+ Work Wednesdays

Work Wednesday: Taking It All In

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.

LEAVE A COMMENT

    49 comments

  1. s says:

    I had a lot of these experiences as a Hill staffer. When I moved to DC, I took a job as a caseworker in a district office within the Beltway because I do believe there are people in government who do good work every day for individual people and I wanted to be one of them. Even ass I was successful (via my boss, of course) in getting favorable results on a lot of cases, I’ll never forget some of the things people called me when I had to answer their legislative phone calls that came into the district office. It took me a long time to learn how not to take anything personally and an even longer time to forget what was said, but that’s also when I took up running as a way to get out that stress. And then I met people who had the same struggles and I realized that not everything was about me in this crazy overly-partisan national discussion we ALL have helped create in some small way. Working in the private sector now, I don’t take things personally at work because frankly, I don’t care about this line of work as much as I did about working for the public. So that makes it easier. In sum, running and making friends with fellow Hill staffers on both sides of the aisle got me through the vitriol.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  2. Melinda says:

    I am a therapist, so I can really relate to what you’re saying here. Every day I sit and I listen and work through issues with people, and it’s hard not to have the weight of the world on my shoulders-people who look to me to “fix” them or magically make them better. I begin to feel overly responsible for people’s happiness, and I internalize their struggles and traumatic stories. So, as strange as it sounds, every day before work, I pray that God would help me to be present with these people, and to remember that I have people/things in my life with whom I can process my emotions (including my own pretty kick ass therapist). Thus, I am free to listen and be with others, because I know I have outlets to take care of myself. It’s basically me taking stock every day that I have the ability to practice self care, listen to myself, and gather those I love around me (friends who do not shame me for having emotions, but empathize with me), and then I make it a priority to do those things.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  3. SLG says:

    Thanks for this post, Belle. After working for a nonprofit for several years I found myself in a similar position, and it’s taken me a couple years to recover.

    I’ve changed jobs, and for now, for the sake of my own mental health, I avoid the blogs/magazines/etc. that traffic in the controversies my previous org was involved in. I’m not permanently checking out; I’m just taking a temporary break. And I’m finding that pulling back from those controversies temporarily is giving me much more clarity of thought about the issues themselves. Obvs that’s not for everyone, just sharing what’s worked for me.

    I’m also trying to find ways to, as you said, remind myself that there is goodness in the world. For some reason I find that part harder! Would love to hear how others go about doing that.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
    • Meg says:

      I work for nonprofits, too. I thought I wanted to do direct service (a la a case manager at a homeless shelter) but could NOT leave my work at work. During grad school, I realized my passion was fundraising – still helping people, but being one (or two) steps removed from them. I am now working at a major hospital – it’s a little less warm and fuzzy than a grassroots nonprofit, but for my mental health it’s perfect. It’s hard to remember to take care of ourselves when we’re trying to take care of everyone else in the world.

      May 7, 2014/Reply
    • Service And Self says:

      I work for a small company (lots to do, lots of multitasking, performance and a positive are mandatory) and it can make for some long weeks.

      One thing I’ve done is join a service organization (a younger, interesting and active Rotary Club) so that I can actively give back in my personal life and through those interactions see the goodness in the world. It’s hard not to smile the rest of your day when you just spent an hour in the morning reading to and being read to by 3rd graders for instance. As someone else said, just sharing what’s worked for me.

      May 7, 2014/Reply
      • Kay says:

        This is awesome. You’re awesome.

        May 8, 2014/Reply
  4. love it says:

    Wow! I just wanted to be a small voice to affirm that the sustained, personal harassment you endured in your former job is NOT OK. I’m so sorry. And I’m glad that you have some space now (physical distance, time has passed, etc) to take stock of what all went on during that decade in politics, and to process. // Relating this to my story — my most busy and intellectually exciting years have also been the most damaging emotionally/physically/spiritually because of pushing myself beyond my limits (?) to keep up with it all. So, I’m trying to figure out how to be excited about work, without burning out… how to have a sustainable pace, but not be bored… etc. I’ve thought a lot about things like “my design” and “my calling” to try to parse out what’s the right fit for me… where I’ll flourish and thrive and be busy and energized.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  5. M says:

    This is so wonderfully written! I hope your spiritual retreat was able to give you some well deserved time off to reflect and recharge. Sharing your story is so important – the more we are able to openly discuss this, the more likely change is going to happen. Blessings to you and your new adventure!

