this hurts me more than it hurts you


A few years ago, I went through a very unpleasant work-related experience--one that led me to seriously question whether I wanted to stay in my current position, or pack my bags and head for greener (or at least warmer) pastures. This wasn't constructive criticism, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a clear message to keep my mouth shut and stay in my place. It was not rap on the knuckles with a ruler, it was a take-no-prisoners hatchet job.

Because I'm the sole breadwinner for my family, instead of following my instincts and walking out, I stayed. I swallowed my pride, sucked up the anger, the pain and the hurt feelings, and figured out how to play the game according to the unwritten rules that had oh-so-clearly been communicated to me.

To be honest, I could have benefitted at that time from constructive criticism, and mentoring from senior colleagues. It's true that at times I could be (and still can be) abrasive and unlikable, and that I'm not well-known for tolerating fools gladly. Have I toned that down? Sure. A lot. The question is, would it have happened anyways? I think so. Would it have happened faster if the criticisms I received had been offered in a constructive rather than destructive manner? I fairly certain it would have. Did it leave me with a lingering feeling of anger, resentment, and betrayal? Did it lessen my trust in my colleagues, and reduce my sense of community and collegiality? You betcha.

Over the past few years, that resentment has faded a bit. And some more positive events this year have helped to supplant the negative memories. But today someone told me in passing--not realizing the full context of the incident--that a person I'd thought was a real ally during that process had later said that they thought "it was the best thing that could have happened" to me. I felt, quite honestly, like I'd been kicked in the stomach. I came back to my office to think about it, wondering at first if I'd simply overreacted to the events of the time. Had the experience made me a better person after all? Was it possible that it had been a "good" thing?

One of my best friends has made a number of comments to me about the positive changes in me over the past few years, and I've wondered why I find myself resenting those comments. Now I realize--it felt as though it was that same message, that the miserable experience I went through was "for the best," that I'd somehow been transformed from "the bad Liz" to "the good Liz" through this process. Was she right, too?

And then I realized that I was making a fatal mistake...succumbing to the belief that the ends necessarily justify the means. Sure, if I physically punish my kids every time they forget to do their homework, they'll start remembering to do their homework. Does that justify the methods? Of course not.

Not only that, while I may have had some less than ideal interactions with people before this experience, I know for a fact that I wasn't such a rotten person as all that. From what do I draw that conclusion? From the wonderful people that are a part of my life, and who were a part of my life long before this all transpired--from my husband to my ALA friends to my college friends to my high school friends, all of whom have been important and treasured parts of my life for a long time. Just as I tend to judge the quality of my writing by how it's received by readers, I tend to judge the quality of my life by the relationships I have with others.

Maybe this experience did improve some aspects of my "political" and professional skills. Not only do I still deem it not worth the price I paid in terms of personal pain, in retrospect I think I lost easily as much as I gained. The biggest loss was trust--trust in my colleagues, trust that people are who the say they are, trust that people will do the right thing for those around them. Maybe at 40 I'm long past the point where I should have been holding onto those ideas. But loss of innocence is painful whenever it happens.

So today as I look out the big windows of my new office at the (oh-so-rare-in-January) sunshine on the clean white snow, I'm not feeling as uplifted as I did this morning. Just when I thought it was safe to come back out of my shell, my remaining shreds of trust and optimism have taken a direct hit, and I'm back to considering those greener pastures once again.


Wow. There's so much I can say, reflect and relate to both in your words and inbetween the lines. Bottom line is when mutual respect and trust fail and it stings. And stings hard. I find that personal agendas, politics and insecurity (cognizant or not) forces people to behave in an unexpected manner. In my case, I did pack. And it's very green here, thankfully. In retrospect, I've learned not to harbor resentment, anger and other feelings that sting where it hurts. Heart and soul. The issues your collegues and 'friends' have are their own issues. While difficult, you cannot let someone elses actions impact you. By doing so you give them the ability or power to influence your feelings. They don't deserve it. Neither do you. Sure, we all improve and learn every day. If we didn't, life would be boring and predictable. Think about you, the positive impact you have on your kids, students and true friends. Those are the things that breathe life and excitement into the day. Now look out that window. It's a sunny day. It's OK! And where you go or where you turn, everything works out. Truly, it does.


The best I can say is that your perceived ally's comment was made not in full possession of the facts. S/he doesn't know what you just told us about how the incident damaged your trust.

The best advice I can give is to accept the good *and* the bad that arose, as you indeed already seem to be doing. You have a pretty clear idea what happened to you and how it affected you. There's no need to abandon your own judgment, certainly no need to feel bad about feeling bad.

If anything, perhaps you ought to be *proud* that you came out of it so well. It sucked. You survived. That's worth praising.

Dopesn't mistrusting your colleagues count as one of the most irritating possible job circumstances (perhaps especially for an academic, where tenure makes unwelcome bedfellows into monstrous life partners)?

Yes, I'm looking for another job. No, I don't like it a bit (would have loved to come and stay here forever). I hope your sense of which way's up in your universe helps you to take all this input with grains of salt, and to recapture some of that lost equilibrium—but all around Blogaria, you have friends hanging on and rooting for you.

Well, it's slightly worse when the mistrusted colleague becomes your boss, AKMA. Been there, done that, left VERY shortly thereafter.

But yeah, I'm with you on that.

All of it, ell. Root root root.

Well, two years ago I was in a similar situation,
sole breadwinner, got a rap from bullshitter etc.
But I took the OTHER route and changed employers.
And I (still) feel much the better for it. I can respect myself and I don't have to back down & cower before anyone. Mileages vary ;)

BTW, do read the poem "The road not taken".

Stu :)

Hmmm. Well, I'm pretty sure I didn't say anything about losing my self-respect in the process. Losing my innocence, yeah, but that's another thing altogether. I'm not sure there's a workplace in existence without some level of politics and unpleasantness--and I'm quite sure there are no academic departments without that. It's a question of learning to live in the real world, I think.

As to the infamous Frost poem...many literary critics (my mother the poetry teacher among them) argue that in fact, Frost is poking a bit of fun at those who make a big deal about making a choice between two essentially similar paths. :-)

>>I'm not sure there's a workplace in existence without some level of politics and unpleasantness--and I'm quite sure there are no academic departments without that. It's a question of learning to live in the real world, I think.

No question. As an old friend and eastern-oriented thinker said to me: the key is being aware; but not necessarily attending.

with regard to was mutual respect (not self) and the professional decorum one expects from colleagues; in a situation where someone behaves questionably with swords or pens pointed at you or another for no reason other than to prop egos or protect turf, it's hard to respect that person anymore. But then again. this is real world.

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This page contains a single entry published on January 24, 2003 2:28 PM.

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