When It's Time to Dump Your Toxic Boss

I recently had a client tell me that she wished "confidence was off the table," when it came to applying for a job. When people speak longingly of confidence, you know they're in trouble. Confidence is key. Confidence is what makes you approach the world as an equal.

This particular client, on the other hand, has been existing in a toxic work environment for so long, as to internalize the demeaning, hateful messages she receives on a daily basis. The hate has had its (intended) effect and she believes the boss' hype that she's marginal at best. If this sounds at all familiar to you, or to a loved one...if your workplace is a daily matinee performance of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, with regional acting...if you're so beaten down by the venom expelled at your work, that you've started to believe that happiness and job-satisfaction are as elusive and mythical as the female orgasm, right about now: you need to dump your boss. Don't give me that look, and you damn well better not tell me that you deserve the abuse: there is nothing okay about your situation. There is nothing acceptable about management taking out their personal fears and insecurities on their workers. You wouldn't--I hope--accept that cruelty in a personal relationship, right? The fact that the bully signs your paycheck doesn't make it any more palatable.

And yes, as someone who worked in TV news in NY, D.C. and Russia, trust me, I know alllll about toxic, moronic workplaces. I've worked at network shows, wherein as the show was on the air, there were fist-fights and cocaine in the control rooms. I've had asinine on-air bosses who called forward such visceral spasms of rage within me, that I had to (almost constantly) remind myself that if I killed the boss in question, yes, I'd have a glorious, momentary satisfaction. And then I'd spend the next 50-odd years as a guest of the New York State Department of Corrections, carbo-loading and bunking with some chick named "Frank," who was probably a big fan of Gertrude Stein. I enjoy men far too much for that situation to ever work out romantically.

The thing about septic workplaces is that, like a particularly bad cult, they take over your mind, they destroy your confidence, and thus they have the power to inflict life-long damage on your career, and by extension, your personal life. If, for example, you waste years working for a management that constantly derides you, it's more than likely that soon you'll start seeing yourself as stupid and worthless. How can you not? That's the garbage being poured down your throat on a daily basis. Once that happens, how will you ever have the courage and confidence to believe that you deserve a better job? If you don't believe you deserve a better job, you'll never willingly put yourself through the agita of a job-search. You'll be entrenched in your misery. How many miserable people do you know who have happy family lives? If you think you deserve a crap job, are you really going to think you deserve a loving, committed relationship with a man or woman who respects and values you? You see where I'm going with this? A toxic job can take over and destroy your entire life.

Some people reading this may be thinking--because "friends" have cautioned you--well, at least I have a job, and Carlota, after all, this is a tough job market. First of all, shut up. If you were in an abusive relationship, would you think, "Well at least I have a boyfriend or girlfriend, and he/she only tells me I'm fat/ugly/stupid because that's how they show their love?" Because if so, we need to have a separate talk.

Right about now, you should also realize that a lot of your "friends" don't necessarily want you to get a better job, since it notches up the pressure on them. That sounds horrible, but welcome to adulthood: when you're doing badly, you make a lot of people feel better about their own crap lives. After all, if you quit your miserable job, and using an intelligent job-hunting strategy, get a good job--not perfect maybe, but one where you aren't made to feel like a baby-killer on a daily basis--your friends are going to have one less person to bitch with on Facebook. Too bad for them; you deserve a job that uses all of your talents and skills and abilities. You deserve a job you love. (PS: When you work hard and find a job you love, you'll be happier, and your happiness will allow you to start meeting new and interesting people who "get" you. And suddenly you might be horrified to realize how boring some of your old friends are.)

Some people will justify their decision to stay miserable because they feel like they're not "ready" or "good enough yet." Where have I heard that before? Oh that's right, back in 1987-1995, when I was anorexic, and weighed about 107 lbs--I'm 5'6, by the way--and still found myself fat and disgusting. Good times! I'd turn down invitations to go out with friends, and have fun, because I "wasn't thin enough yet." When you tell me that you're "not ready yet," or "not good enough" to commit to a job you love, I know that's not you saying it, that's the internalized voice of your boss speaking through your mouth. And your boss needs to STFU.

Before I burned out on network news and morons (same difference), I had some wonderful years. I still remember being 24, 25, 26 and literally bounding out of bed in the morning to go work at ABC News or CNN. Those were long, grueling, exhausting days but I truly loved what I did. Those experiences gave me the confidence to believe I could do what I wanted. Those experiences were life-changing.

And everyone deserves that. Everyone deserves the joy of figuring out what they're good at, and realizing that they can make a living (...or something) doing it. It's not easy, it won't be handed to you, but you deserve a career that sustains you and your talents. (Did I mention it's not easy?) But you'll never dare to do the hard work, if you waste yourself on an office reminiscent of Jonestown during the final Kool-Aid break.

Finally, I know some people feel that being happy at work is a myth. Do you really think that, or is it more that you think your own happiness in general is a myth? You can have the life/job/career/love you want, but only if you believe, in your gut, that you deserve joy. We spend too much of our lives at work, to seriously dismiss the destructive ramifications of a toxic workplace. You owe yourself so much more. #gettowork