Behind closed doors: life is too short

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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.

Categories: Behind Closed Doors
8 interesting thoughts on this

8 Comments

  1. Posted June 30, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Yes, to all of this!

    Me and my husband have both been affected by this, and it’s the worst. Soul sapping and life consuming. It looks like I might be heading towards it again, and this time, I’m seriously considering leaving this organisation for good.

  2. Posted June 30, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I have just resigned from a job that made me unhappy. It’s ironic as in many ways the workload was lighter than in other places I’ve worked but there were way too many other problems- the organisation was terrible, the peer support was nonexistent, and my contribution was not recognised or valued. I handed in my notice and finished last week. I’m starting a new job in August- it’s going to be much busier but I already know (from experience previously) that I will be better supported and will be happier in what I do. I agree- life is too short to make yourself miserable.

  3. Posted June 30, 2014 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I was in a job I didn’t love for a while as a contractor. When it went permanent, the expectation was that I would apply for it.
    So I did. But I didn’t want it, and it came across at interview. The manager got so angry that she spent the remainder of my time with the company making life as miserable as possible, including ensuring I finished work 2 days before Christmas, and telling me no-one liked me.
    I’ve only had 3 job interviews since then – and I the one I was offered I wound up unable to take because I was pregnant and it wasn’t fair on them.
    Now we are coming up to three years. And going back into the workforce scares me like nothing else.

  4. Posted June 30, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m another one that has had a horrible job experience where I was bullied by my boss. It wasn’t until I was fired very suddenly that several other staff members told me that I wasn’t the first person in that role that it had happened to.

    The thing that upsets me the most, apart from the shame and having to lie about my reason for leaving and finishing my career in that industry, was how much it has continued to have an impact on my work confidence. Even now, three years and two different (great) organisations later, I still get overly anxious about small work related things. I would urge anyone who has been in a similar position to discuss it with a counsellor or careers coach, it helped me to realise a lot about the organisation and about what I want and expect from my job and workplace.

  5. Amanda M
    Posted June 30, 2014 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Oh god yes. I’ve been there. I’ve just escaped from a blame culture that I watched chew people up and leave them as timid, uncertain husks. It was demotivating, disempowering and deskilling. And when you’re in that situation, you think you’ll never get out – it sucks you in. I’ve spent whole weekends dreading going back to work on Monday – or having to work on unrealistic and unnecessary deadlines just to show me ‘who’s boss’. I don’t think I’ll ever truly be the same again but I am OUT and I’ll thank every day that I don’t have to face that again.

    So glad you escaped too – and Anita and Gwen and Lucy. Basketcase – hope you find a happier place to work. If not, take a leaf out of these people’s books and LEAVE. Because the longer you stay, the harder it is to get out.

  6. Posted July 1, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I completely and utterly feel your pain. I went through this last year. I am sad to say that I am/was a teacher and the woman who made this happen to me was My headteacher. I was an NQT fresh out of a PGCE course and was told within months that I shouldn’t be a teacher and was then expected to go back into my class and teach for the rest of the day. This happened continuously over a period of six months until I finally left at the end of the school year. I denied that I needed help, that I was suffering stress and needed to see a doctor because those kids needed me. Nearly a year later I am still to go back to teaching, afraid that she was right, that I can’t teach and I will fail all over again. But there is a hope. Not in the same direction but I am starting to see the light and it looks bright. I am so glad you got out and you’re now in a job you love. You are worthy and totally amazing!

  7. Hannah
    Posted July 1, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I swore that if a job ever made me cry again, I’d leave sooner rather than later. I put with a lot of nasty behaviour in my old job and though it did get better over time, my confidence and general mental health was really put through the wringer.

    My boss made me cry tears of absolute frustration this morning … I can no longer deny it, it’s time to start looking for a new job.

  8. Posted July 1, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Oh Anon, what a nightmare you’ve had. I have been there, I still go cold (or is it hot sweats) thinking back on the manipulative psychopath that once was the boss of me. It stays with you a long time but you did the right thing to get out and get help. It makes you a better bigger person to come out of the other side of being involved in such a poisonous working environment. Good luck in your new job x

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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