- Natasha J. Thomas, MD
Workplace Bullies and the Audacity of the Disciplined Dream
So, I’ve been hearing this story for years.
A person goes to work every day. They have a manager they can’t stand. The manager seems to always be on their case – always looking for a negative comment to make about their work performance. Others at work don’t really care for the manager either. Their demands are unreasonable. The person continues to go to work every day, but over time, becomes so stressed by the demands of the manager that their ability to cope unravels. They dread work, feel overwhelmed, find themselves crying, and loved ones become concerned. They come and tell me – looking for a solution.
We talk about their options. We start or change medications to better cope with stress. The work environment does not change and eventually, I recommend a leave from work. It may start as one or two weeks, but often rolls into one or two or twelve months. They are literally frozen with fear at the thought of going back to work. Fifty percent never return. The other 50% make an attempt return to work. They need the money, benefits and pride of saying they’re a good employee.
Within 2 weeks, some of them are out again and worse than before. We all tell them they’ve got to let the job go. Adult children, spouses, therapists and me! We tell them “this job is going to kill you” and “it’s not worth it” and “they don’t care about you there” and “you’re disposable at work, they’ll replace you without a second thought.”
We tell them they can find another job, something better. We tell them they can use their skills to create their own business as a consultant. These are always experienced workers, after all. And do you know what they say in response? They say, “I feel guilty. I don’t want to be a quitter. I don’t want to let them think they broke me.”
Work place abuse is the vehicle that drives many of my patients to early retirement. And the fear, real or imagined, that after age 50, “no one will hire me” has bounced off the walls of my office more times than I can count. Hey, it may be true that after age 50, corporate America sees us as growing liabilities. At that point, you’ve worked an average of 25 years. You’ve gained experience. You’re wise. You might be ok (or better than ok) with computers and other devices that qualify you as “tech savvy". But someone half your age is the ideal candidate for your position – someone who hasn’t been on earth long enough to really even know how to manage themselves, or life, much less a department with a bunch of “direct reports". And so, I see people suffocate, wanting to be free to create the lives they want – but stuck in the coffin of adult responsibility.
If we were free to dream, would we? If we didn’t have to calculate 401K penalties, the cost of caring for mom or dad or kids, or that spouse that chooses not to work, would we dream? I’m not sure. The habit of dreaming seems to die right after the first work success or first child. It seems to have an expiration date. After 40, don’t bother - you have aged out of that reckless habit called dreaming.
It’s something we need to reconsider. The habit of dreaming begs for revival. Kids may be great at dreaming because their imaginations are without limit. But adults might actually be superior at dreaming because we have so much more material. We know the world is majestic. And we know there are those who totally live it up in their lifetimes. We envy them. We call them rich. We call them celebrities. We may say they’re lucky, married well or are awesome athletes. We may say they are annoying reality TV socialites. But the truth is we envy and admire the fully-grown person who still gets to dream – and play. They can come up with a new invention or business that really is totally ridiculous. And when it works, the rest of us die a little inside.
They know (and can afford) all the best cars, clothes, places to eat, vacation spots, homes to own and obscure beauty secrets. They get time to enjoy life, or be with their children enough to actually know them – and to be known by them.
“What does your ideal life look like?” It’s a question I ask every single patient I meet. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone say anything other than, “I don’t know, I just want to be happy.” I understand the sentiment but that’s not a vision that gives direction. You can’t work toward being happy. It’s too nebulous. We need to give our “happy” some architecture.
Ok, let’s do an exercise. Think of the celebrity you admire most. Go ahead, you can write the name down. Now, list 5 reasons you admire this celebrity. Next describe what you know of their lifestyle. If they are a celebrity, they’re probably considered financially “rich”. Rate your celebrity. Are they kinda rich, pretty rich, or Oprah Winfrey rich? And how did they get that way? If they were born into wealth, how have they maintained it – have they expanded it? Do you feel you’re similar to your favorite celebrity – and if so, how? Do this little exercise with 2 more celebrities.
I am not into celebrity worship at all, but aspects of their lives are easy to examine. Tell me something. What are the similarities you see in the stories of the celebrities you’ve selected? I guarantee it’s the audacity of living out a disciplined dream.
A disciplined dream is one that is clear to see. It does not allow fear and self-doubt to take up residence in its walls. It creates success. But it can only create this success when the author of the dream denies themselves immediate pleasures so that all their attention and love can go into its construction. It means, “I can deny myself extra sleep, sweets, a day off or binge-watching Netflix, if that means I’ll get one step closer to my vision of victory.”
Now, that work manager – we can handle them a number of ways. If true abuse is occurring, let’s report them. Let’s go to HR, or find out if you need to make an EOCC complaint or get a lawyer.
But, if you are crumbling because of work, please step back and look at yourself. Look at yourself and look at this life you’re living. Is this what you want? If not, what is keeping you in this place? I think you’ll find it’s no one, or nothing but you.
What do you REALLY want your life to look like? Use as much detail as you can when you write out your vision. And if the life you’re living now looks nothing like it, it’s time to stop living on autopilot and wake up - into your dreams. Of course, that dream will benefit you. But what’s more is that your realized dream will be a gift to us all.
Let us hear from you. If you’re on the path to fulfillment through an audacious and disciplined dream, write in and share your stories with us! Inspire someone!