There are some things you do not need to tolerate in order to get stronger, or better, or to figure out what you want, and that includes the things you say and do to yourself.
I had vegan pancakes for breakfast this morning, at this farm-to-table place in Western Massachusetts with stone table tops and maple-sriracha pork belly and lights surrounded by intricate wire contraptions that are both beautiful and confounding. Vegan pancakes are an excellent breakfast food because they don’t result in that quivery, sloppy nauseousness that happens when I eat regular pancakes, and they are relevant because they are part of the place where I did the most crying at work—a college town in Ohio.
I had been out of college for just over a year, and I did not think very much about taking this job, which was to engage Jewish students on campus to do Jewish things. There was the phone call that came with the offer, accompanied by my overwhelming desire to live outside the state where I was born and raised, and my other overwhelming desire to prove that I could work as a professional Jew. Then there was the visit to the college, small and politically idyllic, and the warnings about my future boss from people who had gone to this school. I didn’t heed any of these warnings, of course. I wrote them off as hyperbolic, because I wanted to, and because I’d already accepted the job.
I was exhausted from day one, because starting a new job is an intense thing, and because there were many responsibilities I wasn’t prepared to handle. One of them was going to the dining halls and co-ops on campus every day at lunch, sitting down at a table, and attempting to engage the Jewish students at said table in Jewish life. (It sounds totally ridiculous because it is.) The concepts of willingly placing myself amongst strangers was too horrifying to imagine. So I didn’t do it. Instead, during lunch, I went back to my apartment and tried to take a nap. Most of the time, though, I thought about how, because I couldn’t do a task that would put off even the most extroverted of humans, I was going to fail at this job and ultimately, at life.
There are usually tasks people feel like they can’t handle at work, and ideally, one would have a supportive supervisor to encourage them and what not. One thing I learned quickly was that the stuff people had told me ahead of time about the man who was going to be my boss was one hundred percent true. The manipulation, the yelling, the overstepping of personal boundaries, it was all there. I should have left when I first realized that everyone had been right, I know that now, but I didn’t. I thought staying meant I was tough.
The first time I remember crying at work was the summer between my first and second year at the job. An empty college campus is one of the saddest places there is; something about the energy draining and being replaced by loneliness. I worked for the first few weeks after the students left, getting speakers and such ready for the next semester, dealing with financial stuff from the one that had just passed. My boss requested that I track down the materials for a recommendation an alum had asked him to write, and after I checked around my desk, I came up empty. I didn’t have them. He claimed he’d given them to me. They were nowhere. I often thought I might be going crazy, or at least, losing parts of my memory. My boss would “follow up” on things I knew he had never asked me to do, and then yell at me about being disorganized and forgetting, suggesting that I had a psychological problem that resulted in me blocking things out. (I’m serious. That accusation led me to consult various psychiatrists and therapists who were in agreement that my problem was, in fact, my boss.) When I told him I didn’t have the materials for the recommendation, that I was certain he’d never given them to me, he told me to “get the fuck out of his office.”
So I did. I went down the hall to the bathroom and sat down on the stall floor and cried. I cried a lot, in that way you do when getting the crying out is the goal, and you can’t imagine what’s after it. It felt like the eruption of everything—constantly being told I was bad at my job, not knowing what I’d do if I got fired, not having told anyone around me or at home how ridiculous things were at work, having no balance between work and not work, and being so, so angry at my boss and at myself for putting up with it all.
That bathroom stall, and others on campus, became regular stops for crying, although I had to figure out how to do it quietly when school was in session. I stayed in that job for four years. My boss would likely tell you that I was only remotely competent at my work, but at some point, before the end, I realized that I was actually good at it. I I left when the students with whom I was the closest graduated, and I got a similar job, on another campus, where no one yelled at me, and gaslighting was not a part of the supervisor/supervisee relationship.
My boss was wrong about me and my abilities, and so was I. It took me a while to know it, as long as it took me to realize that being a Jewish professional was actually not what I wanted and not what would be good for me. It wasn’t that job that got me to a place of knowing; it was a big part of a much longer process.
The point is, there are some things you do not need to tolerate in order to get stronger, or better, or to figure out what you want, and that includes the things you say and do to yourself.
This originally appeared on Why I Cried At Work. Republished here with permission.