and disgruntled women, who are under-skilled (often over paid), with an over-inflated sense of self……that’s far, far worse! These are much more dangerous beasts than their high school counterparts, as their bullying is no longer reserved for the school gates and shopping malls. It slithers into your professional life, your family life and the sense of self-worth, which you worked so hard to salvage after your teen years.

As I listened to her tirade of verbal abuse, my lip began to quiver and my hands began to shake. For a brief moment I reverted back to that quiet, timid girl who used to walk around the long way to avoid the ‘mean girls’, their taunts and their soul crushing nastiness. But this time I wasn’t that fragile, teen girl anymore. I was now a strong, saavy and (more) confident full gown woman, who believes in fighting for the underdog, has good morals and now knows what she stand for.

Instead of succumbing to her demand for drama, I decided to take away her power over me, by not uttering a single word in response. Nothing. I simply listened for a while, remaining silent (apart from my initial cheery ‘hello’ when I answered), before hanging up the call. She called back 6 more times and left a slurred, desperate voicemail during one of her attempts to get me to engage. I subsequently blocked her number on my phone. It was empowering for the timid teenage girl in me, knowing that she tried in vain to get me to engage in combat, but I refused to crawl into her trap. This would have been extremely frustrating and confusing for her drunken alter-ego and my lack of response left her outraged. She wanted to lure me in for a ‘bitch’ brawl and I wasn’t handing over my power.

As I write this, I’m still a little ticked off that she tried to create disharmony in my home on my Christmas break. However, I am proud of the woman I have become and I’m pleased that I ‘managed’ myself appropriately. Getting loaded on liquid courage and drunk dialling your old boss to tell them that they “are the lowest piece of shit you’ve ever come across,” is not all that becoming. When irrationality comes forth, verbal abuse spews out and vindictiveness reigns, there are no winners. Yes, it’s far easier to let insecurity and fear take over, than use one’s emotional intelligence to look within and at the harsh reality of the situation. That takes guts.

I know that the abuse she directed at me, isn’t a patch on the abuse her inner ‘mean girl’ directs at her every day; for this I feel deep empathy for her. Unfortunately, she hasn’t yet learned how to hang up the phone on her inner ‘mean girl’, who constantly tells her that she’s not enough. That she’s nothing. The saddest part of this story, is that perhaps she never will.

So to my disgruntled ex-employee, I wish you a Merry Christmas filled with love, healing and light. We all make mistakes sometimes and these mistakes can be really embarrassing, especially when alcohol is involved. Hey….I’ve been there too, feeling the morning after regret of acting like a dickhead when intoxicated. But I’ve never abused someone – I know that hurting others won’t make me feel better about myself.

I just hope that in time, you find some inner peace and the clarity to see that the way out of this, is as simple as hanging up the phone.

PS) I hope the hangover isn’t too brutal today, although I think it might be based on your level of speech slurring.

Shutting Down the Pity Party

Recently, I’ve been feeling quite unfulfilled and restless. I’ve been trawling though job websites and applied for those few that have sparked my attention. Nothing has really lit me up inside; yet for some reason I still applied for them. I’ve been working in what I describe to everyone as a lack-lustre role, going through the motions of Monday to Friday on autopilot, just waiting for the weekend to arrive. Then as always, the weekends go so quick and the Monday grind begins again. I started to become resentful and ungrateful.

Amongst the resentment and bitterness, I began experiencing conflicting guilt and shame. Knowing that I have a “good stable job”, I shouldn’t be complaining as the job market isn’t great and a too many friends and acquaintances are out of work or in non-permanent roles. My head became a whirlpool of all these negative emotions and I started to pull myself into this vortex of shallow misery, which I was self-perpetuating. I had set up for a self-indulgent pity party and was handing out invitations to anyone who would listen. A party where I could take the stage and wallow in my pseudo-struggles and cry “poor me” at the top of my lungs. The party wasn’t very fun and people started leaving, but I wanted to stay and hang out there, even if on my own. After all, I had gone to the effort of setting it all up, so I may as well enjoy the free drinks a little longer.

