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7 Lessons learnt from some painful work experiences

by Pauline
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Growth can be painful.

All this buzz about 20plenty being the year for growth and change and positivity and all that is good in the world; has made me think back to some painful work experiences over the past few years.

Instead of writing a super shitty painful post which may leave you experiencing some sort of empathy towards me, I thought it would be more worthwhile to capture some of the lessons these experiences have taught me, because hey – they say (agency) life can be tough. It is- but it’s also incredibly uplifting, fast-paced, exciting ever-changing and growth-centred so don’t let this scare you away. 

My hope is you’ll learn from my experience too.

1. There is immeasurable value in being assertive.

Standing up for yourself EVEN when you’re trying to keep a company’s best interest at heart is never easy, but it’s one of those necessary “evils” in life. 

Skillsyouneed.com classifies being assertive  as “being able to stand up for your own or other people’s rights in a calm and positive way, without being either aggressive or passively accepting ‘wrong.’’

Do it! Don’t let fear get you down. When you’ve done it once, do it again and keep doing it. You’ll never regret it.

2. Good or bad – experiences are rarely unique to you.

You are never alone in your experience. Especially if you are stuck or have experienced something negative. I had a really bad experience where a co-worker nearly assaulted me at work (the person was in the midst of a retrenchment process which basically started soon after I joined the company.

When I started talking to women in my circle about what had happened (the raw unedited truth, going into the detail of all that had led to the situation – COUNTLESS women confided in me that they had experienced similar, if not worse, incidents at work. It made me feel a few things: that I didn’t need to be embarrassed, my feelings were valid, it made me feel safe but it also empowered me to keep practicing lesson number 1.

3. Never respond when…

I had a manager who felt entitled to phone me whenever he pleased. So much so, that on the day of my grandmother’s funeral, getting ready for an emotion-filled day with my family, he phoned me to complain about a meeting summary that the management team had not completed that was not up to his standard. I was due back at work two days later. 

“This is unacceptable, why was this not completed, I have never seen our notes look like this, this cannot be presented to the client in this format….” It went on and on and on but you get the point. 

The notes had been prepped before I left to spend two days with family and had always been presented in that way, as per his specification, but required an update from two senior managers who were informed that they would need to update the two “missing lines” while I was away as work was still being done in those areas. I am really good at what I do, but even I can’t predict the future. 

I calmly replied: “Can we discuss this when I am back?” – he kept going off on a tirade literally shouting at me through the phone. I managed to keep my cool and not reply what I was thinking which was “go f#ck yourself”- obviously. I managed to end the call with my fifth “we can discuss this when I am back” and immediately phoned our HR manager and told her that if anyone was to contact me again on this day – that she would be receiving my resignation shortly. No one’s lives depended on me being available that day and I resigned shortly after.

4. Some things are not meant to be understood.

Retrenchments, promotions, merges, strategies, new hires – you name it; It’s inevitable, you will work somewhere and question the logic behind these decisions or even your co-worker’s behaviour and choices. Sometimes you just need to accept that you will never be able to understand. Let it be and where possible- strip away the emotions/hurt/anger and or disappointment and do what you can to move forward. Consciously remind yourself to adjust and If you can’t- then make a change. Acknowledge that you may not have all the facts and do what’s best for you anyway.

5. Apologies are fantastic, but actions are key.

The owner of the company mentioned in point 2, publicly apologised to me in front of all the staff for not having protected me from what ensued. And although I felt this was an ENORMOUS step in the right direction. And I realllllllyyyyy appreciate what that must have taken and it meant a lot. The damage was done. 

When you’ve lost faith in a person’s ability to walk a road with you (no matter how hard that walk is) when they haven’t been able to comprehend the impact/effect on your life and haven’t changed actions or decisions- it’s time to walk away.

6. Never doubt your instincts.

If it seems wrong or off – it probably is. Not much more to say on that one. Intuition is something you should never ignore. 

7. ABOVE ALL…The problem is never the problem.

(This is actually one of my mantras in life now.) Work sometimes make us forget that people are people. Individuals with hopes and dreams of their own. Each unique in their skills, attitude, value, worldviews, etc. Trust your initial thoughts in terms of what you were going to do(you know, like make the tired-looking receptionist a cup of tea) and follow through. Get outside of your own box. How? Read Leadership and Self-deception: Getting out of the box. It will (cringe cliche) change your life!

What painful lessons have you learnt in your career and what have they taught you?

Let me know in the comments below or visit Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for more from Not The Boss. I’d love to hear from you!

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