I've been taking a break from work and social media to REST.
With REST comes loads of reflecting and processing.
I've been reflecting a lot about my journey since i've started being a self employed artist / designer and running my small business. I realized one thing- I love what I do now. It's so much hard work but I feel fulfilled. There's still stress and burn out but whenever that happens, I just take a break and continue again when im all rested up.
Back then in my old 9-5 life with my previous jobs, I worked as much as I do now. The work is the same. But I felt total resentment and exhaustion...straight up depression. I was led to believe that "Work is like that everywhere. You should be grateful you have a job!"
Let me tell you this - What a load of bull crap. THAT IS NOT TRUE. Work is NOT like that everywhere. And you should not be grateful for a job that is toxic EVEN if it feeds your family and pays your bills. Toxic is toxic.
The companies and managers I used to work for, if they pulled the same crap they did to me to the new generation - I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up being slaughtered on Tiktok.
In my reflections, im remembering all the CRAP I tolerated back then from managers. I compare it to what I do now, now that I run my own business, now that I am a *manager* myself, an *owner of a business*. I also go through ups and downs, I also go through stress, but I dont treat people like crap. You CAN work as a team instead of working people to the bone. You CAN make decisions for the wellbeing of your employees. YOU CAN BE NON TOXIC, and have fun working!
It's been 5 years since i've started my small little biz, and since then, I've run really huge collaborations and campaigns. I've worked with so many people, clients and partners. I did it all in a civilized manner, no one got tortured, we still made profits. Nobody was hospitalized! No drama.
I can say confidently now - it's possible to run a company / biz that cares and is non toxic. If you aren't able to that as an employer that means something is wrong with your business - something is wrong with YOU. You are the business owner - the manager - the employer - YOU set the tone of the company culture. Stress is stress, ups and downs of a company is normal - it's HOW to manage these issues that reflect a lot on your character and what you value.
If you dont value the humans that work for you, they will get burnt out, they will leave, you will have a high turnover rate. If you refuse to acknowledge and take accountability on how YOUR actions affect your team, your company will suffer. Productivity WILL suffer. You WILL suffer. I believe that.
When I was younger, green and naive, I blamed myself for not being able to meet targets that my managers have given to me. I blamed myself for not being able to juggle and multitask efficiently enough to meet the standards. Now looking back, I realized I was totally taken advantage of. I was told I was not doing enough when in fact I was exploited. It's easy to exploit those who are clueless like me - we just want to do a good job, and we want to please. We go above and beyond to make it happen. But instead of acknowledging the efforts, irresponsible toxic managers will say things like "You're not doing enough" to make sure you dont actually know you're being exploited. To make sure you dont leave. You stay, and do the work that is hard - THAT THEY KNOW IS HARD - but they dont want you to know that. What I went through is straight up manipulation.
The targets that were set were UNREASONABLE to begin with. Impossible. There was no way anyone could meet the targets. I only figured this out later when I left the company and discovered my ex employer hired a team of 4 people to do the job I was doing. And they couldn't even reach the targets themselves, or even the targets I managed to hit! A team of 4 senior people couldn't do what junior level me was doing!!! And I was the one *not good enough* What??
I was shocked when I learned of that.But I thought - what do I know, ive never run a business before. Im not a Manager, maybe there were things I didn't understand yet, maybe there's a reason they did what they did. Maybe I wasn't seeing *their vision*.
Wrong. I can safely say now, that whole situation I went through was WRONG on so many levels. They were just irresponsible human beings who don't actually know how to run a business and manage people. I've run my own biz for 5 years now, and not once was I in a toxic situation like that. Not even close. Stressful situations, yes. But not toxic. Managers are there to train and guide you - not expect you to know everything and then blame you for not doing it. Companies are supposed to TRAIN anyways. KPI's are meant to be reasonable and achievable. Not beyond what is possible. I know this for a fact now, but I didn't before. Before I thought I had to know it all, magically on my own, and CARRY the company on my back even if it meant I died trying.
So, if you're reading this, and I know a lot of young people read my blog, don't ever allow yourself to get taken advantage of like me. There ARE companies out there that are non-toxic with good managers. Work is stressful but it doesn't have to be toxic. If you have a good team, a good manager that actually cares, even if the work is stressful, you'll still enjoy what you do. You wont get depressed or anxious all the time - that's not a healthy environment no matter what your managers say about it.