Then this week, something really shocking and sad happened. A friend of my husband passed away suddenly at 28 years old. This was not some horrific car accident where you can reason with yourself that “he may have been speeding and I wouldn’t be that irresponsible” or  “he was probably taking drugs”. No, this was a normal work day for him, where he left early as he wasn’t feeling quite right. He went home to get some rest and let his immune system do it’s thing. He went to bed and he just didn’t wake up. At 28 years old he just didn’t wake up. We still don’t know why.

This rocked me to my core. He just went to bed, like I do every night and he just didn’t wake up. It could have been anyone. He did nothing wrong and he didn’t see it coming, but now everyone who knew him is in utter shock and devastation.

He doesn’t have a chance to get up in the morning and go to his work, whether it be lack-lustre or not. He can’t say “hi” to his work friends and go about his groundhog day. He doesn’t get to come home and see his family and friends, or to reach out for them when he’s having a “poor me moment”. He can’t do any of the things he would find menial, but I bet he would really love the chance to do them everyday. The daily grind for him is over and that is such a god damn fucking shame.

I received a big, stinging, painful mother of all slaps, to my face and a devastating blow to my guts at the same time. The wind has been knocked out of me and as I got into bed that night, I cast my thoughts to what I would leave behind if I didn’t wake up the next morning. What I would really leave behind is a nice bunch of people I work with, who care about me as a person. A family who would die for me and some very special friends who have had my back through thick and thin.

My. Pity. Party. Has. Been. Shut. Down.

I had been looking at life through murky, grey lenses which I was intentionally keeping dirty. I needed to rip them off quickly, to see the beauty that is in front of me, for who knows how long I’ll be able to see it. Life is good and I’m grateful to still have mine, with my loved ones around me.

Rest In Peace Ash. Your kindness will never be forgotten.

 

 

The Harder I Work Now

As a child when all you want to do is play, things like chores and homework simply get in the way. Regardless, as time ticks on they slowly begin to creep into your life and are our earliest lessons about responsibility and accountability. This is where I believe I learned to plan my time and prioritise tasks to find the most efficient and effective path to get the end result. Sounds neurotic I know, but this is how I have always thought. If I could strategise the most efficient path to get the work done, then I would have more time to play right? Genius! So while my brother was whining and throwing himself on the floor refusing to do his tasks, I had made the decision to just get on with it and I was usually nearly finished by the time he was reluctantly starting. The harder I worked now, the easier it would be later on. This was my mantra.

This theory has served me well over the years and it has allowed me cram a lot into my thirty something years. I didn’t have time to dilly dally; wasting time taking a ‘gap year’, ‘finding myself’ or and other things I believed to be unproductive activities. If it wasn’t going to propel me faster to meet my strategic life plan, then it wasn’t worth spending my time on. I needed to account for every hour and I believed that this was my competitive edge.

As part of my ‘strategic life planning’ I acknowledged that there were 24 good hours in every day. I have always been a person who holds my sleep dear and I cannot function long term unless I make sleep a priority. Therefore 8 of these 24 hours were allocated to sleep. Another 8 hours was formally dedicated to work………or so I thought at the time. Therefore I was left with 8 hours left to optimise my day.

There were unavoidable ‘time wasting’ tasks like travel time to work that would eat into my remaining hours. To offset this, I would maximise these trips by listening to educational podcasts while driving, so at least I was learning something at the same time. Other essentials, such as housework, school lunches and dish washing had to be optimised. Oh yeah……being a wife and mother too…..that old chestnut! Plus trying to fit in exercise which is what all successful, super women seem to be able to do, right?

When I was offered a fast-track pathway to career ‘winning’, in a significantly more demanding role, I was so excited I couldn’t contain myself. However, there was a little voice inside me which was really nervous about how I was going to fit all of this in. I quickly smothered that voice as I would be an idiot to turn down a senior management position. A career defining ‘role of a lifetime’ had presented itself and all I had to do was say “yes”. I had to make it work and this would required some sacrifices. So what?

No pain, no gain right?

Naturally, my solution was to ‘borrow’ time from area of my life. I knew it would be a bad idea to take it from the sleep section, because I was going to have to be rested and have my wits about me if I was going to take on this big role. So the obvious place was to steal some time from the 8 hours I had currently dedicated to the essentials. If I could get more efficient in this area, I would be sure to find the extra hours I needed to re-allocate to my career section.

