I remember the moment vividly. I was attending a conference with my team and chatting with a few contacts from a business that my team and I’d partnered with on promotional efforts.
As we talked over our plastic cups of free wine, someone from the other organization threw out an idea. “Hey, we’re actually working on this new project that we think you’d be perfect for,” he said to me, “It’d give you some great experience, and also get you guys some extra promotion.”
His suggestion sounded awesome. I was thrilled to add this opportunity to my short resume—and was even more excited that it not only didn’t conflict with my employment contract, but was also good for my company. It sounded like a win-win to me.
Until I glanced over at my boss and to my surprise, saw her scowl and abruptly leave.
“Uh oh, I think someone’s jealous ,” said a co-worker.
I shook my head, it sounded ridiculous—and even a touch egomaniacal—to believe this. After all, she was a woman with years more experience and plenty more accomplishments under her belt. Why would she be envious of a recent college grad?
At first the answer eluded me for the reasons I just stated, but eventually I realized that it wasn’t about me. It was about her insecurities and that, instead of perceiving my accomplishments as a testimony to her management, she viewed them as a threat to her own position.
And that flip of the switch led to the following downward spiral at a job I once loved:
She Stopped Being in My Corner
“Well, duh…” you’re probably thinking now. But, as painfully obvious as this point might seem, it was still a brutally rude awakening for me.
After that conference, she only seemed to resent me. It was as if she wanted me to be successful, as long as I was never more successful than her. Instead of applauding my hard work, she discounted it. Instead of encouraging me to take risks, she talked me out of them. Instead of listening to and refining my ideas, she instantly shot them down.
I was realistic enough not to expect her to suit up in a cheerleader uniform and offer a standing ovation for every choice I made. But, having a manager who seemed to work against me—rather than with me—was disheartening.
So I Became My Own Cheerleader
While her sudden turn against me was discouraging, it taught me something important: I wanted her support and encouragement—but I didn't need it.
The lesson was harsh, but it illustrated that I was the only one that needed to stand behind my work and decisions. And, ultimately, that realization gave me a lot more confidence, both in and out of the office.
She Started Taking Credit for My Work
I know that when you work under someone, it’s only natural that he or she will receive at least some of the kudos. However, my boss began blatantly taking credit for my projects.
Things that I had spent days working on alone were recognized as “department-wide efforts” in meetings. She would be the one to stand up and present a project I’d poured my blood, sweat, and tears into—all while making it sound as if she was the one responsible for the entire thing.
So I Confronted Her
Eventually, I gathered my courage and approached her about my frustrations, saying that—while I was all for being a team player—I didn't want to be completely neglected or ignored when it came time to accept praise for the project. But, she only responded with, “Well, you never would’ve known how to do that if I hadn’t taught you.”
Yes, she did teach me a lot. But, the fact that she used that as justification for accepting all of the praise and recognition for the things I had accomplished on my own was infuriating.
So, when it became evident that I couldn't get through to her, I used my own voice. When a project I’d spearheaded was applauded in a meeting, I made sure to make my involvement known. It was a little more forward and aggressive than I was used to being. But, I wanted to make it clear that I wouldn't be treated as a doormat.
Lastly, She Picked Me Apart
As for the work she didn’t want to slap her own name on? Well, she nitpicked it half to death. I couldn’t do anything without her telling me how she would’ve done it better or differently herself.
It was not only discouraging, but it also wound up being extremely counterproductive. There were numerous times when I’d be asked to change something—even if it was just a miniscule detail—only to have to change it back again.
So I Started to Doubt Myself
Normally, I’m receptive to constructive criticism . However, the remarks she made weren’t at all helpful. Instead, she made comments just to discount my work and make it apparent that it still wasn’t good enough (and, honestly, it probably never would be).
But, I soon learned that I needed to take everything she said with a grain of salt. And, in those moments when I felt like I was just spinning my wheels in attempts to meet her unrealistic expectations, I pulled in other superiors to get a second opinion.
Although my attempts to address the issues with my boss helped somewhat, I knew they were just Band-Aids on bullet wounds. So, after enough snide remarks and poor treatment, I made the decision to leave my job and the toxic environment that came with it.
If you find yourself in a similar situation with your superior, sometimes resigning (and providing some brutal honesty during your exit interview !) is the only thing you can do to make things better for yourself.
But, regardless of how you choose to move forward, it's important to keep this in mind: Just because your boss is a few rungs above you on that proverbial ladder does not give him or her a free pass to walk all over you. Remember, you may not be able to control other people's actions and behaviors, but you can control how you react to them.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
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