“Number three is the toughest to hear,” I pause to let the woman in tears on the other side of the Zoom call catch her breath. “Based on what you’ve told me and what I know, no one is coming to rescue you. You have to save yourself.”
Why has this phrase become my advice mantra for the last couple of years? Time after time, I get on calls with young women and men in a toxic environment and what they need is a permission slip. They need someone that they respect to tell them to stop waiting for a champion when even those who could champion them are struggling in the toxicity. They need me to say that if you’ve spoken up and asked for what you need, and been told to sit back down or have just been ignored, then the time has come. The time has come to save yourself.
So many of our companies are toxic. No, not all of them. But many of the companies we work for and give hours of each day and many of the days of our lives are abusive.
Let’s get real. What I mean is that the leaders at the top of our companies are toxic. The C-suite is filled with abusers. Narcissists who demand to be obeyed. Who will belittle those who have ideas or opinions that do not align with their own. They will swear at you one minute and tell you you’re an idiot who lacks ambition or commitment. And in the next breath quietly ask what happened to your fire and ambition. “You seem to have lost your spark.” They might as well pet your hair and ask why you made them beat you, because that is what it feels like.
“Save yourself” has become the refrain that I have on repeat to every woman or man who is having their will broken. Who has begun to doubt even the simplest things about their own creativity or skill. Each of them having come to the conclusion that “It must be me.”
No. It’s not you.
I know that because you are the one who shows up each day to give your best to his company. You are the one that softens his blows on your team. You are the one who cries in the bathroom when once again, you’ve given your best idea to the powerful person with zero accountability who will demand more. And he will demand you do it with adoration. With worship. And you are the one who’s stomach will tighten as everyone else continues to worship because you know that they just haven’t taken a beating yet. They have said the right things, at the right time, in the right tone, with the right level of deference.
You will be told that you need to get a thicker skin. You will be reminded that you knew what you were getting into. You will be shamed for thinking you could do anything, anywhere else that would be this exciting, this meaningful, this big an opportunity. You will be scolded for believing it is better somewhere else.
But guess what? It is better somewhere else.
There are many CEOs with hearts that match their incredible minds. C-Suites with humans who laugh, and care, and apologize when they are wrong. There are VPs who know when you are doing your best and how to get even more of your best from you to move the company forward. Directors who can give you feedback without needing to make sure you feel gutted at your core. And those leaders are looking for you. I know because I work with them…and because I strive every day to be one of them.
So hear me when I tell you that this isn’t all about you. Call someone you trust so they can tell you the same. And if you only hear it here:
#1 – Never make a big decision when you are this upset or wounded. Take a few days off. Use the first day to sleep, hydrate, go outside for a walk, and sleep some more. Get Clear. Then take action.
#2 – Write everything down that you are feeling right now. Everything. Later when you try to leave and the gaslighting begins or you change your mind because it is too scary, you will need to be able to recall just how bad the bad really is. Write everything down!
#3 – No one is coming to rescue you. You are going to have to save yourself. Fortunately you are perfect for the job. Get out. Don’t stay a minute longer than you have to.