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on toxicity

We are continually learning, as people, as a culture, that relationships can be harmful and toxic. That bad ones can be so bad for you that it is imperative that you leave them to be a healthy human being. We are being encouraged to leave said relationships when we realize how bad they make us feel and how hard they make our lives. This is somewhat of a new revelation. For centuries through media and passed down societal norms people have been told to put their mental and emotional health aside to serve a relationship that isn’t serving them, to serve the status quo and the way things have historically operated. Now we know better, that everyone has the right to be treated well and respected and be in a relationship that makes their life better instead of worse. But what if my toxic relationship is with my career?


Recently, after a job rejection, I was venting to my partner about my frustration and stress about the job searching process. I have been unemployed for a while now, and most jobs I have had that I did not create myself, I have disliked or felt uncomfortable and misplaced in. I’ve worked in many different capacities and some aspects of jobs I’ve enjoyed but often they’ve made me feel small or limited and drained my spirit. Because of this perpetual discomfort in traditional jobs, I have left a lot them, which means I am in search of new ones...maybe a little too regularly. Since leaving graduate school and New York in February of 2020, I have applied for over 50 jobs, and interviewed for some - jobs I am overqualified and perfect for, but I have been rejected (or ignored) for every one. At the same time, I receive consistent feedback that I am impressive and skilled at many things: an asset to the spaces I am in. Not to toot my own horn, but I am very good at jobs! I am high functioning and smart and competent and creative and collaborative. I kick ass at a lot of stuff. What I hear from both former and potential employers is that I carry a lot of skill and quality and should have no problem gaining employment. I am getting to a point in life, adulthood, where I know my own worth, but the job market keeps telling me I am worthless. I am hearing one thing, and experiencing another. I am being gaslit by my own career. It’s exhausting, discouraging and makes me feel like the type of work I want to do will never be within my reach. As I overflowed about all these grievances to my partner, I got more and more emotional and erratic, spinning out as tears rose in my eyes and a lump formed in my chest. Finally I blurted out “it feels like I’m constantly asking to be loved by someone who not only doesn’t love me but is awful to me, and I don’t even really want them to love me, I’m just caught in a cycle. It feels like...like...like still being with [insert past toxic relationship partner here].”


And then I stopped. Shell-shocked by my own words. It had never occurred to me that this relentless rejection and gaslighting by my long-winded job search was reminding me of being a powerless player in an emotionally abusive relationship, and that’s why it felt so suffocating and hard. I was in a toxic relationship again, even though I knew that I deserved better. It was a sobering moment.


I was lost, and still sort of am, at how to proceed. Is it possible for me to leave the job market altogether and create my own concept of work and service on my own? Without a boss, without a hierarchy restricting the possibilities that come with other, newer, more innovative structures? Without any driven motive or ambition except for to do what I enjoy and leave the world better than I found it? Ambition makes me feel like I am never enough. Hustle and drive runs me ragged. Money and job security pressure make me anxious all the fucking time. How do I reject this relationship and still survive in the world? Is it possible to leave my abusive ex when he controls all aspects of the professional and societal world? Is there some kind of hotline I can call?


I don’t know the answers to all of these questions, but something tells me I’m not the only one stuck in this relationship.


I have a clear vision for what I want for my life, but what’s kept me from pursuing it is the assumption that that kind of life is for other people, not for me. Sure, THAT person could make it work, but it’s out of reach for me. I don’t think that’s a useful thing to believe, though. In fact, I think it’s nonsense. One of the reasons people don’t leave bad relationships is because we can’t imagine that there’s something better out there for us. However, anyone who has left a bad relationship will tell you, there always is.


So! I’m taking a breath of air (and advantage of some temporary stability) from applying to traditional jobs for the moment to pursue less traditional things. Mainly, a riskier project that puts a fire in my belly and a grin on my face when I work towards it. It’s a large undertaking and a potential gamble, but also a potentially useful, exciting, incredible thing. I don’t know if this is a wildly stupid idea, but my gut has given me many many reasons to come when she calls. None of us deserve to be stuck in a relationship we know is bad for us. There’s better out there, I intend to find it.


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