I've been thinking a lot about the hidden cost of the way things are, and how hard it is to see the costs when you aren't the one paying them.
The line of thought was kicked off by a stray tweet that came across my timeline and made me think about how much I still haven't fully processed the events that led up to me quitting my last full time job. I oscillate between thinking I should drag all of it out, perhaps with the help of a therapist, and really deal with it and thinking that I'm doing pretty well now, so why dig all that up again?
And really, the particulars of what caused me to spin out aren't novel and aren't all that interesting. Even I'm a bit bored by them at this point. What is interesting, at least to me, is the way that I could like and respect everyone individually, but that the culture that they made working together was pretty much toxic to me. And how they didn't really notice, even as I was slowly imploding from the stress of it, and how some of them never understood why I left and to this day think I just wanted more time with my kids. (Note: I do not spend more time with my kids now than I did then. I do spend happier time with my kids, but that's just because I'm happier pretty much all of the time now.)
I don't think these guys are particularly clueless. I think that the costs I was paying were so foreign to them that they didn't even see them. I tried once to explain that the way I had to be to interact successfully at work was bleeding over into the rest of my life and making it hard for me to interact successfully with my friends and my kids' friends' moms. But that didn't go well, because I was pretty sure the person I was trying to explain this to just thought this meant I was friends with silly people, and that is not the case at all.
I did get at least one person to understand that a confrontational approach would backfire if I used it at work. But they didn't see the way that meant I was constantly getting stepped on by the people who could get away with a confrontational approach, and the way it meant that I had to just absorb a lot of other people's aggravation. They could direct their emotions out, but I couldn't respond in kind, and just had to carry mine with me.
I never even tried to explain the cost of having to prove I knew what I was talking about over and over and over, because I knew without asking that in their view, that was what everyone has to do. They didn't think they were interrogating me. They thought they were interrogating my ideas, and may the best idea win. And maybe they were. I was certainly not an impartial observer. But since my perspective- both because of who I am and because of the different expertise I had- was often so different from theirs, my ideas were more likely to be interrogated, because they were different.
Ugh. This is getting boring again. Back to the general point about costs.
I've been around long enough to have practice navigating all of those issues. The problem, which I probably should have seen coming but didn't, is that all that navigation had a cost. It was like a tax on my energy and enthusiasm that I had to pay and most of my colleagues did not have to pay. Probably the easiest way to explain what happened is that I didn't notice the extent to which that tax was draining my reserves, and I went broke.
In fact, I went in debt, and it took me a good six months or so to pay that back and build up reserves again.
Think about all the myriad people this sort of thing happens to, and all the different energy taxes there are. I paid some of them, but I am exempt from a lot more. There are no doubt a bunch that are as invisble to me as the ones I paid were to my colleagues. I have almost certainly contributed to someone else's energy bankruptcy, without even realizing I was doing it.
This has got me thinking: would it be possible to build a workplace that was energy tax-free? I doubt it. But we could perhaps build a workplace that recognizes the taxes exist, and tries to compensate for some of them. I have almost no idea what it would take to do that, but I think it is worth thinking about, particularly if we want to build truly inclusive workplaces, because the taxes are not uniformly distributed and probably never will be.
I don't have a conclusion for this piece, but it has been bouncing around in my head for awhile now and I wanted to let it out. If you're so inclined, help me think this through in the comments. What energy taxes do you pay? Do your colleagues see them? How could your employer help minimize them or at least compensate for them?