Lessons Learned: Working in a Toxic Culture

At twenty-three I was bright-eyed and full of energy wanting to make a difference in corporate America. In short, I was super excited to assist in building my employer’s marketing department. I was going to work for a talented marketing director and a visionary CEO. What else could I ask for, right?

Let’s say things turned out differently — very differently.

Suddenly, I was surviving constant strategy changes, soul-crushing deadlines and company politics with no direct boss to guide me.

I somehow managed with little work experience. No seniority. A lot of tears. Hard working teams outside my department. Little sleep and copious amounts of coffee.

You might be thinking “That’s not healthy nor sustainable” and you’re right. I started showing signs of depression and anxiety. At one point I had two panic attacks the same day. I resigned. My mind split. And I fell into a darker place.

But I learned — boy did I learn.

1. Everyone has their own battles.

Dealing with passive-aggressive coworkers is always hard. Hell, at one point, I was borderline insulted for doing what I was told. Or when I failed despite doing my best. But, seeing temperaments fly and misguided frustrations I understood — people are hurting too. They have their own pressures. This doesn’t justify toxic behaviors but it gives me pause before I internalize it or let it affect me.

2. Showing your emotions gives power — To The Wrong People.

I pride myself in being an honest, self-aware, and transparent person. But this doesn’t always work in your favor. At times when emotions and frustrations ran high at the office, everybody seemed to have the right to a reaction. But as soon as I gave in to my emotions and seemed defeated or tired — some would use it as a reason to be patronizing.

This showed me the wrong people will take advantage of the circumstances. Trust me, I am all for seeing the best in people, but actions speak louder than words.

3. Personal time is sacred.

I like working ‘till the job is finished. So I have a why-do-tomorrow-what-can-be-done-today mentality. That’s good — but don’t overdo it (like me). I know. I was trying to mitigate my ‘imposter syndrome’. And no matter how much money you are making (which for me was a good amount) if your job takes up all the space in your mind—it’s not worth it. Protect your time like your mental-health and happiness depends on it. Because they do.

4. Listen, listen, and listen

Trying to be helpful, I would give all relevant and associated information to the topic discussed in meetings. But, even when appreciated on occasion, I would always learn more when I listened. I would learn more about the project, I saw how my coworkers carried themselves and what motivated them. This will always give you more insight on how to navigate office politics. Also, if you are managing a team, finding what motivates each individual is key to harness their potential.

5. I Will Rise Above It — Always

After a lot of therapy, self-doubt, and self-loathing — I saw the light. I managed to externalize the problem. Once I got outside of my own head it all made sense. My work issues weren’t related to incompetence. I am capable. It was a matter of culture and my lack of experience.

Working on myself and being honest on how I calculate my self-worth has made all the difference.

But I am at a point which, a lot of my peers are experiencing. That fork in the road. That decision of what to pursue. And the hardest questions to answer: What is important in life? How do we define success?

So this is where the real work begins, for me. This is the best ending I could ask for — one filled with hope.

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