In Part I of this post, I discussed the Good things that I learned in 2013.
I have been trying (and failing) to write this post for weeks. Today, I was resolute in my desire to see it through, waking up at 8 am on a Saturday only to spend 2 hours on the internet avoiding my blog posting program. It’s that difficult to write about the bad things that happened this year. So in an effort to get this out (because it has to go), I am writing without editing. Forgive any grammar or spelling mistakes. Enough stalling; on to the Bad Stuff.
If there was a tagline that summed up 2013 in one pithy phrase, it would be Rock the Boat. I went head-first into the water this year. I left safety and comfort and the status quo behind. This might even be the theme song playing along merrily in the background:
But it wasn’t quite merry in the midst of it. I worked in a very toxic environment. I had an Executive Officer and Command Master Chief who harassed me for 5 months, telling racist jokes, creating an extremely degrading work environment, doing ridiculously immoral and unprofessional things. I told the Commanding Officer, who repeatedly did nothing and on March 7th, the pot boiled over. It was disastrous. I won’t rehash every bit of what happened during that time period (God knows I’ve done that entirely too much already ), but when I left the ship on March 31st, they withheld my end-of-tour award, slandered me constantly, and to this day, I am still having issues with getting my fitness reports (vital documents) from the ship. What I learned from this experience:
1. Rock The Boat. Abuse culture is tolerated in my community. Getting cursed out by your boss (among other things) is just part of the job. Everyone accepts it. Everyone goes along with it. I stopped going along with it this year. Berating, abusive behavior is unacceptable. Period. The people who utilize this type of leadership would be the first ones to call the cops if someone treated their children this way. I jumped out that boat this year. I raised my hand and yelled: this is wrong. Stop it. Never again will I allow someone, no matter their rank or position, to cross boundaries and abuse me.
2a. Doing The Right Thing Doesn’t Always Feel Right. You would think that standing up to someone who is abusive to you would be liberating and freeing. It isn’t. At least not in the moment. Abusers are bullies. And when you stand up to them, they back down… for a second. But they will use their official positions and authority to try to intimidate you. Who’s going to believe you? I’m the Commanding Officer of a ship. Keep standing up anyway. It will affect your life. Your professional career will be in jeopardy. The hard work that you have done will be called into question.Your integrity, your ability to do your job, your track record of excellence will all become subjective and suddenly, non existent. That will hurt. A lot. Keep going. Abuse is allowed to continue when everyone remains silent about it.
2b. No one Else Will Stand With You. Sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t feel right because you are doing it all alone. If it’s the right thing to do then why is no one else doing it? When you speak out about abuse, everyone else will go silent. The co-workers/friends that you spend the majority of your life with, the ones that you constantly discuss your abusive work environment with (because they experience it too), will suddenly become mute. Anything that could jeopardize a person’s position in the boat (the place where safety, comfort, and status quo live) is not up for discussion. Know that if you rock the boat, you will more than likely go at it alone. It is a lonely and painful path. But it is necessary.
3. Don’t Be a Martyr For Your Job. I gave everything for this job. I woke up at 3 am every morning and was at work until 9 pm at night. I did everything imaginable on the ship — running the facebook page, decorating (and winning) the ship decorating contest for Christmas, writing every single award or essay required — all in addition to my very complex, tasking, and difficult primary responsibility. No task was too big (or too small) for me. I was indispensable. Until I wasn’t. And that hurt. That still hurts.
I am not my job. You aren’t your job either. That was a the hardest way to learn this lesson. To get shoved off of one’s custom-built pedestal is particularly painful. To get shoved off on a technicality — a lie of someone else’s making is even more painful. I don’t regret a single moment that I spent in service to the other people on that ship though. I loved the crew very much and the other Officers in the wardroom, but I didn’t need to do everything.
4. The World Needs More of You, Not Less. I left that job in March 31, 2013. I was raw from hurt and uncertainty and I was scared too. This is a small community, people can shatter your professional reputation with a word. Emails are routinely sent to your new command to “warn” people that you are problematic.
I moved to VA and spent a lot of time talking to the Bestie and the Twin about what had transpired (I am eternally grateful for both of you). I was angry and bitter. I had worked so hard. I had made a difference and they pretended that I hadn’t done anything at all. Even though everything said the contrary.
If that was the frying pan then I jumped right into the fire with my next job. I have no better term so I will use this to describe my current work environment: Absolute Batshittery. One guy who works for me and was particularly upset told me: you ruined it, you ruin everything! It seems to be a common sentiment at my job. It started to wear a repeating refrain in my heart. If you could just be like everyone else, then you wouldn’t have any trouble at all. So I tried to be like everyone else for a bit. I tried to bite my tongue and not give out too many ideas or pushback. I tried to go-with-the-flow, to get along and be just like everyone else. But it didn’t work. Because it can’t work.
There will come a point when so many bad things are happening, so many people hate you or hate the way you run things, that you will start to doubt yourself. Maybe it is me, you’ll think. Maybe I should make myself smaller so that people don’t feel so intimidated and lash out at me all the time. Maybe I should just put my head down and go with the flow; stop making waves. That boat is starting to look really comfortable and safe. Maybe I should jump back in the boat.
Don’t do it. Remember that people who are not in boats are scary. You don’t seem to be wearing a life vest or flotation device. What if you drown? What if you pull others in with you? Try to remember that your perspective is different from people still in the boat. Yes, the water is cold, but you know that thing wrapped around your leg is only seaweed and not a sea monster. All the people on the boat can think about is the sea monster (that doesn’t exist). You were created wholly, uniquely, and marvelously different from other people. The world needs more of that specific, particular thing that only you can bring to the table, not less.