Years ago, I spoke with a woman who felt trapped in her life. She worked in her current job to pay the bills and provide for the financial safety and security of her family… and she had long grown out this work. She hated the internal bickering, the posturing that was necessary to get anything approved. The influencing that had become almost manipulative because of the toxicity in her workplace. She wanted out, but wasn’t in a position to leave.
Her faced softened when she told me how she wanted to step into something completely different, and how she had plans to start her own business. A business where the employees would be respected, and wouldn’t have to worry about internal politics to get the right things done. But that was a dream for the future. Right now, she was living in a nightmare. It had all come to a head when a friend of hers pointed out that in staying where she was, she was normalizing the awful culture her organization role modeled. As the leader of a large team this was keeping her up at night, because she felt her friend was right.
Impossible situations happen. I could give you some toxically positive line about silver linings and possibilities in this type of situation, but we both know that’s bullsh*t. What this woman needed most was compassion, and that’s what she got.
This is what compassion looks like when you’re in an impossible situation. It’s making sure that it’s not harming you or anyone else. I completely understood her moral concern about remaining as a leader in a company that had lost its connection to it’s values. We talked about whether she felt she’d lost her connection to her values, and she’d said “no”. “I make sure the stupidity doesn’t impact my team, that part feels right, but it’s a battle every day.” We then explored if it was harming her, and again she thought about it and said “no”. “It’s draining, it’s not meaningful and I often feel there’s a lot more we could accomplish if we’d work together as leaders, but I’m able to hold others accountable for treating me with respect, it’s just an ever-present task and I know it doesn’t have to be like this. I’m getting worn out.”
My heart ached for her. So, I asked about the constraints, the pieces holding her in place, and as we spoke about it, it was clear that they wouldn’t be there forever. While that didn’t help her in the here and now, it was something to work with. Specifically, this: remaining in place coexisted with getting to her goals, it’s was all about the timing. But it’s also hard holding on to two very different (and opposite) things, and it happens in many ways in everyone’s life. Here’s a different example that may help illustrate the duality of living between two opposing needs. I remember when my father-in-law was in palliative care, and my husband flew out to be with him while I stayed back to look after our son. Standing in line at the grocery store it hit me how at odds everything was! While I was meal planning and shopping, the man I loved was facing one of life’s most difficult circumstances (the death of a parent). But it wasn’t possible for both of us to be there, and by looking after everything at home I was doing the best thing I could for all of us – but holding those two things in the same existence was mind-blowing.
And that’s the reality of it. Both your career and life will demand you move in a counterintuitive way from time to time. Just remember, stuck is very different than standing still.
For this brilliant woman who was stuck, we talk about what that included and what it excluded. She realized, as an example, that she was not standing still. She was making valuable contacts in her industry, contacts that would support her career goals down the road. She was also being supported by her organization with tuition costs to complete her professional designation, one they would benefit from greatly and so would she. We decided to work together for her to drive the most benefit out of the work experience she was getting (navigating difficult people), and help her to be mindfully aware of how better to support employees in a toxic workplace (keeping her team healthy and engaged).
I would never advocate that anyone stay in a harmful workplace. I do recognize that sometimes you have to stay someplace that’s not ideal in order to get where you’re going. But it doesn’t need to be a career-killer or rob you of your wellbeing. It can be the springboard to something amazing when you can hold on to two opposing realities at the same time (it was for her)… AND you don’t have to do it alone.
I learned a lot about myself and Carleen was professional, caring, intuitive, and motivating. I really enjoyed the time with her and practicing her exercises daily. I would highly recommend Carleen for your personal journey it's worth it!!!"