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  6. J says:

    This is hitting close to home right now. I’ve worked with medical research data several years now, and at first it was so empowering (curing diseases! helping people live longer!) but now it just feels like I can’t escape the feeling that everyone is sick or dying, and modern medicine can’t help them. It didn’t help that several family members and close friends have passed away from some of the very diseases I help study.
    How do I deal with it? In the long-term, I am looking to switch industries and analyze someone else’s data. In the short term, I alternate between taking excellent care of myself so I can convince myself I will never get sick and die, and then taking terrible care of myself so I can “live it up” in what *could* be a very short time on earth. Balance is elusive.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  7. Mrs Type A says:

    I’m a defense attorney, and people have told me that “morally” they couldn’t do what I do for a living. Even though I do what I do (and LOVE it) because I am fighting to uphold the Constitution and people’s rights, it sometimes hurts.

    Also, for the primary election in my State yesterday they have been running a lot of crazy political ads attacking a state supreme court judge for “siding with child molesters” (aka, not applying a law to them that would be ex post facto) and another candidate, just for being a trial attorney (“we don’t need another trial attorney going to Washington!”). As a lawyer, I felt sad about these ads because I could see people less acquainted with the law believing them and being influenced by them. It’s tough!!

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  8. Teddie says:

    I’m a research librarian. This weekend I had a moment of realizing that I was walking around angry and I was barely civil to others because of it. My work situation is one where lack of communication and organization are the norm, but the expectation is that I drop what I’m working on to accommodate their poor planning but get none of the same courtesies when I make a mistake. Actually, I’m almost certain someone is keeping a tally of my foibles while trying to figure out my job without supervision. And how I respond when I get reprimanded for doing it wrong.

    I finally was able to acknowledge my emotional response and realize that I don’t want to be angry all the time. I am aware the I need to pursue my calling but I have student loans to pay off and I should actually practice my calling before I drop everything for it. But it helps to be aware. And it helps to know that I’m not the only one whose experiencing this kind of thing.

    Thanks for sharing

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  9. GingerR says:

    I feel like things in the past 6 years have been the worst. The budget showdowns, the debt ceiling, the sequester, the shutdown — it’s all happened before but never really impacted me. This time I was laid off, then re-hired, subject to new management and grand plans for change and transformation. I feel like Taylor Swift in her song where she says, “it’s exhausting.”

    I have a commitment to what I do. Lord knows why. My layoff demonstrated to me that it’s all about relationships, not processes or grand theories of change that will all happen in the next 6 months – I’m trying not to laugh when I hear that since 30 years of experience tells me it’s an outright lie.

    The best thing for me to do is to do what’s right and let the chips fall where they may. That, and quit reading the news.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  10. Amanda says:

    Very well said. Recent layoffs, restructuring and the acquisition of another company at my place of work has turned what me and my coworkers dived into as a “sprint” (Everything needed to be done “yesterday” so we have been working long hours and weekends) into a marathon experience. A few months later one by one, we are all having “burn out” episodes and getting overwhelmed. I’m struggling with what “love it” abvoe describes as finding a balance between working efficiently and doing my best and not burning out and also having time for other things in my life that make my happy.
    Thanks again for the post, Belle. I’ll be thinking about this for weeks!

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  11. Anneli says:

    PERSPECTIVE. Healthy doses. See the real world.

    Half of what drives the hamster wheel is not real. I had to learn to pick the right stuff to be passionate about, steer and drive instead of letting myself be so disempowered. And learn to look after myself and family. And take a change. Sounds like you have the right ingredients…..

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  12. Laurie says:

    You won’t believe how timely this post is. I work in a business analyst role, playing liaison between our corporate and IT departments. Yesterday was an especially frustrating day, and I internalized it all. I ended the day questioning the value of caring about the quality of work, when no one else seems to be bothered with it.