So I began to sub-consciously cut things out of my life which I felt like I could afford to drop. Over several years this ended up being all the things that I really enjoyed. I kept reasoning with myself that we all have to make scarifies to get what we want in life. So I cut out my exercise time, my reading a good book time, my writing time, my hanging out with friends time, my sleep-in time and my watching trash TV time. All the stuff that centres me and brings me down to a restorative wavelength was removed from my life over a period of 3 years. As my ever growing career demanded more of my time, I kept sacrificing, little by little, the things that made me truly happy.

So 3.5 years down the track into my senior management role I found myself sitting at my granite topped desk, in my office with stunning river views, with tears rolling down my face. I was living the dream, but I realised I wasn’t living my dream. Sometimes I would cry so hard I would have to lock my office door because I couldn’t stop the relentless sobbing. But I couldn’t let anyone see I was losing it. I was in a leadership position and everyone was depending of me to be the strong one and to ‘captain the ship’ through many business storms. I took that responsibility seriously and I learnt to pull myself together, slap on my poker face and walk the corridors with a ‘nothing to see here’ bounce in my step.

From the outside I had everything together, but I was beginning to understand that I was living a complete lie. The essence of what made me, me, was now running on fumes and I was slowly dying inside. The pressure was too much and the mummy guilt was immense. I was failing at something for the first time in my life. I was low, I was vulnerable and I felt trapped in a life I had willingly built for myself. How the hell could I get out? How could I admit defeat? How could I admit to the world that I wasn’t good enough?

I was exhausted, frightened and empty. The fear of losing my sanity became greater than my fear of failure. I stopped fighting and I surrendered to the life changing panic attack that consumed my sympathetic nervous system. My body was no longer my own and I didn’t care any more. I just needed the trajectory of my life to come to a screaming halt.

My manta wasn’t working any more. I had no idea how to live any other way. I was empty and I had willingly let this happen to me.

If You Want Something Different…

While having dinner this week with a close friend, he revealed that he had a job offer on the table for a comparable role at a different company. The money was similar and he had been at his current job for about 6 years. He was struggling with the decision and we were bouncing ideas. He is someone who likes to talk things out and process the subject as the words roll off the tongue. I get that, as I’m the same. Verbalising can be part of the decision making process for some as it can somehow put thoughts into a logical order.

 

My friend is quite an adventurer in terms of exploring the world and travelling, but when it comes to big life decisions he really gets stuck on the over-thinking runaway freight train. He was so paralysed by his indecision. Talking to others and gathering others thoughts and opinions was his attempt to uncover or reveal the ‘right’ decision. He was hoping that somehow a flashing, neon street sign would appear and point him in the right direction. Should he stay in the job that he knows inside out and is his comfort zone? Or should he throw caution to the wind and try something new at the risk of it not working out? Should he step away from his safe ‘plateau’ and jump willingly off a cliff into uncertainty?

 

There are many ways to tackle this conundrum and everyone will approach it from a slightly different angle based on their own past experiences. If you asked me this question a year ago, I would have said……”if you’re on to a good thing, then why change?” I would have taken the risk averse approach, firmly believing that the grass isn’t always greener and a job is what you make it. However, changed my view on this since taking the ‘safe’ option didn’t work out so well.
My advice to him was to listen to what his gut was telling him. When I say this, I don’t mean in a corny, ‘follow your heart’ approach. I mean this in a deep, primal instinct way. What response was the thought of the change bringing up for him? Was it a a fight or flight reaction, telling him not to do it because change is scary? Or was the thought of spreading his wings and trying something new exhilarating? More often than not, it is a combination of both and this is when he would need to dig deeper.
What I wanted him to ask himself was, will this new job opportunity get him closer to his ‘real’ goals? What even are his ‘real’ goals? Identifying these are a good place to start and every other decision made after this must align with the goals. I find the best way to answer this question is to ask yourself, “if I became a billionaire today and I did not need to work ever again…….what would I do with my time? This is after the world travel, watching bulk episodes of your favourite TV show, buying a mansion, a Ferrari and all of the stuff we say we would do if we came across some serious cash. But after all of that is out of the system and you’ve got the opportunity to attend to that deep desire within you, what would you do? What would make you truly happy? Because that, my friend is what you should be doing!
So, with that in mind, back to the job offer. If it’s simply a job to pay the bills while he saves enough money to allow him to pursue his true passions, then perhaps staying with the ‘safe’ option is a good one. By doing a ‘day-job’ that he knows well, it will require less energy to get through the day. Thus leaving surplus energy to be utilised to pursue his deep-seeded goals. On the flip side, if staying in the current job was not really aligned with his ‘real’ goals and is not part of the pathway to reaching where he truly wants to be, then maybe it’s time to take that leap.
Once you’ve clarified what your ultimate life goals are, I’ve found that every decision you make along the way becomes a little easier. The choices you make after clearly defining and acknowledging your goals, need to align with these goals. Imagine being the CEO of your life and you have identified your ‘organisational purpose’; all your decisions must feed into your organisational purpose otherwise it is a waste of company resources. If staying where you are doesn’t take you one step closer to achieving your ‘organisational goals’, then the writing is on the wall. Decision made!

