It goes without saying but I’m about to say it right after the comma, people will inevitably say and do crazy –ish to you at work.
It might be a team member that talks down to you like you’re a three year old; the super micro-managing supervisor that low-key tries to sabotage your work; or maybe it’s the office drama queen that makes you do a Google search for “master’s degree in CYA” because CLEARLY you need one of those to keep from being thrown under one of her many buses. It’s real out here. Yet, so fake.
I remember at my last job I had an incident with a project manager shortly after I started. I was new and nervous and on top of that I was one of only two Black girls on the team in the office (there were three of us total, but the other worked in another state). I worked as a communications editor and the project manager and I were messaging back and forth about one of her communications that was scheduled to go out.
In one of her messages she instructed me to wait until she gave the “green light” before sending it out. Cool. Not a problem. I’ll wait.
I didn’t know how long I should wait, though. We were approaching a deadline (I was too new to know that sometimes deadlines mean absolutely nothing there), so I thought it would be a good idea to ask her the status of the message. What the heck was I thinking?! In her response back to me, she said something like, “Are you not familiar with the phrase ‘green light’?”
Excuse me? I had to read her message a few times, but each time it was the same conclusion: I don’t like your tone!
I was shook for a second because I was new and didn’t want to mess up so early in the game. Plus, did she just think I was stupid? Don’t most people know that green means go? I politely responded back that I was familiar with the phrase and explained that I was asking about the status because of the approaching deadline. It was in this situation that I realized just how much I hate people believing they can talk to me any type of way and that I needed to get thicker skin.
I grew to have a reputation there as being very calm and cool under pressure. There were a lot of interesting personality types on our team, but I was the one that seemed to work well with everyone and not let their “quirks” get to me. After the green light incident, I developed a mantra that helped me get through the next three years there and it’s what I credit for my “grace under fire” demeanor:
They don’t know who the f**k I am!
Those eight simple words were a lifesaver and made all the difference in my workday. Each time something happened and I’d have to say it to myself was akin to asking God to bless them, for they know not what they do. I couldn’t be upset at people saying things to me that I thought were borderline or blatantly disrespectful because they honestly didn’t know me. They didn’t know my greatness or my worth. They had no clue that they were talking crazy to the next Maya Angelou, the next Oprah or the second coming of Gwendolyn Brooks. They didn’t know they were talking to the FIRST Sandria Washington and what exactly that actually means.
For many of the people who worked there, this was their career. They had been there in various roles for decades. They didn’t know that this was a JOB for me and not the end of the line. This was a bridge to somewhere else; to something greater. I practice speaking hope and life and greatness over myself. Everybody doesn’t do that. Perhaps they spoke to me the way they speak to themselves. How could I be mad at them? Maybe I was there to lead by example.
I’ve spent much of my adult working years feeling like I lived two lives: my 9 to 5 life and my REAL Sandria life after 5, where I got to be this amazing person doing cool things. I interviewed celebrities, I volunteered in my community, I acted in plays, I took classes and learned new things, I coordinated events. I didn’t always make money after 5, but I had a LIFE. I felt more like myself. Some days I would come to work and feel so small. Like, during the day I was this person very low on the food chain, but after work I was this woman that was well-respected in several circles that had a lot going for herself. That woman was somebody special!
My mantra helped to remind me that I wasn’t small. I AM somebody. I am that same woman with a gift and a purpose, even when I am at work. My life may feel fragmented, but I am a whole person. That mantra was my way of carrying my wholeness to work with me.
Over time, it grew to be less about THEM not knowing who the f**k I am, and more about ME knowing who I am and WHOSE I am. The thick skin I needed was self esteem. It was self worth. When a true sense of self is developed, outside nonsense can’t penetrate that. Not even the most annoying or condescending co-worker can penetrate it.
Even if no one else is running to pull up a glass for some #TeamSandria Kool-Aid, I am drinking it and saying "More please!!"
This mantra also works very well outside of corporate settings :-)
Allow me to re-introduce myself.