    I don’t have the answer yet, but I am understanding that I need to choose to change how I react to the issue as opposed to trying to change how others do their work.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  13. Sarah says:

    Thanks, Belle. I think about this a lot. I started my career as a public defender. Sometimes, I would go home at night and sit in the dark until I went to sleep to go in the next day. I think I was sick once a month through all of my second year because I didn’t take the time I needed to take care of myself because of the burden of the people that needed me. Over time, though, I just got more comfortable with the job and the idea that I was in conflict with the cop, my client (often), the adult client’s mom (more than you’d think), witnesses, the prosecutor, the judge. And my own opinion never really mattered that much bc I was fighting for someone else. As I’m getting into a different kind of law, family, I see so many sad and messed up things. That’s weighing on me as much as my first days as a PD. I just learned to make my home time my own to the extent I can. I try to protect weekends. I give myself a little personal time if I need it. But, my time as this kind of attorney (dealing with people going through the worst times of their life) has also led me to seeing a lot of injustice, and I find myself not believing anything I’m told ever. It’s a hard way to go through life, and it’s certainly seeping into my personal life too. I’ve definitely developed a small rage problem…but again, I’m still doing so much better than when I started. No more nights in the dark. Really I just had to learn to be at work when I’m at work, and to be at home when I’m at home. And when I’m at home, or taking personal time, to just ENJOY it. If you waste your personal time worrying about work or feeling guilty for not being there, it’s no benefit and is probably a net loss. I still haven’t perfected it. Thanks for talking about it.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
    • Sarah says:

      And this will sound annoying, but finding exercise to feel awesome about has helped infinitely. It gives me a release, and a new little social community.

      May 7, 2014/Reply
  14. Melanie says:

    I can definitely relate to this. About 5 years ago I was promoted to what I thought was my dream job, after working my way up in a large company for years. About a year into the job, my boss changed, my department leader changed, and the internal politics radically changed virtually overnight (we were working in a witch hunt type of environment). For a solid year I endured what can only be described as emotional abuse. The stress levels got so high that I was losing my hair, getting weird skin rashes, suffering from short term memory loss, and going home and crying every night (just a few of the many stress symptoms I was dealing with). Yet throughout it all I felt I needed to tough it out and that I could fix things by just working harder, even though I was already at my limit.

    A mentor and very good friend said something to me that I still think of often. He said, “It’s okay to think something is your dream job and then when you get there, realize it’s not.” It took some time, but I eventually realized he was right. I had given it my all but it was time to let go. In the end, I wound up being laid off from that job at the height of the recession. But I looked at it as a blessing in disguise. I was finally free.

    It has taken me 5 years to fully process everything I went through, but I recently realized that I am truly happier in my job and in my career than I have ever been. True, I had to take a step back professionally after being laid off, but I have so much less stress now and feel so much happier…and that’s what is most important.

    Thank you for your post. I do believe so many of us struggle with the same thing but feel we just need to keep soldiering on. But sometimes you just have to know when to cut your losses and go in a different direction.

    P.S. I absolutely second what GingerR said about not reading the news. If you’re in a bad place, that will only make it worse. When I got laid off during the recession I would hear these horrible stories about MBAs and PhDs living in tent cities because they couldn’t find jobs and they lost their homes. It really made me spiral into a very dark place. I finally had to shut it off!

    May 7, 2014/Reply
    • love it says:

      Really good advice from your mentor, wow, yeah.

      May 7, 2014/Reply
  15. DontBlameTheKids says:

    I’m so sorry you went through that. How awful. As a government employee, I hear a lot about how worthless I am, how lazy I am, how incompetent and greedy. I can’t read the comments section on newspaper articles because it gets so vile.

    Now I remind myself that hate is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die from it. And these people that threatened you and called me worthless? Well, they are so full of poison right now that there’s not room for much else. I feel sorry for them, because that’s such a miserable existence. What a terrible way to waste a life. I hope good things come their way and that they somehow learn how to let go of all that poisonous hate they’re carrying with them, because wow, what a heavy load to carry.

    And that’s how I keep the ugliness from infecting me.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
    • Laurie says:

      So sorry you’re dealing with this. I am a former govt employee as well, and can relate. It was awful reading about how lazy, incompetent, overpaid and underworked I was supposed to be, when the reality was the opposite and everyone I worked with was at the top of their game and was in it to genuinely help our constituents.

