Moving On From Being the Office Problem Child

I am very sorry for the lack of posting in the last few weeks! It’s been a busy time. My mother is visiting from out-of-state, and I am mere days away from starting a new job! For the last eight months I have been working at a department store, first as a seasonal sales associate and then moving up to a lead salesperson position in their lingerie department. I have accepted a new position at a boutique-style chain as a Junior Store Manager (JSM) near my house! This is a huge step forward for me, since this is also my first managerial role!

It also, understandably, kicked off some of my anxiety. I actually saw my therapist for a double session last week and will be seeing him weekly instead of bi-weekly for a while. Ideally, this means we’ll get to practice some stress-management techniques, set some career goals for me, work on conflict resolution techniques and keep abreast of general anxiety surrounding a higher-responsibility role. Most of last week’s session was spent discussing, and shedding, some negative thought patterns that had been holding me back from realizing some potential.

My therapist told me about cognitive fusion, which is defined as “where we get entangled with our thoughts and ‘pushed around by them’ (Russ Harris). We focus our attention on the contents of our mind (our thoughts, memories, assumptions, beliefs, images etc) rather than what we are experiencing through our five senses.  We then make decisions and take actions based on our internal experience (thoughts, memories etc) rather than what is  really going on in the world. ‘In a state of fusion a thought can seem like the absolute truth.'”* In other words, a thought or emotion fuses itself into our brain and proceeds to wreak merry havoc with our perception of the world, and thus, our external actions.

FearsFor me, that thought has always been of me being the “problem child.” This goes way back to the pre-ADD diagnosis days, when I acted out in pre-school and kindergarten and was subsequently punished without them realizing that this behavior was a product of a learning disability. As I developed strategies for coping with ADD throughout my school years, I still experienced difficulty outside of the school environment, leading to a label as a “problem child.” I got a handle on how to interact socially as a teenager, but once I was given adult responsibilities as I worked my way through school, I got a little… lost. It seemed like I was never good enough — not focused enough, not good enough with customers, I was lazy and coworkers didn’t like me, I wasn’t a “team player” and I lacked flexibility, and most importantly, I just wasn’t picking things up fast enough. From eighteen to thirty-two, I hopped from menial entry-level job to menial entry-level job. There was a span of about five years where I was switching jobs every six months. I’ve been fired from a handful of jobs and there were several more where rumors were that I was getting fired and I quit before that could happen. I truly felt that I was unemployable and the perpetual office “problem child.” My anxiety disorder didn’t help anything and I actually wound up self-perpetuating the stereotype as a defense mechanism. When I worked at Organic Grocery Store, I spent quite a bit of time trying to shed the perception of being being a “difficult employee,” but even after two years there, I was never quite able to shake off that rep. Eventually, I gave up trying. Even though I was highly intelligent, I just wasn’t smart enough to hack the real world.

Working at the National Department Store, where I was offered two promotions in six months, helped me realize that maybe label of “problem child” was simply not true. My time there wasn’t without problems, but for the first time ever, the negative feedback almost never came from management itself — just a few jealous teammates and some unhappy customers. When I saw my shrink last week, we explored my past employment history and picked it apart, contrasted it to how things have changed since November. We created a list of traits of being the “office problem child” really meant to me. We then took that piece of paper and put it down the shredder. The little ceremony isn’t going to fix me, but it was meant to hammer home that this self-perception of being unworthy of career advancement a transient thought and not a permanent thing. I should acknowledge it exists, but once acknowledged, I have the ability to move on from it. It is not an absolute truth, it is not something happening in the physical world, but just something in my head.

We also decided to put some long-term goals and underlying purpose up. I wrote a list of things like, “Find out what motivates others and do everything in my power to fuel that fire” and “Find, create, and implement resources for others so they may become their best selves.” The final one was “Be the next store manager in three years.” I decided I’m going to take some of the leftover signage frames from the wedding and hang it over one of my dressers, so I see them every day when I get dressed. Words or pictures in frames seem to carry more weight and I, at least, perceive them as having importance. It seems fitting to give my goals that extra oomf.

Is there another way that you, dear readers, shed negative self-perceptions? Or ways that you have mindfully improved your self-esteem in a specific area of your life?

*http://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/some-definitions/

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