05 September 2016


I had a particularly bad day at work a few weeks ago. I won't name names or go into details, but my feeling after the event was shock. I couldn't make sense of things, and my reaction threw me down into a spiral of depression and a feeling of helplessness.

Then, serendipity.

I was at the grocery store, and you know how there's always racks of magazines by the cash registers? Usually they're tabloid or Hollywood or glamour based. This time, right at the top, staring me in the face, was the Harvard Business Review's OnPoint magazine for fall 2016 (selected articles from HBR) "How to Work with Toxic Colleagues." Wow. Perfect.

This is one of the first magazines I have poured through and found nuggets of wisdom from each page. I'm highlighting passages here and there that feel especially pertinent to my situation. The one that, so far, applies the most to my situation is quoted below:
She explained how she has sort of "handled" [the employee] ... (which is why she felt betrayed by his accusations). Evidently, he'd often vent to her about what he saw as all-around stupidity. She'd listen, calm him down, and occasionally chide him extremely gently for being out of line. And other people would come to her and complain when he'd said something nasty, and she'd calm *them* down (explaining the pressure he was under, whatever). Since he exempted her from his nastiness, she was shocked when he turned on her." —Sarah Cliffe (p. 93).
It's not exactly nastiness — more of a prickliness. And you never know when it's going to happen. For 13 years I've danced around trying to please and not provoke. What have I created? This sort of situation. It's partly my fault for trying to take care of everyone and avoid conflict. Now: What can I learn, and how can I change?

First, I'm doing the research. Second, I'm backing off at work, letting go of trying to control things. Part of my job as managing editor is to control workflow. But nowhere in the job description does it say that I have to try to make everybody happy.

That doesn't mean that I don't care. I care very much. That's why, as Cliffe writes, I end up feeling "betrayed" or having a sense of shock when something happens that isn't in line with how I like to present myself.

In this HBR OnPoint edition, Nicole Torres' article, "It's Better to Avoid a Toxic Employee Than Hire a Superstar" (p. 21), also strikes a chord with me. She writes,
[Researchers] compared the cost of a toxic worker with the value of a superstar, which they define as a worker who is so productive that a firm would have to hire additional people or pay current employees more just to achieve the same output.

They calculated that avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as bringing in a star performer.
I am sorry to say that I used to be so task focused that sometimes I did not pay attention to how I was perceived or how my attempts to be helpful were actually keeping others from growing and learning.

That in some way is what I have done in this situation. That doesn't mean I'm more at fault than the other person, but it's important to recognize that I'm not Teflon and she's not always wrong.

The magazine is going to require several more hours of study. I've also picked up a few books to help me decide what to do next; that is, do I need to make a life change or change the way I work and perceive and interact with others?

These changes go hand-in-hand, but where's the tipping point?

I'm reading Life Purpose Boot Camp: The 8-Week Breakthrough Plan for Creating a Meaningful Life, by Eric Maisel; Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life, by Adam Markel; Road Trip Nation's Roadmap: The Get-it-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life; and Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg.

I'm also taking a Udemy class, "Writing Mastery: Productivity Hacks for Writers," taught by author Jessica Brody. As long as I can remember, I've wanted to "be a writer." My first poem was published Boulder's Daily Camera in 1970 (when I was seven, and the article was about the poetry class I was taking with other kids my age). There's more to the story about my writing goals that I won't include here; look for another post!

Plus, I've joined a gym and am working with a personal trainer. Strength in, fat and lethargy out.

This is just the beginning. The opportunities for learning are tremendous; the next step will be to "get clear on [my] life purposes, upgrade [my] personality, and manage [my] circumstances as mindfully as [I] can" (Maisel, p. 8).

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