      I am now in private, but I left with my positive opinion of government employees intact. I now use every opportunity I get to set the record straight and challenge people’s assumptions about the calibre of employees who work for government. Thank you for all your hard work, and hang in there!

      May 7, 2014/Reply
      • GoGoGo says:

        A small plug: if you use Firefox, I’m a big fan of an add-on called Comment Blocker. It makes comment sections invisible until you click a little button in the corner of your address bar. It’s a little thing, but big mental-health boost.

        https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/commentblocker/

        Much appreciation to everyone for their honesty, and much support to everyone in their stress.

        May 7, 2014/Reply
  16. love it says:

    It’s also helpful for me to remind myself of what I SHOULDN’T do to cope. What brings temporary relief, but is ultimately harmful and self-destructive. For me that’s… too many drinks, too much shopping, staying up too late to avoid the morning, etc. As I’ve grown up, I’ve replaced these with good old-fashioned healthy coping mechanisms — like having some clear schedule markers for my free time (same bedtime, same wake-time), cultivating deep and true friendships, rooting myself more in my faith community and relationship with God, trying to cut back on caffeine, etc. The next step is to exercise, like Sarah said above!

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  17. Blue says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been struggling with this for the last year, and it’s so helpful to hear about others facing the same challenge. I’ve hit the “my dream job isn’t a dream” issue and find myself bored with the entire field (politics). But I don’t know what I want to do otherwise, but I’m keeping my eyes and heart open.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  18. Addie says:

    I can’t imagine working in politics for 10 years. I’m now in the private sector and I
    Don’t really internalize my work. But I did have several extended internships both on the Hill, at the district level and in lobbying. As far as the nasty phone calls, I think I was lucky. A combination of traits from both my parents and life experiences have led me to have an “oh yea? Well screw you too,” approach to rude or hurtful things said by strangers. Of course they still affected me but instead of taking it personally, I got irritated that I wasn’t allowed to tell every caller what ingrates they were. However, the Member I had a congressional internship with was on the VA committee, and the stories I heard about how poorly some veterans were treated by the very government they’d served just broke my heart. And as an intern, there was even less I could do to help them, at least directly. I tried to combat it by reminding myself that there has always been evil in the world but there is a lot of good too and unfortunately you can’t have one without the other.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  19. Ann says:

    Or, you could imagine the pain of missing a family member who died by gunfire. Of knowing that when other countries have imposed responsible gun control laws, gun deaths have gone down, and of wondering whether your loved one would still be alive if guns weren’t so easy to get in the United States — the country with the most guns and most gun deaths per capita in the world.

    I’m sorry you were personally harassed, but when you lobby on behalf of an organization famous for its aggressive tactics, it’s a bit disingenuous to complain about being on the other side.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Do you think that I never imagined what it must have felt like for those parents? I don’t believe my experience and theirs are even comparable.

      I don’t want to engage in a philosophical debate about the Second Amendment, because regardless of issue, I don’t think anyone deserves to be harassed and threatened for their political beliefs. How is threatening acts of physical violence, rape and murder an appropriate response to “aggressive lobbying tactics?” I don’t like how CODE Pink conducts their business or how the Tea Party lobbies, but I would never advocate for violent reprisals against their supporters.

      I have the utmost respect for Rep. Gabby Giffords and Mayor Bloomberg, not because I agree with them, but because they’re fighting for what they believe, just like I was. I complained loudly about many of the statements that were made by the NRA brass and was unhappy with many of the bonehead moves being made by people on both sides who were blinded by vitriol. But how does anything that happened or was said eliminate my ability to be safe at work/home or warrant threats so extensive and detailed that a former Secret Service agent had to be brought in?

      May 7, 2014/Reply
      • SLG says:

        Belle, I just want to be one more voice to validate what you’ve said: harassment, abuse, and threats are not OK. I’m very sorry that you had to experience that, and I would say the same for anyone who experienced the same thing on the other side of the aisle.

        May 8, 2014/Reply
      • Erica says:

        To echo other supporters: threats of violence and harassment are never okay, let alone productive.

        Praise to you and others who passionately pursue beliefs and convictions as it displays a politically and socially engagement that has concern for continued success and prosperity of this nation. It is also good and healthy to know your limits. Best wishes, Belle, in your new pursuits.

