I came across an article last year that has really stayed with me. I have long since forgotten where I read it, but it was written by a woman (whom I’ll call Jan) who was working in what she called a very toxic environment. She described her boss as having a very stressful communication style and other unhealthy behaviours that made working there barely sustainable. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there were a couple of colleagues who were tight with the boss who also exhibited a number of challenging behaviours. It was all she could do to keep focused on the project.
One day, the boss called Jan into her office and let her know that she would be let go when the project ended in 6 weeks. Jan was told that she wasn’t a good fit for the organization and that her contract would not be renewed.
Needless to say, Jan was devastated. Could the boss not see how her own actions were making the project unnecessarily difficult or at least see how some of Jan’s colleagues were not actually contributing to the project but were in fact sabotaging it while taking credit for Jan’s work?
Jan was at her wits’ end and went to her meditation group and spoke to the teacher about her painful and difficult situation.
The teacher advised Jan to focus on practicing lovingkindness and compassion. Jan was tempted to quit her job and take legal action against her boss. How could she go on working in an environment where she wasn’t wanted and where her hard work wasn’t appreciated? But, Jan really believed in the project. She had already invested a lot in it and deep down, she knew that she really wanted to see it through to fruition, even if it took everything she had.
So Jan turned to her practice. Bit by bit, she began to practice feeling kindness toward herself and compassion for the depth of her pain. At first, it was very difficult to even feel any kind of love toward herself. Her thoughts kept going to blame, toward herself for getting into the situation and toward the others for mistreating her.
With great patience and persistence, she began to soften her heart and feel a tender protectiveness toward her vulnerable self. She learned to hold her fear and anger and sadness with growing compassion and found strength and refuge here. It wasn’t easy. There were times when she was tempted to quit. But overall, she began to feel lighter. She was able to connect to her own sense of integrity and deep care about the work she was doing.
She began to practice lovingkindness toward the others in her workplace. At first she could feel just the tiniest bit for only a few moments at a time, but even this grew with practice. At times, she even felt peaceful and content at work and although there were still challenges; she described feeling more grounded than she had in a long time. People at work began to notice a change in her and many asked her what was going on with her. They were drawn to her, though they couldn’t explain why.
The project was nearing a close when the boss called Jan into her office. There was only one week to go until it would be launched and Jan’s contract would be terminated. But this time, the boss didn’t want her to go. She remarked that she had seen many positive changes and wanted to rehire her permanently. Jan went away and thought it over and even though she strongly believed in the work she was doing, she realized she did not want to work in an environment that she felt to be toxic.
She was able to finish up the contract while feeling confident about how she had handled her emotions and how she had behaved in an incredibly stressful environment. She marveled at how far she had come, at the magnitude of shift the lovingkindness and compassion practices had made for her over such a short time. She understood that although she didn’t like the behaviors of some of her colleagues, she knew that their behaviors came out of their own wish to be happy and she was able to let them roll off her more easily.
Wishing you a healthy and happy Spring.
Marian & Brett