Change is scary, but it can incite an exhilarating adrenaline rush which reminds you that you are alive and that there is more to life than your regular nine to five. When faced with these life changing decisions, I think it’s important to take the time to ‘meet’ with the CEO of your organisation and ask the question, ‘does this align with my organisational goals’. The question should then be a lot easier to answer.

When The Organisation Doesn’t Love You Back

If you’re like me you want to do the best you can at everything you set your mind to. This is especially so in my career. From what I knew, no one gets to where they want to go without putting in the hard yards. I knew this from a young age and I have never been afraid of working hard for what I want. I think this is what has often given me the edge. I wasn’t smarter or better than anyone else, I was just prepared to push myself further and it was mainly a battle of stamina and will power.

Therefore, I applied this theory to my working life and every day I pushed a bit harder and went a bit further. This was a good thing. I was enthusiastic and optimistic, so I enjoyed the long hours. I felt like I was fast tracking my dream and this was extremely motivating. While everyone else seemed to be dropping out of the ‘race’ I continued to metaphorically ‘win’. The more I worked, the more this positively reinforced the behaviour. And so it spiralled.

Fast forward 3 years and it was normal for me to be formally working 70 hour weeks. This didn’t include checking my phone intermittently throughout the night and responding to emails at 3am. Or holding a strategic planning meetings in my own head at 4am, when I couldn’t stop thinking about the day ahead. Now I know there are many people who work more hours than I, but this was too much for this working mother to take on, especially when I wasn’t a business owner. I would later learn that there would be no return on my investment.

By this point I was exhausted and unmotivated. However, I had set the expectation to my bosses, my staff and to external parties that I would be available at any time and I could do what they needed me to do at a whim. While others went home to their families and turned off from the world, I went home from work literally, permanently attached to my smartphone or laptop. Picking up my child from care with my face in my phone. Meetings with my bosses via Bluetooth in the car (with child on the back seat). Cooking dinner while on a conference call. Then pulling out the laptop and starting my next post-child’s bedtime shift. Literally, I was giving every spare second of my life to the organisation….and inevitably, not to the people in my life who care about me back.

When you give yourself to an organisation to such an extent, it almost feels as though the organisation becomes a part of your family. Of course there is a professional level of separation, but it’s what you begin to tell yourself to make everything ok in your mind. They must see and really appreciate your level of dedication, commitment and personal sacrifice for the good of the organisation and all the people who work there. Only an insane person would give 70 hours a week without thanks, for a bunch of people who do not care about them! Of course they cared about me as much as I cared about them…..because otherwise it would be unfathomably painful to comprehend. It would make me a complete moron and I was working tirelessly to prove that I was the in fact exact opposite. I was a strong and capable young, female manager after all.

Well my friends, the love wasn’t reciprocated. When I bravely stepped forward and stated that I couldn’t continue to keep giving at the rate I was and respectfully asked to be cut some slack, everything changed. I had simply requested to adhere to a 40 hour work week for a while so I could focus on my family and this started a cascade of exclusion tactics which I was not prepared for. I was cut out of the organisational family. Not directly, that would open them up to litigation. But in a hurtful debarring way, where you are suddenly not invited to meetings you would have normally been featuring in. No longer invited to grab a coffee on the regular morning coffee run. Not told about items of organisational significance you would normally be the person directed to disseminate. Sarcastic comments were being thrown around like, “her priorities are different now and she’s focusing on her family“, which I can confirm was as I imagined it to be; unfathomably painful to comprehend.

