My lifelong struggle with holding on too long
I've just received word that my grant proposal to a local funding body has been declined. I worked tirelessly on that proposal and truly believed in the value of the project I was trying to launch. I’m taking it personally; it must be a reflection of me, my poor written ability, my lack of competence in building a strong case, and generally of me as a person. Surely there was something I could have done better, key words I failed to include, an error, an omission, something that was obviously clearer to me than to the grant review committee. I’m sore, bruised and deflated, hating where I am and feeling poisoned and trapped by my work. It doesn't matter how many times I get to this point of disappointment on the job, and there have been dozens, I dust myself off and face another day. What a trooper, a real go-getter, never succumbing to hits I seem to take on a fairly regular basis.
Here’s the thing quite truthfully; I wasn't impassioned with the proposal. I was driven by my desperate need to succeed. I didn't write the proposal with the main intention of breathing new life into the flailing not-for-profit organization that employs me, though from a macro perspective, this too is a challenge I would take on as another opportunity to try and fix something that is broken. I wrote the proposal with an absolute die-hard attitude and unwillingness to fail at what I felt would be an outstanding achievement. I believed in what I wrote at the core of it all, but at the end of the day, what I wrote was, in my eyes a reflection of my ability to conceptualize, to be strategic, and to tie it all together into something no funding body in the land would turn away from. Turned away they did and now, here I sit, nursing my wounds, reflecting on my failure.
I’d be remiss to mention that the organization I work for has created many enemies which I only wish I’d known before accepting this glowing job offer almost two years ago. I left a management job of 15 years, one that I was ready to leave, but not one I was ready to trade in for what has been an endless test of my patience, tenacity and endurance. I wasn't prepared for the unkind welcome, the daily smattering of sneers by my colleagues, the whispering behind closed doors, and the outright ignorance I've faced every single morning for most of my stint so far. On my first day, I left completely gutted, drowning in tears for this terrible mistake I had made. I was wooed into the job, approached for my specific skill set and experience which made me the perfect fit for a new program my employer needed to get off the ground. I was wined and dined over the period of weeks, asking many questions to ensure the opportunity was going to be the right fit. Everything I requested in the negotiation stage was granted. They wanted ME! Knowing how many articulate, intelligent, talented individuals were out there, I was quite smitten with the fact that for some reason, I stood out. It was such a compliment, a great stroke of my ego and it all seemed just too good to be true. You know what they say . . .
The staff were immediately in opposition to my being hired. Put mildly, the current Manager was not well-liked and as she had brought me on board without offering the opportunity internally first, she ruffled some feathers. I was dye-cast as her side kick, her partner-in-crime before I even stepped foot in the door making me guilty by association. This mindset took hold outside of the organization as well, with many of the major players across the sector’s local landscape digging in their heels and refusing to see our collaborative potential. After leaving a job where I was respected in my community for my work, for the exceptional team I built and for the creation of a highly successful community program, I joined this new team of people who would become a ‘you-are-who-you-associate-with’ club of haters. All that being said, I came back for day two, three, four . . .
Here I sit, almost two years later looking back at what has been an agonizing roller coaster of emotion. Many days I got knocked down, I went home, drank heavily, vented to anyone who would listen, mostly my dog. I would pass out, barely sleep, then dread the moment I opened my eyes, knowing I had to face another day. I would have a hot shower, put myself together, and tell the person staring back at me in the mirror that nothing and no one would take me down. “I’m no quitter; I’m better than them; I won’t allow them to push me out”. I told myself that in time, I would prove my ability and once they spent a little more time getting to know me, they would see that I am sincerely on their team, harmless and driven to do great things to support the organization, perhaps doing work that would secure their employment success well into the future. Not-for-profits are a tough game. I wanted to succeed, for me, for them, for the organization, and for the community. Not much has changed. Sometimes people say good morning now. The days of their refusing sweet treats that I’d arrive with in the morning are fewer now. I actually believe that if my coworkers and I were starving on a deserted island and I came across a bountiful crop of goodness, they may not refuse my offering simply out of spite. Now that’s progress!
What these past two years have taught me is not so much that some people are just plain old fucked up. I knew that, though this experience has made that truth a little more fresh and raw on a daily basis. What it has taught me is that I am pretty fucked up too. Who stays in a job that has become the retching of my soul? Who stays in a job for an employer who’s values are in complete and utter opposition to mine? Who stays in a job that ends many days in tears because I wasn't able to get anyone on my side nor could I, under any circumstances cross the hall to join theirs. I know that there are things that have happened prior to my joining this defunct team that set me up for failure before I even stepped foot in the door. The drama has been excruciating. Who has the staying power to keep at it in the face of obscene nastiness over and over again, where any failure of mine to execute on the job would surely result in a happy dance around the water cooler. I DO.
Reflecting on what role I've played, banishing the judgment and blame of my peers, what have I done to put myself in the mental and emotional line of fire? I STAYED. Initially, I allowed my ego to be wooed, I overestimated my ability to bring the team together, I underestimated the impact of working in the shadows of an unsavory manager. I GOT IT WRONG. Not only have I learned something about my choices, I've realized that staying too long is central to all of the hurt and heartache throughout my life. I've learned that winning at what I do, trying to achieve what seems nearly impossible doesn't do any justice to my own self-love or dignity. It actually shoots holes in my soul which leads me to feeling even worse about myself, imposing a deep self-loathing that far outweighs the pain I've allowed others to impose.
I stayed with my first boyfriend years longer that I should have. He was a great person who helped me escape an abusive home life at 16 years old and I found comfort in his world where I couldn't in my own. He smoked insane amounts of pot, was uneducated, and had no goals or ambitions. I knew very early that I wanted more for myself and my future. It took me years to let go because I didn't want to fail. I was convinced that I could show him the way to a better life for us. Next, I married a mad man who whisked me off my feet as every classic narcissist does, who then laid down the hammer once I was so deeply invested in the success of the relationship. He beat me black and blue in 2001 and I promised myself and my 2 month old baby at that moment that I was ending this, immediately. With each striking blow, I stood back up in opposition as if to say, “I can take this. I won’t let you win.” Had I submitted the first time, the blows would have stopped. Talk about staying power. In 2007, I left. I escaped one morning as I kissed him goodbye before he drove away to work. I left a note and ran. I thought I could fix him, and I had a whole range of other emotions trailing behind me like a lead weight that kept me loyal to the madness. I could provide so many more examples but I believe I've clearly demonstrated that I stay too long. There is a thin line between persistence, determination and loyalty, and outright stupidity.
As I sit here at my desk writing this, I’m thankful for this wake up call, this awareness of the choices I've made that have become a consistent thread through my life, in every domain. I've decided to take matters into my own hands and realize that I have played the full hand in being a victim. That’s it, I said it. I am nauseated by the realization that I have masked my poor choices under the guise of drive, perfection, and being the ultimate over-achiever. I just didn't love or value myself enough. I see now that although achievement is central to my personality, I choose where that achievement will lie. I’ll choose to place myself, my heart, my loyalty and my trust in worthier hands. I’m taking my shit somewhere it can shine. If it doesn't shine, I’ll take it somewhere else.