I was so stressed back then, that I developed stomach ulcers and I was hospitalized for a week. I didn't really understand that the ulcers were there cause I was under so much stress and anxiety. The CAUSE of the ulcers WAS just that. And you can be the most efficient worker in the world, but if the job is toxic, and you go through prolonged stress and anxiety, you CAN get sick. And thats what happened to me.
I remember being in the hospital and feeling so much GUILT that I wasn't at work. I knew my bosses were upset with me that I wasn't there. I still felt like it was MY FAULT that I was sick and can't *be there for the team*. I wrestled with the guilt, but my body was already breaking down. I slept for a week in the hospital. I had to do a colonoscopy. None of my colleagues even acknowledged that I was in the hospital. Nobody told me to "get well", nobody even messaged me to ask if I was OK. Even in the hospital, away from my work place, I could feel the anger of my managers for not being at work. I couldn't even rest properly because I was so scared of this.
To top that off, I had a trip planned with some friends - I already took leave for that, and paid for the trip. I hardly take leave (because I cant), and this trip was planned way ahead of time. It was coming up. But I was in the hospital, out of work for a week. I was already so stressed about the ulcers, being in the hospital, not being able to work - now I was stressed about the trip.
I asked my doctor - should I immediately get back to work, or should I still go on the trip? Is it advisable to go on a trip? Was I gonna be OK? The doctor said it was a great idea to go on the trip because I needed to calm down. I needed to rest. I needed to get better and recover so I wouldnt have ulcers anymore. I have to manage my anxiety. Give my brain a break. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They encouraged me to go for the trip, rest, relax and rejuvenate. I could stay in contact with them via text anyways, in case anything happened. It was a short beach trip and I had taken Friday and Monday off for it.
So, with the doctors encouragement, I decided to go on the trip and told my managers I was gonna go ahead with my leave (that they have already approved a long time ago) I was discharged from the hospital and the next day I went on the trip. I brought all my meds with me. All my friends knew about the hospitalization, so they took extra care of me. We had a good relaxing time. I felt so much better and I wasn't getting any more painful stomach aches like I had before.
I went back to work right after the trip. The bosses didn't even look up from their tables. One of them asked casually "Okay already?" but in an annoyed tone. Then, my direct manager called me into the meeting room. She was upset with me that I took leave from work to be in the hospital and then go on the trip. She said I wasn't grateful for my job, and I was not a "team player". They were annoyed at me for being sick. I could understand that kinda response if we're in a critical period at work, but we weren't. Plus, its not like I PLANNED to get sick. I was still blamed.
We didn't even have any urgent projects or deadline at the time, nobody died, nobody lost money. Me not being there for a week DID NOT make a difference at all! In fact, my clients and partners were so worried about me - they didn't even care if the work was delayed for a week. They were more concerned that I was OK. But I didn't get the same kind of response from my own managers and bosses. All I felt was more guilt. I still didn't see the toxicity of the situation. I still felt like it was my fault - EVENTHOUGH I was encouraged by the doctors to rest, I still felt like I had to overlook my health FOR THE SAKE OF THE COMPANY.
A little voice inside me said "I dont think im good enough for the job. My body is not good enough to handle the stress and pressure. I should find another job" Even at that point, I still blamed myself and my body for not being good enough. A few months later, my depression hit an all time low. I couldn't get up to go to work anymore. I was crying before I went to work, in the toilets at work, and in the car after work. My managers were putting more and more work on me and continuously telling me I was not doing enough - I didn't have any assistance from anyone. The manager dumped everything on me and went to Fitness class, instead of helping and taking up half of the work. The KPI's were only ON ME, but not on them or the team. Some new people joined the team but left after a few weeks. They were smart. I was...brainwashed.
I eventually left the company. How I managed to do it, I had no idea. I worked at several other places after that, this time, with the awareness of MENTAL HEALTH, and the importance of it. I still stumbled upon toxic managers, but instead of staying, I left as quickly as possible. Eventually, I found my groove, and found places that were HEALTHY- ish. (there's still an "ish" because toxic is everywhere) But healthy enough that I got more pay, with less work, and everyone who works there have been working there for years and years - because they feel loved and cared for. Thats when I slowly started to realize these type of places EXIST, and that I was brainwashed to believe work is meant to be toxic. I realized I was actually a very good and efficient worker, my new managers and bosses appreciated my work, and I thrived.