I had become a shell of myself and when I asked for help because I no longer had the energy to keep pouring into the organisational bucket, I was cast out into the cold. I had been used and I had been a willing participant. I felt naked, vulnerable and like a complete and utter fool. Everything I have worked hard to be the opposite of. I had been shown that the organisation didn’t love me as much as I loved the organisation…..not even close. The organisation was breaking up with me and the only thing I could do to retain any ounce of remaining dignity was to resign from the toxic relationship I loved being so enmeshed in. I think Alanis says it best.

Post Traumatic Staff Disorder

So you’ve inherited a difficult team to manage. No big deal, you’re full of optimism that you can make a positive impact and you’re armed with all your text book knowledge. You subscribe to some management groups on LinkedIn. You’ve got a good rapport with the HR team and and you get daily emails from online HR groups. Fresh from posting an inspirational leadership quote on your Facebook page, you’re feeling like you’re ready to take on the challenge. You’ve got this.
You’re armed and ready to tackle this group of “difficult” people; they say “difficult”, you say “misunderstood”. You go in with a caring and compassionate approach. After all, you don’t know what this team have been through before you arrived and you don’t want to pigeonhole them too early; everyone deserves a clean slate. They could have had a dragon of a manager before and all they needed was a little TLC.
Things start off fine, everyone is generally all smiles and pleasantries, apart from the grumpy one or two. Not to worry though, as you know you’ll be able to turn their frown upside down with your super-keen attitude and solution focused approach. They will jump on board the positive-change train for sure. They will just need a little time and some team collaboration exercises. They will learn to trust you and see you’re here to help them. Just like the Change Management lecturer said right?
WRONG! Really fucking wrong!
Next thing you know, your staff member tells you that they are going to kill themselves tonight because of you and storms out of the office, telling everyone with ears along the way. Or your staff member gets committed to a psychiatric unit for a month and blames you for it. Unbeknown to them, their performance history was abysmal and you had been tasked with performance managing out of the organisation. You had painstakingly been planning the best way to do it, while respecting them and maintaining their dignity throughout the process. You had been setting them fair, clear and reasonable organisational targets that they couldn’t or refused to meet. You had been agonising about it for weeks, thinking long and hard about how it would impact their financial situation, their family and impact their self-esteem. You had thought about the human side of this horrible business of performance management and let compassion prevail, even when the higher powers wanted you to get them out yesterday. So when the troubled staff member reacts in such an acidic way, it is a a god awful slap in the face and a punch in the guts at the same time. It’s like they forgot you were a human too.
So you spend the rest of the week (or month….or year) agonising about how you could have handled it better. How you could have helped them more. Making yourself sick with worry about how they are doing now and what they think of you? Did they realise that you are actually a good person who wanted nothing more than to help them succeed? Have they told everyone in the office what an evil, sadistic bitch you are? Do they understand what impact their emotionally immature reactions have had on you? Do they realise that they have changed you in a deep and profound way and made you lose every ounce of confidence you had?
Just when you think things will settle down because they are no longer around to leave their toxic vapours, then the rumours start. Everyone has heard some Chinese-whisper version of the “story” that has been told by the disgruntled ex-employee to everyone below the management ranks. You can feel everyone staring at you and then they quickly turn their heads and recommence typing. You can hear the gossip in office corners, before everyone instantly disperses when you enter the room. The silence is deafening, apart from the odd few who are bold enough to come and tell you what they “heard” to your face just to see your reaction. And if you’re really lucky, they will tell you what they think of you too.
The next thing you know you feel like the loneliest person on the planet. You’ve barricaded yourself in your office, locked the door and are trying to muffle your sobs. You can’t let “them” see what they have done to you and you can’t tell upper management as they will think you are weak and under-qualified. You go to HR, but they just give you the generic stock standard response.

You hate going to work and you feel like the victim of a faceless bullying campaign against you that you can’t even prove. You’re jumping at shadows and doubting every part of your being. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. You’re going crazy and there is no one to ask for help. This is what I now refer to as Post-Traumatic Staff Disorder and it’s very real and it’s very distressing.