        May 8, 2014/Reply
      • Ann says:

        It doesn’t. Threats of violence are not legitimate forms of public discourse or protest.

        As unpleasant as they are, though, angry people screaming curse words or calling you a child murderer, or an artist’s representation of violence with coffins, are protected free speech. Other people have the First Amendment right to protest your lobbying on behalf of the Second. And facing those forms of protest is an anticipated if unpleasant consequence of working for a highly controversial organization, no matter how much you believe in its mission.

        For what it’s worth, in my time working on the other side of the issue, I received messages that super-imposed targets over my picture, with titles along the lines of “don’t you wish you had your own gun?” It sucks, but if it’s not a specific threat, it’s free speech. And therefore, it was what I signed up for in that particular position. I am sympathetic towards the stress of working in that sort of environment, even or perhaps especially if you are committed to the organization’s mission. And one person’s free speech can be very stressful towards another person. But the post conflated legitimate, if unpleasant, protest and speech with illegitimate threats of violence, and omitted some fairly relevant context.

        I enjoy your blog and will back away from the politics. This post rubbed me the wrong way, but it’s your blog and your space to share your views, not mine.

        May 8, 2014/Reply
        • Belle says:

          Yes, but there were many specific threats against me, my family, my co-workers and their families. What happened went way beyond free speech in some cases. Justifying an angry, unproductive discussion that is detrimental to both sides with “Well, it’s free speech,” isn’t doing the process we all gripe about any favors.

          And I am just as upset that you have had to endure harassment from the people who are allegedly on “my side” of this debate as I am for the things that were said to me, my primary gripe is with the ugliness of the process, how the Internet has made it darker than ever before and how the people who are working these issues, on both sides, are being made to endure a constant barrage of hate that is affecting their personal lives and quietly dragging them to a place where they feel they must be hardened to the perspectives of others in order to survive. I think you and I would agree on far more than you are giving me credit for.

          May 8, 2014/Reply
          • Angie says:

            I agree that there is a major difference between free speech (e.g., disturbing things like artistic representations) and literal threats that call your safety or the safety of your family, coworkers, etc. into question. The former is protected, but the second is potentially criminal (stalking, harassment).

            All that said, I really don’t understand why political supporters of a particular cause threaten violence, especially when they are coming from a place of having personally witnessed violence. Whether it’s something like gun policy or reproductive rights, it amazes (and saddens me) when people think that the way to support their personal views on saving lives is to hurt others.

            May 8, 2014/Reply
            • Belle says:

              Agreed. And one of the reasons I left lobbying was because the vitriol on all sides just felt very self-serving (mostly meant to generate money for both sides), not helpful to what was best for the country, and very hypocritical.

              May 8, 2014/Reply
        • R says:

          When one is employed, it is true that you are an extension of your employer. However, it is unfair to place the blame of these tragedies onto Belle. Yes, she lobbied for the NRA… but was she the one making ridiculous claims to the media that situations like these could have been avoided if children had guns and armed guards? Making the robocalls? No. In fact, she has stated numerous times on the blog that she has found the work to be hypocritical, not fulfilling, and a whole slew of other things.

          I am anti-NRA and I could discuss the morality of the Second Amendment for days. I cannot imagine the frustration of a family that has lost a member due to gun violence… but there are better ways to express your outrage and grief than to personally harass someone and make threats against them. Isn’t that what is trying to be avoided?

          For me, I know that sometimes my politics are vastly different from my personal values. We don’t know how Belle personally felt beyond short paragraphs that we have read. This is a blog about fashion. Not political agends… and I’m a Democrat. Sheesh. Let’s stop playing self-righteous games.

          May 8, 2014/Reply
    • e says:

      “I’m sorry you were personally harassed, but…”? Talk about disingenuous.

      If you work on political issues, whether in a Hill office, lobby shop, think tank, or nonprofit – chances are about 50% of the country thinks they disagree with you, and a smaller percentage will call and harass you about that disagreement. It doesn’t matter what the issue is: no one deserves verbal harassment, threats, or to feel unsafe at work, and it’s important to recognize the toll it takes on the recipient.

      Belle: on my second day as a staff assistant, a caller told me she hoped someone would sexually assault me. Learning how to emotionally protect myself from those kinds of remarks was one of the most unexpectedly difficult aspects of working on the Hill. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your realizations.

