I want to make a case for 2018 to be the year that we remember that people behave very differently when they are in supportive vs. toxic environments. When we read people’s statements and judge them, review them for jobs, or consider our first impressions, I ask that we leave some room for imperfection. The person before you may be working very hard to preserve themselves and not at their best. Or this person may have hit their stride and be comfortable and able to give a lot more to others. I think positive change in our communities comes from discussing and acknowledging what people need, rather than telling them to “suck it up” and just “try harder,” or writing them off entirely for failing to meet our expectations of “pleasantness.”
I was rereading my journal from 5 years ago and kept feeling my stomach twist in guilt with some of my behavior from a time when I was completely miserable and lost in my first job. This is not me. I wrote. And it’s true — the grumpy, detached, selfish person I saw myself becoming while my daily environment felt really confusing and unpleasant made me into a different person. It made me defensive and jealous in every interaction I had. I was fighting to preserve my sanity and it meant I could not give ANYTHING to anyone else. I hated myself for it. I saw the person I was in public and couldn’t stand her, but I didn’t have more to give to make it better.
I left that environment and started to prioritize things that kept me healthier and saner — spending time with people what I liked spending time with who were positive forces in my life, rather than those who tried to compete with me and drag me down, getting enough sleep, blocking out “sacred hours” of the week that were untouchable because they were the times I read, did artwork, exercised, etc. I went back to being the version of myself that I was proud of. And in this space of comfort, I was much better able to be kind and patient with other people.
I thought about what kinds of references my old coworkers would give me — they probably didn’t find me fun or pleasant to be around. In this day and age, that could be bad for a future job prospect. I hope interviewers know that sometimes people need to leave jobs because their previous environments were toxic to them and references from these old jobs will not always reflect the best sides of that person. Maybe this new space will be healthier for them and they’ll bring what they’ve learned along the way to be a better coworker and teammate than they were before. I wish that 2018 will be a year when we think about room for growth in hiring and seeing the potential people have when they are healthy and happy coworkers.
I think this goes for friendships too. Sometimes someone is really hurting and they behave unpleasantly for a while, but come back to a friendship when they are healthier. I hope there is space in our friendships for forgiveness and time and healing.
I think about those who have to carry many responsibilities in their days and how sometimes they fall short of expectations. I always used to brief my freelancers with, I want to be both your friend because I care about your health and sanity and your boss. When we have a conversation, tell me who I need to be in it so I can give you honest, un-conflicted answers. I think this worked well for us. We finished crushing schedules on time and supported each other, even while projects were chaotic and unpredictable. We leaned on each other when we needed to and we coached each other when we needed to. There was space to be imperfect and kind.
I wish for leadership this year. Messy, sometimes imperfect leadership that makes change and starts important dialogues. I want more “bad feminists” and dreamers and people who make shit happen. 2017 brought out so many strong thinkers and activists and so much honesty. I am so excited by all of the organizing that has been happening! I hope 2018 is a year we can embrace differences in methods and offer critiques that keep us moving forward powerfully. I hope we grow together.
For further conversions:
This was a really interesting critique of current movements — and it highlights some opportunities for growth.
Reminded me of things I was worried about as a young activist.