This place is broken

I’ve been thinking a lot about the job I chose to leave over the last few days. This has been prompted by the annual work retreat which was held here in Bundaberg. I went to dinner with my ex-colleagues on Sunday night. I hadn’t thought too much about this apart from “Oh that will be nice to see everyone”.

Here’s the thing.

It wasn’t nice.

It was depressing and I drove home feeling sad. Why? The food was good. We laughed and chatted in a very pleasant fashion. What was wrong with me?

I thought about it all day Monday and Tuesday. I talked to, emailed and tweeted some wise and wonderful friends. They helped me out of my funk. Mostly. Well, enough that I felt strong enough to go to dinner again with the same people last night and not arrive home wanting to cry.

The conclusions I came to are these. (Warning: the following may include rambling)

1. Two months is not enough time to recover from 10 years in a toxic workplace.

Three of those years were casual and fixed term contracts. The last seven I was permanent. 10 years is a big chunk of my life so far. Toxicity is strong and permeates permanently. Only by coming up with self-preservation strategies did I make it through a particularly bad time from 2007-2009. At first I denied and ignored the signs of anxiety and depression, and then, when they reared up and smacked me in the face, dealt with them. That is work that continues to this day. Perhaps I should have left work then. But I didn’t. I didn’t even take a week off. Unfortunately, these memories, while not as strong as they once were, still surface and the tendency to resent the time and energy I continued to put into my job also surfaces.

2. You can’t go back.

The minute I walked out the door for the last time and ceased being a permanent employee I changed. When I go back to any environment or gathering of people from this job I am not the same. This is a good thing. I don’t want to be that person anymore. If I had wanted to stay as I was I wouldn’t have applied to leave. What this means is that I don’t “fit” in the same way I used to. So, I have to find a different way of being with the people I do value. The ones that I don’t (and here’s the best bit) I don’t have to be with at all. Cheers to that.

3. It’s broken.

I have many wonderful memories of students, teaching, laughing with staff. At the moment though, my strongest memory is of a post-teleconference conversation with my supervisor. After perhaps the hundredth difficult conversation with a “challenging” staff member, I burst into tears. “THIS PLACE IS BROKEN” I told her in no uncertain terms. She agreed. And that was the end of that. It remains broken. I feel fortunate I don’t have to keep banging my head against a brick wall in the misguided belief that I am the one to help fix it. It saddens me that I see good people still having to try as it sucks their energy and enthusiasm on a daily basis. This leads me to my next point.

4. I feel guilty.

I was very fortunate to get out. I escaped. I’m lucky. I don’t have to deal with that crap anymore. But, I feel guilty that dear friends are left behind in a situation where they aren’t happy, where nothing changes and doesn’t look like it will. I know we all make choices but that doesn’t mean the guilt isn’t there. I need to acknowledge it and work my way through it.

5. I’m dispensable.

In theory I knew this. I just hadn’t ever had to put it into practice. But it’s true. What’s also true, is so is everyone else whether they want to believe it or not.

6. I’m in the uncomfortable zone.

Despite everything that I’ve written here, that job was my comfort zone. It was safe. I was secure. But I wasn’t happy. The swearing that peppered my daily conversations with just about everyone told me that (it’s pretty much stopped now). So I left my comfort zone and for a while that’s going to be uncomfortable. That’s good. I think that’s the way life is supposed to be if you’re actually living it.

Best keep going then.

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