The struggle is real – how I’ve made work challenges worth it
Whether it be a bad boss, unfulfilling work, tenuous coworker relationships, or isolation on the job, these are just a few of the many challenges at work, among others, that many people face. I’ve lived these things and have come out better on the other end of it all. An attitude of gratitude has prevailed for me – mindset trumps all.
By others’ standards, I guess you’d say that I’ve had a pretty successful career so far. I’ve worked for four unique organizations, all in different industries, with different values, cultures and different work. I’ve flourished in my career for over two decades, taking risks, new opportunities, and new challenges; I have done a really good job of providing for myself and my family. I’ve even started my own small business on the side to do more of what I love. On the outside looking in, one might think that it’s been all sunshine and rainbows. At times, yes, it’s been pretty darn good. But struggles and challenges have been plentiful. There have been some pretty low times, times when waking up and going to work brought me to tears, times when I felt lonely, times when I felt bullied, attacked, unheard and pushed so far that I walked away from it all. Those times were tough, and it was hard to see beyond them in the moment. I now coach other women through their work struggles. I can bring empathy and encouragement to them because I’ve been able to make lemonade with these damn lemons; and I gratefully recognize the growth I’ve experienced that has shaped me into who I am today in work and in life.
The most common challenge – a bad boss
Let’s start with the most common challenge you hear about…having a bad boss. What makes a bad boss? Oh, lots of things like no communication, micromanagement, poor listening skills, the inability to make decisions, playing favorites, taking credit for your work, bullying, and discriminating. I could keep adding on. I know a lot about bad bosses because I’ve had a few in my career from the managers who remained holed up in their office to the ones who were clueless about the work, leaving me scratching my head, trying to figure out how in the world they got their job.
Then there were those who said one thing in front of you and in the next minute when in front of others, they said the exact opposite. I’ve had some who with “winning and perfectionism at all costs” as their core value; they were certainly not developing people and leveraging their strengths. At one point in time over a ten-year period, I had twelve different bosses. Doing the math, that’s more than one per year. More than half were “asked to leave”. Others have been put on pedestals for what they do, not how they do it, and they were awful leaders. These situations were by far the worst, full of nepotism and toxicity. It’s like being on a rollercoaster with these bosses – shooting up high into the sky with the wind and thrill of support keeping me safe, and then teetering on the edge before a complete fearful free-fall.
These kinds of ups and downs did something to me. I’m human, so yes, sometimes, it left me sunk in my seat, going along for the ride, screaming and crying my eyes out. But what it really did for me is give me the courage to stand up for myself, courageously whistle-blow, and confidently remove myself from the most toxic of bosses. Yes, I had to be the one to leave, but so be it. I’m better off having done so. I have learned so much about how to treat people, how to be a good boss, and how to trust my gut on what’s right or wrong. I’ve been validated many times over for my approach to leadership and my perspective on how to do it well. For this, I am grateful.
When the work doesn’t work
There have been plenty of times in my career when the work just didn’t work for me, but the lessons were plentiful. Once when I was much younger, I took a job for the summer in a factory doing a labor-intensive job to make money for college. I showed up each day with my steel-toed boots and old clothes ready to stand at a workbench in a warehouse with no air conditioning and fill order after order of products that had to be put on the machine, rolled, cut, and boxed. It was heavy, dirty, and unbelievably boring. I befriended a few women who worked there and would sit and eat lunch with them. They were all much older than me at that time – in their 40s and 50s and this was their life, day in day out, year after year. I can still see some of their faces and recall the humdrum attitudes that permeated their sweet attempts at including me in their conversations. I couldn’t wait to get out of there at the end of the summer, but the lessons of what it means to do “hard work” have stayed with me. And I am grateful.
Team or no team
There have been some amazing people in my career – those from whom I’ve learned, those who have made me better, those I care deeply about and with whom I’ve developed friendships even long after we’ve stopped being coworkers. There were others who challenged my integrity, who did much to critique but rarely self-examine me, who in fact pointed a finger at me. Those who smiled at my face and then talked behind my back. My feelings have been bruised many times, but my skin has thickened. I’ve learned that it’s okay for not everyone to like me, and even more importantly if they don’t, that’s on them and not on me. I’ve learned how to use courageous conversations to open the lines of feedback to remedy situations instead of holding onto them and making up my own stories about what is or isn’t going on. I’ve learned to be less “in my head” about these things and just move on. I’m grateful for these people and situations, for they’ve made me better.
There were other times, over years in fact, when I was the only person on the team. I have felt the pressure of having to do it all, the loneliness that came with late nights by myself, trying to meet deadlines, and the lack of direction. I’ve had to practice resilience in these times of ambiguity. I’ve had to learn who to trust so I could confide in them how I was feeling. I had to be resourceful to get the answers or information I needed to get my job done. I’ve learned that you don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room; it’s actually smarter to know how to leverage the skills of the people around you. I’ve had to let go of perfectionism and realize that when my work was good enough. And for those experiences, I again am grateful.
No job is perfect, not any one person or situation. There will always be challenges. Knowing what you stand for and believe in makes all the difference. Having an open mind to take the learning, no matter how hard from each situation and turn it into gratitude is a blessing. Even if it takes some time to get there, it’s much more helpful to see the good for what it is than continue to stew over the bad and what it was. This is how I choose to look at it. Even more so as I lead the direction of my own small business, I take those lessons on resilience, adaptability, confidence, resourcefulness, humility, courage, and hard work with me to guide those I serve. And I’m really, really grateful for that.