I went on to do so many big projects and collaborations, while being attached to a company and without. I received many praises and feedback about my professionalism and ideas. I even got a scholarship to fund my studies, my application picked out of 100,000 global applicants. They were so impressed with my CV. I went on to start my business and become self employed. I ran so many partnerships and collaborations on my own - without a team. I have been given so much amazing opportunities as an artist and designer - opportunities that doesn't just happen to ANYONE. So many word of mouth recommendations from people who have worked with me. I have made so many friends and acquaintances from the creative community. All good vibes. All amazing partnerships. My point here is - im actually good at my job. I AM * good enough* and always have been.
But it has taken me all those accomplishments and YEARS to believe that I was actually *not bad*. That toxic job with my toxic managers truly made me believe that I was really bad at what I do. I was brainwashed to the max. I get triggered now when I think about this. The company has been toxic since forever, and I wasn't the only one who thought so. Now I know, but back then I didn't.
So - I was NOT shit. I was efficient, even when I was at a junior level. The kind of projects I ran at that level of experience at that time - I still do now, at my level of experience now. And I have years of experience now compared to before. Sometimes I think back at that time, and im like Holycrap!!! thats a LOT to put on a junior level associate. Thats an incredibly huge amount of responsibility with crazy targets - with no proper training, with little to no assistance, and no real help from the managers! It's just insane to think about it now, now that I know much more about the industry. I would never ever ask a junior level associate to do what I did before. They would shit in their pants. It's a lot to ask for. What I did back then, was a lot. I cant believe I survived. No wonder I have PTSD now.
Obviously, those experiences made me who I am now. Gave me the experience and know how on how to navigate my work and business, but it was a lot to handle. And my managers knew it! Of course they did. But they still led me to believe that I wasn't doing enough. I was already handling more than 20 clients at one time. They knew it, but they just let it be. They still made me believe that I was shit.
If I was shit at what I do, I wouldn't have managed to build what i've built for myself now. I wouldnt have gotten better job offers, I wouldn't have gotten the scholarship, I wouldn't have gotten all the collabs. I can't believe that I believed them. I feel like I just woke up.
That company is not doing well now. I dont believe it is sustainable to run a company like that. It'll bite you in the ass. It took me so long to find my voice about this. Now when I have a voice, I will speak up.
If you ever find yourself in a position like this - like mine, leave, immediately! Don't wait. The PTSD is REAL. Especially if you're junior level and being made to think you're not *doing enough* without getting help or training. Thats why some employers like to hire young people - young, inexperienced employees, have no idea what is *normal* and not normal. They'll just accept what happens. I love that the new generation is more aware of this though. They'll leave as soon as they smell toxic - they are AWARE of what is toxic. Not like me. I wasn't aware.
It's not your fault if a company is not doing well. It's not your fault if you're unwell due to how the company is run. The managers and the bosses are responsible for the well being of their people - and if you're not well, it's not YOU, it's the company culture. Don't ever allow these companies to make you feel guilty for having anxiety / depression / going to the hospital / trying to manage your mental health. Don't ever think YOU'RE responsible for everything bad that happens.
Truth is, when you get sick due to work, YOU'RE the one suffering and facing the consequences, employers can just simply hire someone else in an instant!
You dont OWE a company ANYTHING. You dont owe them loyalty. You just do what you can, the best you can. There shouldn't be manipulation, mind games or exploitation - if you feel any gist of that, you are ALLOWED to leave. Your feelings ARE VALID. Your health is IMPORTANT. A good manager is a manager who takes care of the team - who cares about your wellbeing MORE THAN the work.
We are human beings, we are not machines. We can't work like machines.
Treat people with respect, and you will get all the good juju in the world. I truly believe that.
The point of this post is to share my experience - any of you out there who are brainwashed like me - I urge you to get on Linkedin and start sending emails to other people for other roles. Apply for new jobs. Get out of your situation. Don't wait, the longer you wait and stay miserable, the more intense the PTSD. This is what I wished I could tell my younger self.
Don't ever let anyone tell you you are good enough. You are as good as your managers skills at managing and training! You are not supposed to be overwhelmed. If you are, it's not on you. It's your team. It's how the company is run. It's the higher ups.
It's not you.
No one can flourish when they are bogged down with too much work, anxiety, depression and shitty managers. You can't thrive in a shitty environment. Mental health at work IS SO FREAKING IMPORTANT. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
Good luck my friends. I hope this helps someone.