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I am writing this little piece with the hindsight of events which concluded a couple of months ago and I write partly for my own personal sense of closure and also to just say to others in similar predicaments that no job / relation ship / situation is worth sticking out if it is making you unhappy. Life is short. Make the bits you can control as happy as you can!
Backtrack 7 months. A gorgeous early Autumn day and I am sitting in the well-kept gardens of an esteemed institution of higher education, interview notes in sweaty hand, frantically trying to memorise my presentation and think up some killer lines to bag myself that promotion. I walk up the stone steps, past gargoyles and ornately framed oil paintings of bygone boffins…I shake hands, I talk, I try to smile, I leave….I get the phone call offering me the job.
Fast forward one month; I am enjoying leaving-do cocktails with much loved former colleagues, doing the cringey “thank you and goodbye” speech, packing my bags and leaving the office for the last time. I have regrets, doubts, worries but am also of full of excitement. This, I thought, would be The Future.
I suppose the warning signs were there from Day One. I discovered that my predecessor had been ill due to the stress of her job. I was witness to some strange and unprofessional behaviour from my line manager and was told, almost as soon as I had unpacked my bag, by one of my fellow office-workers that I needed to “watch my back” and that the culture of the department was negative in the extreme. I felt intimidated by my manager and I found it very difficult to adjust to the new world in which I was expected to work, succeed and progress.
Now, I am not unused to working in a pressurised environment. Nor am I unused to working amongst academics. I have friends and family members who are academics and am all too aware of the massive and unrelenting pressure on their shoulders. Not only are they responsible for the education of our brightest and best but they are constantly compared in league tables, given ridiculous amounts of work to do, have minimal holidays, have a huge amount of pastoral care to attend to and, perhaps due to the high achieving and competitive nature of the business, work to a rule that enough is never enough. As a member of the support team helping such people achieve these aims, I was aware of my need to prove myself, to meet their targets, to help maintain standards and to ensure that students feel they are getting every penny of their £9k a year.
What I wasn’t prepared for was 4 months of relentless pressure, covert bullying, tears, late nights, more tears, sickness, anxiety and fear. These were my darkest days and after a particularlyunpleasant meeting with a senior manager, I felt broken. I called my husband, who was working away, and quietly squeaked “I’m leaving. I can’t do this”. I confided in colleagues I trusted. They had my back, and I am eternally grateful to them for taking me for a coffee and helping me. We made a plan, and off I went, pot plant in one hand and Pukka Pad in the other. I resigned by email and never went back. I was prescribed Diazepam by my GP and spent several weeks in my own private hell, feeling scared to speak to anyone, losing all my trust in others and fearful I would ever work again.
One thing this period did do was make me realise that no job is worth that, no money in the world can substitute for mental wellbeing and self esteem. I saw from my window the routines of others, going to work, coming home, going to work again..and I hoped that they did this with a smile, and a sense of pride in themselves. I felt jealous.
Fast forwards another two months and I have a new job, with lovely, supportive people, in a completely different industry. I am slowly but surely regaining my confidence and I still cannot believe that these people chose me to work with them, or that they are not, tomorrow..or the day after…going to suddenly call me into a meeting and rip me to shreds. I’m getting there. But if you are reading this and are currently experiencing work hell, please, please realise there IS life on the other side. Better and more rewarding life. Its scary, I wont deny it, but you can do it! Pick yourself up, ask for help if you need to, but don’t sit at your desk in fear. Life is just too short.