Toxic bosses & anxiety meds (5-Min Read)
It's 2013, year 6 of my finance career and I had just been promoted to manager, executive level, at a Fortune 100 company! This was a BIG deal. Level change, huge pay increase, amazing benefits, all of it. It was a surprise to me and felt pretty good! I celebrated by purchasing myself a beautiful green amethyst and gold ring I still wear everyday.
When the promotion officially went into effect, I found out that my boss (and entire team) was about to change. Why would they do this, I asked? I'd have to rebuild all new relationships with the new key group stakeholders + face a steep learning curve. No real answer, so I assumed it was business need/budget related, or maybe it was political, I have no idea.
Anyways, I decided to keep the smile on my face and gratitude in my spirit as I was welcomed by my new, 90% male dominated team (something I didn't question because I was very used to being the only woman in the room).
My new boss (he) seemed intense, yet supportive, and encouraged me to reach out with anything I ever needed, as I was the only team member in Chicago.
Despite the disappointment of leaving my old team, I felt good and hopeful at that point.
I was then assigned 3 new projects, challenging to say the least, as I worked from my apartment. Handling calls with India + late night virtual team meetings would prevent me from getting into the office. 60+ hour weeks was a norm for me, but I'd usually get some breathing room after a few weeks of it.
But then I was assigned 2 more projects. I told my boss this was going to be too much for our team to handle, as we were really pushing to get it all done. I don't remember the details of that convo, but he somehow convinced me that taking on the two projects would work with my other deadlines and he'd get more support if they all ramped up at the same time.
So I, reluctantly, said yes. But I was still under the impression that this guy had my back.
Not surprisingly, the projects all ramped up at the same time. My team was exhausted. We all had colds and we're heading towards burnout, something I knew, intuitively not only ruined productivity, but inhibited our rational decision making capabilities. I worried we'd make a mistake (we were dealing with millions in annual revenue on each project and anyone's name attached to a mistake would not be good).
So I told my boss, this was too much for our team to handle, we needed more support.
And that's when the beast was unleashed...
This man yelled at me like I had never been yelled at in my entire life. He told me I was out of line for even thinking about the well-being of the team (burnout was inevitable, not something to prevent). He had been through the trenches, canceled vacations, worked through holidays, etc... to get to where he was today and I would have to do the same.
I shook, literally. His "support" was a sham and he had just verbally abused me over the phone. Not to mention, EVERYTHING he said was out of alignment with my values.
I got off the phone confused and scared. I didn't know what to do. I had dealt with some truly difficult and intense personalities in my career, but never ANYTHING like this.
And what's worse, that instead of standing up for myself and saying this was what I NOW KNOW to be ATROCIOUS and DISGUSTING, I internalized it as a problem I would need to solve within myself. How could I be stronger? Put up with more BS? Play the corporate game even smarter?
But I couldn't be stronger or smarter - in hindsight, I needed human compassion. I needed an organization that valued humanity and saw people as people, not as work horses.
I was having trouble sleeping, eating, not to mention, focusing. And I felt like I had no one to talk to who would fully understand the situation, probably because I had no idea what was actually going on... all I knew was that I was in panic mode.
So I went on anxiety meds.
And I felt a lot of shame about the work situation + going on meds. I felt really really weak.
But I knew from a prior situation that meds can be super helpful when you're doing the mindset work to change habits and your environment. So I started to talk more about the problems I was facing, voice what I needed, and eventually got myself onto a new team.
A fresh start?
Things improved a bit, but that toxic boss experience opened me up to the idea that my values may not align with this organization. And that there was NO WAY that one human alone could change the culture of an organization that was SO extremely rooted in beliefs of profit over people.
That awareness helped me see the rest of my time at the company as an experiment: would voicing my needs allow me to be the person I wanted to be at the company? NO F-ING WAY.
That's why I share this story. I stayed, hoping I'd find a tribe within a culture that didn't want to hear what I had to say. I wish I had had someone in my life at the time who could have helped me to see this more clearly, faster, so I didn't have to endure more pain and stress.
Yet I hold no regrets - I left just when the time was right for me. If I left in the middle of all the madness, I wouldn't have gotten to that point of clarity and confidence and truly learned my value in the workplace (and in life). But I do know, the right voice, support or story would have helped me to see that much sooner.
If you're questioning a toxic boss/work situation or know a friend who may be in a similar situation, that's why I'm offering these New Year's Strategy sessions. To help you see yourself and your situation more clearly, so you can move towards a career that feels more authentic and meaningful to you. I'm here for you.
P.S. That toxic boss got promoted to managing director within a year of my complaint. I should have gotten HR involved, but I didn't know what I know now. I also didn't have an exit interview when I left the company after 7+ years. I would love to change that at organizations too. Why didn’t that happen!?!