I have had so many clients and friends who have been in toxic work environments and it left them feeling stuck, depressed, and worthless. Sometimes, the people above us are actively demeaning and abusive. Sometimes it’s just a bad environment that isn’t working for us.
Either way, the reality is, when we’re in an environment that is demoralizing, we start to feel that we aren’t worthy of anything else. It can deaden us, steal our joy, challenge our worthiness, and we start to question what of value we have to offer. Being in a job (or relationship for that matter!) like that can limit our ability to be fully alive and use our gifts and be the people we want to be in the world.
I know this, because this is part of my career story. I had been in a toxic environment with an emotionally abusive boss for almost 3 years when one day it all came to head. I had a post-conference panic attack in a hotel room in Vegas and when I finally peeled myself off the floor two hours later, I pulled out my laptop and wrote my notice and quit.
And it felt great! And then terrifying.
A lot of times when I work with people who have recently quit something toxic and are facing the post reality and shock of not knowing what’s next, I notice another thing that can happen. After the initial empowerment of quitting begins to fade, some start to wonder if they made the right decision and if they will ever get their career back on track. Questions flood in. Doubts. “What will I do next? How will I explain this?”
I have been there. So deeply there.
So, as I’ve recently been working with some clients going through this, it has me reflecting back on my own experience. I now have the luxury of hindsight, and so, I was inspired to write a letter to my former self from my future self (or current self!?). A letter that I wish I someone had written to me when I was living that moment.
Sharing this to honor those who have found themselves in this place, in the hopes that someone will benefit from this today.
P.S. If you are in a toxic work environment and haven’t yet left, it’s OK. It has to happen in your own time, based on the needs you need to be met, and this is not meant as a judgement for staying. Sending love, strength and support your way today too.
Hello you brave soul, you.
Yes, I’m talking to you. The one who quit your job.
The one who left a toxic work environment because you couldn’t go into that place one more day and be treated like that.
The one who said f*ck it and walked right out the door.
You are a bad*ss.
You might not feel like it right now. When your career doesn’t turn out the way you had intended, when you’re in the moment of that realization, it can sometime feel hopeless, confusing, unsteady.
You might feel lost, you see, there’s no real blueprint for this. You had a plan and this wasn’t it.
Nobody starts their career thinking, “Well, I’ll do an entry-level job for a couple years, then I’ll use my skills to transfer into an abusive work environment, get depressed, quit, take a year off to take care of myself, incur debt and then take a temp job to work part-time then finally transition to something else full-time that may or may not feel right.”
That’s never the plan. But, it’s actually what a lot of career journeys look like. Trust me, I know this.
So, you left. It is not a poor reflection on you. You did something brave. You chose to take care of yourself. Nobody, I repeat, nobody deserves to be abused. Nobody deserves to be in an environment that steals their self-confidence, steals their well-being.
I have some good news. It may not feel like it right now, but I promise your career isn’t over.
You have so much more to offer this world! You will do things you never dreamed you would!
This is one stop on that long journey. You’re just getting started and you have the rest of your life ahead of you. This is not a dark stain on your career. You WILL look back on this and see the silver lining.
So, now you’re trying to figure it out. You’re asking yourself, “What skills do I have? What can I do now? How can I support myself?”
Maybe the financial stress of not having steady income is starting to freak you out. That’s real! And it’s OK.
Maybe you took something else that wasn’t quite a fit and it feels like it’s beneath you just to pay your bills. And you’re asking yourself, “How long will I be here? Is this my life now? My other job was more prestigious, it used my skills, maybe I should have stuck it out?”
That’s real too.
I’m here to say, as your future self, don’t get caught in that line of thinking.
You are bigger than what you are doing right now.
Your life, your worth, your value is bigger than what you quit, and what you took on.
Your worth is not defined by the job you do or did. It never was. It never will be.
You are a HUMAN BEING. There is no one exactly like you. No other person on this planet with your exact life experiences, your exact skills and perspective. You have value and innate worth.
I AM PROUD OF YOU.
You are exactly where you need to be in this moment.
Taking care of yourself could be the most worthy endeavor in life. Taking steps to be healthy and well is a critical step on this journey. You can’t do the work you were meant to do in this world without going through this moment. This experience. You are on your right path.
And, in case you need to hear this too, you are bigger than your job title.
You are bigger than the tasks you are doing.
And you are bigger than this “gap” in your resume.
And you are sure as hell bigger than the bully that you faced down or that toxic environment that walked away from.
You are infinitely valuable and worthy and you will get past this moment and be so glad you left.
And for good measure, because I saw this somewhere along the way and it has gotten me through some tough, tough times….
Right now, just take a moment to “breathe… and remember Who the F*ck You are.”
With love and mad respect,
Your Future Self