I had only been teaching five years when I got my first responsibility post, working as Director of Studies for a small, brand new private language school abroad. I was very excited, but also really out of my depth.There were absolutely no systems in place, and the teaching team were virtually all in their first job as teachers.
I can still vividly recall the feeling of walking to work with my heart thumping, my chest tight, and the feeling of never being able to catch up with everything that needed doing. I spent my weekends working and, because I felt as the manager I shouldn’t confide in the other teachers, I was also pretty lonely.
Looking back, it was a ridiculous position to put me in. I was pretty hot on methodology- I’d just completed an MA with Distinction- but I had less than NO CLUE about management. But instead of realising that I should be asking for more support and working out what was physically possible or not, I felt guilty and worried about not being good enough, and furious with my bosses for putting so much responsibility onto me.
How I contributed to the situation I found myself in.
Part of the problem was that I didn’t want anyone to judge me as inadequate- which was daft as, given the circumstances, and my experience up to that point, I was actually pretty amazing. But, looking back, I realise that part of me was getting something out of feeling put-upon and victimised.
I felt sorry for myself, and kind of enjoyed compiling a long list of all the ways I was being taken advantage of. Don’t get me wrong- I WAS being taken advantage of. Some of it was actually quite funny. For example, when my bosses suggested that I could move into a little workshop building at the back of the school, so I could be available 24 hours a day. [Even I said no to that one!]
But building up resentment and victimhood was a big part of the reason why I felt stressed out of my head all the time. There is part of us (in everyone, but more developed in some than others) that just loves being taken advantage of, so that we can enjoy playing victim. It’s the part that goes around saying, ‘Why does he/she/they NEVER…..?’, accompanied by a big sigh. [If you’ve never done this, you can stop reading now, but I don’t think I’ll lose that many readers. ]
I’d like to say I learnt my lesson from this job, but I didn’t, nor did I for quite some time after that, and, if I’m honest, I still find myself muttering under my breath at times.
What I (eventually) learnt from the situation.
However, what I have learnt, and which I will now always put into action sooner or later, is that, while we sometimes can’t control the situation we are in, or how other people are behaving, we can always choose how we respond to it.
Eckhart Tolle says:
‘When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.’
At this point, I expect some people to read this as saying that we should just put up with what fate deals us, or be passive. This is absolutely NOT the case. What he is saying is that if you are in a bad situation, you have choices. You can leave the situation, if possible or desirable, and you can definitely act to change the situation, or speak out against it. If neither of those are possible or desirable, then you can also decide to just accept it- at least for the time being. What is madness is constantly boiling over internally with anger, or spending all your free time complaining to others- while not actually doing anything about it. Complaining is not the same thing at all as speaking out and taking action.
This ‘madness’ will leave you feeling terrible, and achieve nothing, and I recognise now that this is very much where I found myself all those years ago. I eventually left the situation, and came back to the UK, but gradually re-created the same kind of situation, this time as Department Head in an Further Education College, because I had not yet learnt what I needed to. Unfortunately, I needed to put myself through it twice before the penny finally started to drop.
Do you find yourself getting into situations at work where you feel put-upon, and resentful? How do you respond? How could you perhaps respond differently, and more effectively?