      May 8, 2014/Reply
  20. Gabby says:

    I always wanted to be a lawyer, but I graduated from law school post-recession and it took me nine months to find a job. So when that job turned out to be an unhealthy place for me, I tried for over a year to just “tough it out” because I was lucky to have anything at all, wasn’t I? After crying breakdowns with my mom and my dad, I found the strength to quit. I’m lobbying now, and being able to leave work at work is SUCH a relief.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  21. calicocatcallie says:

    Very timely post for me. I have the same problem with leaving work at work. I am a physician. Part of my job includes routinely diagnosing people with cancer, often the worst kind like pancreatic cancer. I don’t treat the cancer but I am usually the one to tell them the diagnosis. As you can imagine this weighs on a person having to be the bearer of bad news. Also the responsibility that goes a long with being any kind of health care provider is daunting; am I missing something serious? should I do more testing? if I do more testing will my patient’s suffer financially? will they have a bad outcome from more testing? etc. I don’t have the answer with how to handle stress and worry. Trying to put things in perspective and staying in the present moment helps but can be hard to remember to do.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  22. J says:

    Good stuff here.

    I’m a civil legal services attorney and I can tell you that I leave the office every single day questioning humanity, and the larger question of how I can “save the world.” (In all seriousness, I contemplate how to eradicate poverty on an almost daily basis.) Analogizing my daily work to that of Sisyphus is not an exaggeration at all as I watch hundreds of hours of my hard work go up in smoke due to repeated violations by our local school system, landlords, and at times, my clients’ own bad decisions. And then I start rolling the rock back up the hill.

    When I first started my job more than five years ago I was enraged by all of the injustice I confronted on a daily basis. And I was also appalled that seemingly everyone around me went around living their daily lives as if the injustices didn’t even exist. I used to think to myself, “How can you complain about your sister forgetting to send you a birthday card when there are children who don’t have heat in their apartment in winter? Who cares if you didn’t get a promotion this month when my client is going to be evicted and sleeping in her car with triplets because she got laid off from her retail job.” To be completely honest, I still struggle with these feelings quite often. However, I did experience a turning point in the past year that put some things in perspective.

    A former colleague and fellow civil legal services attorney was tragically killed last year. At her funeral I realized that although she cared just as much as I did, and fought just as hard to protect her clients’ rights, she wasn’t letting it consume her. She had friends, family, and a beautiful son around which she centered her life. And I believe that these were the things that allowed her to last in this profession more than twice as long as I have struggled to already.

    I’m not exactly sure what her secret was, but from what I can tell, she detached herself from the anger over injustice and tried to accept reality for what it was. Yes, we are in this field to make the world better, but it doesn’t end with us. Ultimately, we have to recognize the limits of our work, and that even if we labored everyday for the rest of our lives, there would still be injustices in this world. While I recognize that may seem somewhat depressing, it’s necessary to maintain enough space so that we can take care of our own needs.

    Remember how the flight attendants on airplanes always instruct you to put on your own air mask first before helping the person next to you? We have to ensure our own survival so there are still people available to fight the good fight. What would be most depressing of all is if everyone were so burnt out from carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders that no one was left standing.

    Keep up the good work and take care of yourself.

    May 7, 2014/Reply
  23. es says:

    thanks for sharing this. truly helps to read someone else’s words, which you feel like are your own.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  24. Linn says:

    Spot on! Much wisdom in the comments too.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  25. Willfully Elegant says:

    Such amazing words, thoughts and insights from Belle and all the commenters. May be I am just a tad bit lucky because my work has not reached that level of vaccuming my life out of me. There are days when I would rather hide and sleep it off and then there are good days when I am top of it all, but nothing that challenges my soul or deters my confidence per se. In corporate America, there always will be the usual red-taping, internal politics, and arm-wrestle, but where I am, I try not to let it affect me too much. In my mind, everyone is working for survival..and that is only fair, it is the dirty politics that I cannot handle and fortunate that I am yet to see something like that. Thanks again Belle..

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  26. A says:

    Belle, thank you so much for sharing this and sparking such a great comment section. I love your more personal entries.

