When you have a job that you care about, it’s hard not to internalize everything that your work gives you. Regardless of profession–government employee, lawyer, doctor, teacher, etc.–there are many things that happen in your day-to-day working life that you cannot control. And it’s natural to accept the daily stresses and annoyances as just being a necessary evil, a part of the job.
But what happens when they build up inside of you?
Ten years ago, I started working in politics. When I was working on Capitol Hill, I often told people that I got paid to let strangers yell at me on the phone. Most of my day was spent listening to the frustrations, grievances and complaints of the electorate. My professional meetings were often about how to fix programs that were broken or improve laws that were having unintended consequences. Most of the time, I felt like I was lassoing a tornado because very little went the way my co-workers and I planned.
I never really thought about how any of this was affecting me spiritually or emotionally, though I was a bit jealous of my co-worker Virginia who seemed to be doing a better job of “leaving work at work” than I was. For me, It was just part of the job.
Then, I left the Hill, and the parts of my job that fulfilled me (working for vets, helping Montanans, etc.) were gone. I wasn’t enjoying lobbying and I hated the internal politics of working for a large organization. My professional life began to feel empty and boring, until it suddenly wasn’t.
Imagine listening to your assistant check the voicemail on speaker phone and every other message is a threat of physical harm or an angry person yelling curse words. Being called a murderer of children. Having someone tell you that they know where your parents live and that you deserve to suffer like they believe you’ve made others suffer. Being evacuated from your building for a bomb scare and then told not to leave the block because there might be someone waiting outside to shoot you. Finding out that a famous artist has made a six-year-old-size coffin with your name on it.
Like many professional women, I pride myself on “powering through” the hard times. You do your job to the best of your ability, you try not to let the negativity enter your heart. But I wasn’t successful. I didn’t realize until this weekend how much of the anger and sadness I had taken into my soul. I didn’t realize how deep the chasm was where I had shoved all of my frustrations.
What surprised me was that after I talked about how lost I felt, two other women, both government employees, told me they felt the same thing. The Shutdowns, the politics, the left- and right-wingers, the media’s portrayal of our work, the feeling like nothing was going right had all eaten at them in the same way. None of us had realized that it was happening, we were just powering through.
So all I want from this post is to ask that you look inside yourself and take stock. What about your job is hard for you to deal with? Are you processing the emotions that it generates or are you burying them? How are you coping with the trials of caring about your work so much that it becomes a part of you? What can you do to prevent the tribulations of your professional life from becoming a yoke around your neck?
I wasn’t being honest with myself about what I was feeling because I didn’t think that was the “strong” thing to do. But there’s a fine line between strong, and tough, and hard.
Politics isn’t going to change. The same pressures and problems I encountered before, I will encounter again. But this weekend, I committed to deal with them in a more positive way. To remember that even when all you see and hear is ugliness, that there is still goodness in the world. And I hope that I can find a way to be strong instead of hardened and to overcome evil with good.
What frustrations and challenges do you encounter in your working life? Do you ever find that you internalize them too deeply? How do you deal? Perhaps we can help the other purposeful, overachieving chicks who read this blog do a better job of fighting the good fight without being spiritually maimed.