Having so much empathy for a former Amy who was lost and struggling in her work and needed someone to care about me nearly a decade ago.
Last night Facebook reminded me of a post from my past life. On February 22, 2014, I wrote:
“Just finished a marathon day where I wrote a 15-page comms plan for my client and three toolkits, eight tip sheets, and coordinated the work of four writers for another client. If I didn’t just earn a gold star for that effort, I don’t know what will. At least I can go to bed tonight knowing my work is done here and I can have a weekend for a change.”
I feel really emotional and vulnerable writing this because it was trauma that still lives with me today. This is a ridiculous amount of work to have one person do in a day. I was split between two clients and had immense amounts of pressure to deliver, and not enough room to care for my mental health or well-being.
This former Amy was looking for someone to care, to validate her existence, to be given a gold star. It is a very tender thought to hold that this Amy wanted something that teachers give their children in the classroom in the workplace. Just the thought of it makes me cry. She wanted to be so good at her job, yet was looking for validation. She literally lived and breathed her work, as evidenced that she felt she could sleep well knowing she delivered at work (where she derived per purpose and self-worth), and the fact that she was grateful to finally have a weekend to herself rather than working through the whole weekend. This is so hard to read, yet it’s something I need to hear.
At the time of this post, I was working 80 HOUR WEEKS — two people’s jobs, and was paid only $85,000/year. I tried to get a raise, but I was told that my salary was at market value (but I knew people around me were making at least $120,000). Because I was building a culture of innovation, I wasn’t working directly on a client and thus wasn’t making money for my firm. I was made to believe that I couldn’t make anything more.
I was hand-selected to be on an “elite” team of people who were laying the foundation and the path for a new company culture to emerge. Everyone around me had Master’s degrees (many at Ivy League institutions), and I only had a Bachelor’s. I am a first generation American, and first generation in my family to go to college. I didn’t feel like I belonged, but yet I was there. Cue imposter syndrome. I thought about how I could be different from those around me. I would execute better than anyone else on my team, and because I accomplished that they kept giving me more projects. I felt like I needed to take them on in order to survive in this environment. I was wrapped up in these deep feelings of survival and not thinking rationally.
I recall being given the team award: “the Plate Spinner” because I was able to keep a million projects moving along. That was the first thing that came up in their mind — that Amy is really good at execution. They thought nothing about my personality or how I did the projects — just that I can keep all the projects going. In a way I accomplished my goal but I sacrificed my own mental health and well-being in the process.
At any time in the three years that I worked on this team not once did anyone ask: “Is this too much for you to take on?” or “Maybe you need LESS plates to spin?”. It was literally a game to see how much shit can Amy hold and not crack under the pressure. What this company cared about was profit over people, and it showed.
Nearly one year later I finally someone on my team asked me how I was doing, which led to me bursting into tears, laying the fetal position in my living room for hours and eventually a nervous breakdown where I realized my life was unmanageable. I admitted that I was not okay, and that I was struggling. I don’t remember anyone asking how I was doing at any time prior to that.
In this environment I learned that your workplace does not and will not care for you. I was living in a scarcity mindset, from a place of caring for everyone and everything around me instead of putting on the oxygen mask myself. This reminds me of “what not to do.” The kinds of workplaces that I’m yearning to build are ones that have awareness, deeply care for and love their employees.
A year and a half after I wrote this, I was selected to be a Presidential Innovation Fellow and nearly doubled my salary to $140,000/year. Joining the Fellowship changed my life in many ways, and I brought this workplace trauma with me into this new role. In fact, I’m still working through it and in a much better and balanced place than I was in 2014. I am in this bittersweet place of holding the younger Amy while also reveling in my growth. Both of these things can be true, and I’m holding them both close today and sending her love.