If this post is hitting a nerve and you can relate, I just want you to know that you aren’t crazy. This is a real thing, it happened to me and several other young, female managers that I know. The best advice I can offer you is to phone a friend who is also a young, female manager and have a good chat (cry) to her. Chances are, she’s had the same happen to her and can offer you some genuine understanding and support.

We have to stick together. You aren’t a failure. I believe in you.

I haven’t been able to find a Post-Traumatic Staff Disorder support group, but maybe we should start one?

Pointy Black Stilettos

It was bound to happen eventually. Of course I knew that; working is what I do and it’s a huge part of my identity. It was the next step in my recovery and I was keen to get this show on the road.

I started back in the workforce after a 4 months break, which I might add, is the longest time I’ve ever had off work (even when I had my child). During these 4 months of forced leave, I spent a great deal of time crying, rocking and staring at the wall. To clarify, when I say “forced” I mean that my ego was being held against it’s will, as my mind, body and soul were in desperate need some respite. The sheer panic that reigned every time I thought about my previous work place had me too distressed to leave the front door some days. I was too debilitated to think clearly, let alone work. My ego had taken a massive beating and had now found itself very bruised and damaged, cast aside in the corner of the room. Cold and quivering.

It was one of the darkest times in my life, but I had been working really hard to get myself well enough to return to the working world. I knew that I needed time to recover, but I also knew there was a fine line between taking a break and getting stuck in a rut. The last thing I needed was for me to lose my momentum completely and all my confidence along with it. Although I probably wasn’t truly ready, I needed to get back on the horse and face the working world once again.

Being very cautious and with much trepidation, I carefully screened my potential employers to ensure they were a good fit for me in my fragile state. My job hunting was no longer about high power roles and large salaries. I needed to change my search criteria to close to home and comfort zone. That’s the only sort of job I could fathom at this point and that was okay. But then it wasn’t at the same time.

The sensible part of me knew that I needed to stick to a nice, safe option for my first job post-breakdown. I needed something that I could do with my eyes closed, because the rest of me would be working hard to hold myself together. Especially if I got a bit stressed out or if something triggered my anxiety to start spiralling. Another thing I decided was that the role would need to have minimal people management; I did not want to deal with other people’s issues and weaknesses as well as my own right now. Safe and sensible; like a pair of beige, flat, orthotic old lady shoes.

Yup…..that’s my new career move *exacerbated sigh*.

The job I ended up taking was basically the role I was going about 5 years ago, in an industry I knew very little about and certainly was not passionate about. However, the hours were good, it was easy to get to, had some international travel and I could pick my own hours. Since my main objective in this new “recovery” role, was to remain employed and not put too much pressure on myself, it was actually perfect. Sure, the money wasn’t as good, but I wasn’t being expected to push myself to the limits of sanity either. My weekends were my own and I was actually able to clock off at finishing time. I was one of the regular people. My body, mind and soul were singing……but my ego was sulking in the corner with it’s arms folded in contempt.

Now, I don’t recall when my ego became such a dominating, moody bitch, but she certainly was making her presence known. She was having the loudest tantrum within my psyche, telling me that this job wasn’t good enough for me and that I had worked so hard for years, only to be a disgrace and end up back where I started. She was telling me that it had all been for nothing. That I had got myself to the point of a nervous breakdown, all for nothing. That my previous situation hadn’t been that bad after all and if I had just tried a bit harder, sucked it up and stopped being such a baby, that I could have made it. She was telling me that I was a complete failure and not good enough to hack it in the world of senior management. That I was a loser, a failure and weak.

This really hurt. It was excruciatingly painful to see myself the way my ego was describing me. I had failed in her eyes. But who was “she” anyway and what was her deal? Why was she telling me this and how had I given her so much power over me? At what point in my life did I allow such a horrible version of myself loose in my subconscious? And so ensued an exhausting and everyday battle between the the real me and this alter-ego, diva, bitch who had been beating the real me into submission every time she dared to want something for herself.

I was starting to realise that I wasn’t the beige, flat, orthotic old lady shoes……I was just wearing them for now as those damn black, pointed, patent stilettos had really damaged my feet. But what I was learning on this tumultuous internal battlefield, is that all I really wanted to do was walk through the field bare footed and free…..without any shoes at all.