Community-Building Stress + Holding Your Own

I’m not sure how I got into this pattern but my work is toxic right now. It’s ironic, especially considering that it’s community-oriented work. That said, what I’ve deciphered over time is that it’s not the work of community building that’s stressful; it’s dealing with all of the people one encounters in such an endeavor.

Engineering works as a field because there are rules that govern the design of things: physics, calculus, gravity, the way lasers work, etc. Social design is a hot mess of personalities, power, race (and its privileges or not), and the way that all plays out in a roiling soup. This is some serious complex social negotiating.

I’ve been in this business for awhile and what I’ve found, accidentally, is that white women are, by and large, the worst possible bosses for me ever. Take one second to digest the “for me” part of that sentence. I’m sure that there are people out there that love the warm and comfortable bosom of Mother Earth-cum-social worker extraordinaire who wants to cry with you and constantly asks about your feelings.

This wants to make me vomit.

In all fairness, I have an unusually aggressive style. I get it. For lack of less gendered term, I approach work in a very masculine kind of way: aggressive problem-solving, value neutral critical judgement, call it like I see it, let’s be excellent. What the hell…it’s 2019…let’s just call this “bad ass boss lady” behavior. Doesn’t that ruffle the feathers of the genteel, oh yeah. I’ve seen A LOT of tears in my day. Sad for the crier, it doesn’t bother me. Cry away. I’m still going to tell you I think your idea sucks. If it does.

So the situation I’m in right now is that I’m on the pretty aggressive side and my current situation is on the other end of the scale…so we’ve been going head to head for years. Literally, years. About community building. From a meta standpoint, the whole thing is ridiculous: we’re fighting about how to build community. Even now I’m shaking my head.

The win today was that in another meeting in which I was called disrespectful, rude, too aggressive…whatever else…I didn’t get angry. It was a really weird Zen moment of hearing the idea, acknowledging the idea, and letting it pass from me and responding with compassion. I sincerely apologized for what I should own as a mistake. But I didn’t give in or roll over. I completely owned that conversation if thought I was the “defendent” in the scenario. I’ve never, EVER successfully done that before.

I think I could write a good long piece on how bizarre I think it is that women in the workplace cannibalize each other’s power. I’ve seen SO MANY bosses seriously lacking in true managerial skill that, sadly, the skills I’ve build are dealing with these broken people. It’s not what I would’ve wanted but it’s what I have.

It’s how I’ve evolved.

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