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
This post is inspired by my morning reading, where a wise and curious (perhaps two sides of the same coin!) kitty joined me in my pondering.
This question, "How can I do meaningful work and how do I make money while doing it?" has been asked by me at least 1,000 times and almost every single client I have worked with.
So as I read the opening and first chapter of Sacred Economics this morning, it brought me right back to that familiar question.
Some context about what I’m reading:
I first encountered Charles Eisenstein’s work through his book “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible.” Reading that book was one of the first times in my life I felt that my uneasiness with the systems we are living in and living out was valid.
I no longer felt crazy that I felt out of place trying to fit into the chaos of growth for the sake of growth or the”hustle and grind” mentality of the startup world (and our current economic system). If you haven't read it, I highly recommend!
So now, I’ve got Sacred Economics in my hands and I’m diving in and it’s got me really thinking and nodding my head "YES!"
Here are some powerful snippets from Chapter 1:
“It is ironic indeed that money, originally a means of connecting gifts with needs, originally an outgrowth of a sacred gift economy, is now precisely what blocks the blossoming of our desire to give, keeping us in deadening jobs out of economic necessity, and forestalling our most generous impulses with the words, “I can’t afford to do that.” We live in an omnipresent anxiety, borne of the scarcity of the money which we depend on for life -- witness the phrase, “the cost of living.” Our purpose for being, the development and full expression of our gifts, is mortgaged to the demands of money, to making a living, to surviving. Yet no one, no matter how wealthy, secure, or comfortable, can ever feel fulfilled in life where those gifts remain latent. Even the best-paid job, if it does not engage our gifts, soon feels deadening, and we think “I was not put here on earth to do this.” Even when a job does engages our gifts, if the purpose is something we don’t believe in, the same deadening feeling of futility arises again, the feeling that we are not living our own lives, but only the lives we are paid to live. “Challenging” and “interesting” are not good enough, because our gifts are sacred, and therefore meant for a sacred purpose.”
Whoah. Read. That. Again.
In the years I’ve been coaching, the most prominent reason that people have sought me out is to find more meaning in their lives and work. That feeling of discomfort knowing “I was not put on earth to do this” can be nagging at best, and heart-breaking or life-sucking at worst.
One of the most worthy endeavors I believe we undertake as humans is to find and make meaning in our lives. One of the most worthy endeavors I have found in my own life and work is to support people on that journey.
This has lead me to some questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve been diving deeper into this exploration with clients and myself:
Does that mean my job has to be the most meaningful aspect of my life? I think the answer is no. Sometimes we actually have to just work to live.
And sometimes we can make meaning where we don’t immediately see it. The low hanging fruit is, how do we make our jobs more meaningful right where we already are. I have loved Hidden Brain’s episode on this.
If work doesn’t have to be the most meaningful aspect of our lives, does that mean we should give up on exploring our gifts and doing meaningful work in our lives altogether? Or give up on finding a way to share our gifts while also getting paid? Not at all.
Have you seen the statistics about retired people? A recent Washington Post piece says this:
“Over the past two decades, dozens of studies have shown that seniors with a sense of purpose in life are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, mild cognitive impairment, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and more likely to live longer than people without this kind of underlying motivation. Now, a report in JAMA Psychiatry adds to this body of evidence by showing that older adults with a solid sense of purpose tend to retain strong hand grips and walking speeds — key indicators of how rapidly people are aging.”
Read the full article here.
We ALL must find a meaningful way to feel useful, in order to live healthy and well. That meaning is different for everyone. Some will turn that into a financially supportive career, others will do that as a part of their family systems or communities, other will find it through hobbies or volunteer efforts.
As it relates to the job, these feelings of anxiety, of not wanting to simply live the life we were was paid to live, those are REAL. Those feelings are part of what lead me to venture out on my own and attempt to shape a different model of living for myself and in turn, help guide and support others in that. I firmly believe as careers are dramatically shifting, companies are going to have to do a better job at connecting their employees to things that matter, if they want to keep them around.
So if you, like me have felt (are feeling!) that anxiety of wanting something more meaningful in life and work, if you are on the journey to make meaning with your life and are feeling the painfulness of the mundane, day to day tasks that don’t feel they matter. If you’re not using your strengths and gifts. If you’re not lit up in your life and you’re feeling you want to explore your gifts and find more meaning and purpose in your life and work, it is possible. I have worked with dozens of clients to help them discover what is meaningful to them and connect those dots. If you're interested in learning more about this, tell me a little bit about yourself and let’s chat!