Sometimes, only a Stevie Nicks lyric can sum things up.
On Friday the 13th last week, I left my job. I had been there for 5 and a half years; longer than any other job I’ve ever held. I worked for one of Canada’s major banks, and it was the best-paying job I’ve ever had. The things it allowed me to do, I never could have done any other way. My house, my car, my wedding, my insanely expensive Don Henley meet and greet trip last year, all were because of my salary which was admittedly not huge, but considering how frugal I am on a day to day basis and the fact that my average salary before that was about half of it, I was able to stretch that money far enough to essentially live my dream life for a long time.
It was also largely a sit down job, which my body appreciated after 15 years of full time retail. On top of that, I was finally able to seek treatment for the mental health issues I’ve had all my life, and have bi-weekly therapy sessions covered for almost a full year.
When I look at those things, I really, really second guess myself. How could I give those things up? What am I doing? I made a huge mistake.
At my best, I am excited for this new job: it’s back in retail, which I wanted to get away from, but it is an assistant manager position that pays relatively well and is certainly enough to pay my bills. I love being a manager. Not because I’m bossy, but because I love to train and coach and build a good rapport with my staff and I enjoy having at least some influence over the environment in my workplace. Everything is all about sales anymore; the thing is, you’ve got to take care of your people, and if you do that, they’ll take care of your sales targets. And in my better moments, I realize that that’s where my previous position went horribly wrong.
In my worse moments, I hear all the terrible things my bosses used to say to me, and I believe them. You’ve got the best gig you’ll ever have here; what you do with it is up to you. You’re not management material. You haven’t given me a single reason to believe you could be a leader. You’d have to be good at your position first. Why can’t you be like the rest of the team? You don’t fit the personality we need to be successful. You’ll never be successful anywhere if you don’t change. Just do your job.
There’s been so much more. I don’t know how many times I was told I needed to change my personality, become more aggressive and pushy, loud and outgoing. They didn’t treat everybody like this; they were wonderful to those that exhibited this personality type that they wanted. I was told I should change my image, at one point; aka how I looked and dressed at work. A few posts I made on social media were twisted and taken out of context by a colleague who had claimed to be my friend; I was told by my manager to stay off Facebook with the exception of chatting with colleagues, which along with attending staff parties was “not mandatory, of course, we can’t make you be part of our team, but I should hope you would want to be. If you want to stay here.”
Normally, I am a confident person. I’ve made a lot of questionable decisions, and I’ve rarely wavered on those even when I was probably wrong. But with the looming house purchase (for which the mortgage was controlled by the bank that was threatening my employment daily), and the fact that my husband has never experienced, and doesn’t understand, mental illness or bullying and therefore didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “do my job; do what they were asking,” I had to let them get to me. The only way that I could survive was to let them get into my head, and try to play their game.
So that’s what I did. And in all honesty, it didn’t fix anything, but it got me through the year. I stayed off Facebook, went to every work event, agreed with my colleagues about how wonderful our managers were and what an amazing environment we worked in. I was loud and extroverted at work. I couldn’t bring myself to be as pushy and unethical as some of my colleagues, but I did the best I could and did well with my sales. They kept telling me the same things, and I kept trying to please them. I let myself take what they said to heart, let myself believe it. I had to stop fighting against what I knew was wrong, had to stop standing up for myself, because if I argued, I’d lose everything.
So I let them break me. I would go home at night and cry, in the early days of it all; later I was irritable, and in the end I was just silent. I gave every last bit of my energy to keeping up appearances at work. I was isolated from friends and family due to being off social media, and eventually I lost the will to try to keep in touch any other way because I simply had nothing good to say. Mr Coyote was happy that I had managed to somewhat turn things around and keep my job, which made me resent him. But he didn’t know the full extent of what they were saying and how it was all affecting me, because I couldn’t talk about it. I was embarrassed and broken.
I went on leave. I found my wonderful therapist. I talked to Mr Coyote about all of it, and he understands now. I was able to look at the situation objectively, and realize that this was not an environment that anyone should be subjected to working in. While I was on leave, thousands of employees of all the banks across Canada came forward in the media with similar stories. This is just how Canada’s banks work now.
But I couldn’t find a job that paid enough, so I went back, and I did well for awhile. Everyone told me I was “a whole new person,” more positive, fitting in better. But as soon as I went on holidays and therefore didn’t make any sales for a week, it was back to the same old same old. You’re still not showing me that you can do this job. You’re still not successful and we can’t afford to have someone dragging the rest of the team down. We were doing well as a branch without you. We’ve done everything we can to help you.
When that performance plan hit, I knew I needed to find something else because I could wind up jobless and could jeopardize the house. While job searching and interviewing constantly, I worked 10 hour days 6 days a week to meet the demands of the plan, and I blew the numbers away.
It wasn’t enough. I’d made a couple mistakes while I was on the plan, so they “extended it indefinitely.” They wanted to see if I could consistently make the same kind of numbers, while also eliminating all errors.
Could I have done it? I know I can sell. That salary was a powerful motivator. I could have. Was it killing me? Mr Coyote says it was.
So when I was offered this new position, I was excited and proud. Somebody finally sees me as a manager! The new job is focused in one of my hobbies that I rediscovered while I was on leave, so it will be a lot of fun! I can finally get away from there!
But I froze in fear at the prospect of quitting. What if they’re right about me? What if I never will succeed anywhere else? What if I can’t manage with the pay cut? I’m just going to fail here, too, like I failed there.
My former job invaded every aspect of my life, simultaneously making it better and worse. Even silly things like great seats to concerts, which have always been my lifeline when everything else was wrong; I find myself wondering how I’ll ever do those things again even though I know I was going to shows and getting good seats long before this place came along. Even though I’ve done the math a thousand times, I’m scared I won’t be able to pay my bills simply because I’ve never had to pay those bills on a paycheck from anywhere else. I literally don’t know how to move on.
I left. I had to walk out, as my new job is a brand new store and the required start date was yesterday. I quit Friday at the end of a week of vacation, and started training yesterday, to get set up for the grand opening. It’s surreal. I’m now a leader, which I’ve been before and wanted desperately to be again.
But I’m a leader haunted by the words of bullies. Logically, I know that’s what they were. Just playground bullies. I’m hoping that, by creating a more welcoming environment for my new staff, I can prove them wrong. Take care of your people, make work a good place to be, and the results will come.
I had a dream the night before I started my new job that was pretty well dead on. I dreamt that I was getting a new tattoo on my left forearm. But when I took my sweater off to let them get started, I noticed there was already a tattoo there. Near my elbow, “Good Luck!” was written in large black cursive. Above that, it said “From,” followed by my old bosses’ names. It was completely in the way of the new tattoo and looked like it would prevent me from getting it. The tattoo artist decided to carry on though, saying, “that one looks like it will fade in time.” The new tattoo was beautiful feathers that looked like they were blowing in the wind, with a colour scheme reminiscent of the northern lights. The tattoo artist told me it was supposed to represent freedom.
So that’s how I’m feeling now. Scared and scarred, probably for a very long time, by a job I still illogically wish I could have kept. But I also know on some level that I’m free now, and I’ll find my way again.
One day I hope to look back on this and realize it was about as far from being a mistake as it could be. Bullies are powerful. But dammit, so am I.