    I work in programming at a nonprofit, and many of the people we serve are incredibly grateful and inspired by our work. However, we do get a decent portion who act entitled and unpleasant, and that weighs on me, along with the burden of the systemic problems we are trying to address. I am taking your entry to heart and trying to more purposefully leave work at work.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  27. Theresa says:

    One thing I encountered in the past year really hit home for me: not everyone wants to (or should) fulfill their passions at work. My best friend left a well-paying, stable, textbook-amazing job at Google to pursue an assistant to an assistant role in the music industry. For her, it was the exact right move. She needs and finds validation in the 9-5 (or 11-11 in music), so working where she felt unchallenged by and dispassionate about her day-to-day wasn’t a great option for her.

    I, on the other hand, don’t feel that way. I was a history major who works in social media — for me, this is something I enjoy and am good at, and at the end of the day provides me with income to find/engage my passions in my down time. I deal with a lot of frustrated adults who don’t like to admit that they don’t know how to do something (social media in my case). They vent/yell/are all sorts of angry and emotional, and one way I get through it is just to imagine their satisfaction after hanging up the phone. At the very least, people need to feel heard, and being able to give that to them (even at my own expense), helps relieve the pressure of a nasty call. Though I have FAR less pressure on me than you Belle (that harassment is unjust!), it helps close off any negative interactions and replace them with a positive thought.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      This is something not many people think about. The old adage, “you never work a day in your life if you enjoy it,” does not necessarily mean that you need to be passionate about it. One of the happiest work experiences I ever had was doing coordination for a Culligan shop. I had good co-workers, the work was easy and and I got to leave my job at my job.

      May 8, 2014/Reply
  28. Jula S. says:

    I spent a decade in management consulting, and while I loved my job at the beginning, by the end I was so far done. I took for granted that I had to work 60 hours a week for my client and travel 5 hours each way every Mon/Fri, and spend my weeks away from my husband and my home… and then after I left and spent a year recovering, I started to realize how unhealthy that had been.

    I now work for a major public university, teaching and overseeing graduate program operations. It was important for me to take my skills and turn them toward something positive like education and to work for a non-profit. That said, I’ve found myself on the same destructive path I left 11 years ago. Part of looking inward is identifying bad situations – but part of it is also identifying bad patterns. FWIW, I have a pretty good set of “bad” patterns – I’m a recovering anorexic and self-harmer, and I have depression. That said, if you met me you would never know what lurks beneath the surface. Decades of shoving feelings and emotions into a giant walk-in closet has its effects, and while I got help when I left consulting 11 years ago, I’m at the age now where I can get real about my eating disorder and redesign my life.

    I caution anyone who finds themselves in a job that is hurting them to take a hard look at their own patterns and how they set themselves up for a hard time. I don’t blame myself for an unhealthy job – but I picked it for a reason.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  29. LT says:

    I am really thankful for this post and the community you have created on this blog. I am in a similar situation and have felt like I just wasn’t strong enough, good enough, hard enough, too emotional, took things too personally etc. Reading your post and these comments give me a lot of comfort (and insight) in knowing that it’s not just me.

    May 8, 2014/Reply
  30. Jan says:

    Two thoughts came to mind after reading your post and others’ comments. First, I thought of the Serenity Prayer – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” – which can really serve as a mantra for everyone. I have struggled with this a lot in my current job, as after working long hours and taking my worries home with me for a long time, I finally came to accept that there will always be more work than I can do, and I won’t be able to please everyone. But I try to keep sight of the good that my work brings to the families I work with and focus on the change that I can bring to the system.

    I also thought of the hard work involved in maintaining our personal boundaries. I was saddened by the threats that you and others have had to endure. It reminds me of when a person is sexually assaulted and the response is, “well, she/he was asking for it.” No one ever has the right to invade your personal life and make you feel unsafe.

    To a lesser extreme, I think that many of us in demanding careers have to consciously work to build our own boundaries and place limits on what we take home with us. I try to leave work at work, which is tough as an attorney, but otherwise you burn out, which helps no one. I focus on developing my own interests and spending time with my family and friends outside of work, which renews my energy and helps me keep a positive outlook.

    May 9, 2014/Reply
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  32. Mary says:

    Beautiful writing. Thanks for your perspective 🙂

    May 13, 2014/Reply