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Toxic workplace? Feeling burnt out at work? I wonder if it is because you keep trying to pretend you are not who you really are at work.

A woman I coached recently hated her job. This African American woman had a son who had been killed by gun violence and she was too ashamed to tell folks at work and it was eating her up.

Well, here is something radical I proposed: Why don’t you try and have a real relationship with your place of employment?

I told her, “It may not happen overnight. You may need a new job. But, stop shortchanging your life by not showing up fully and authentically to this primary relationship.”

Here are some of the things that happen if you are not fully yourself at work: Over time, you get sick. You get depressed.  You become cranky. You become a bully. You lose engagement with your work.

That “not being fully yourself” will show up one way or the other at work.

I am not saying quit your job. I recognize we need money to live. However, I encourage those of us in toxic jobs to begin to think in terms of the following:

  1. You are not alone. In this scenario, if you are going through this, there are many other black men and women in your organization who are going through the same thing. Just stop and think about that. Given the statistics, many black people feel silenced and shamed about their relatives in prison, on drugs or who have suffered violence. You may want to begin to seek them out. Here is the thing: White people, Korean people, and Indian people all go through similar if not identical heartache too. You are not alone.
  2. You have value. If you have made it this long at this entity and you have been successful, you are da bomb! Having value means having choices. If you can do the job for this place, you can do the job for someone else.  Loosen up the grip on your belief system that you “need” this job. Truth is “You don’t.” They need you more than you need them. Start to explore your options just to develop a perspective that emboldens you.
  3. Consider being a change agent right where you are. If you know you have this profound value, you can choose to use it in the very space you are in. Evaluate the receptivity of your organization. I suggest testing this first before going to the next step. You have the power to change many things where you are.
  4. Get another job. This is easier said than done. But really work on it and consider self-employment options. You do not have to stage a walkout on this job. But begin to seriously focus on it. As you do this, give yourself some breathing room so you can fully consider all options. Do you need to pay off debt so you have more flexibility? Do you really need all the money you make? Can you get a lesser paying job that offers you much more in terms of other types of benefits? Do you need to downsize your home now that all your kids are out of the house? Think of this holistically instead of just money and position.

Leadership is about balancing the task at hand and the relationships of those you work with. How can you have open, genuine relationships with your co-workers if you cannot be all of who you are to them?  Can you effectively supervise a person if they do not see and know all of you who you are?

It takes courage to show up as a real human at work with all your complexities, narratives, flaws, wounds, accomplishments and talents. It is also a process. It does not happen overnight.

You have to see that what happened to you is an asset to your character, your resiliency and has undoubtedly shaped how you look at the world. When you bring this piece into your work, it will affect those that interact with you and it will affect the product or services that your employer offers the world.

Telling our truth liberates us and thereby liberates others around us.

My hope is that you will begin to show up fully for work. Don’t let only your talents and skills show up at work. Allow some of your personal narrative to show up. Let is show up in a safe way. I am not asking you to go bleeding emotionally all over the place. Work is not where that happens. But you have such resilience from your experiences and your team members can learn from that.

By the way, this is also a wonderful opportunity for your experiences to feed, nourish and drive healthy conversation at work around the race issues that are plaguing the nation right now.

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I am committed to the success of all peoples. I actively work towards the equitable thriving of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, physical ability, sex, gender or national status. I offer a sliding scale for single parents, active-duty military, veterans, military spouses, the long-term unemployed, refugees and the formerly incarcerated.

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