Chapter 6: Shit Show
Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself on a flight headed to LA – to the office that HR prepared me for by giving me "coaching" lessons for the retaliation that was sure to take place down there.
I get there and it’s just as terrible as I had imagined it’d be, if not worse.
People who are walking down the hall literally move to the other side of the hall, so they don’t have to walk by me.
One meeting, I sat down in a chair and the rest of the team got up and moved four seats down from me. Then my manager even had the audacity to look at me and say in front of everyone, “Hey Jess, how are you doing all the way down there by yourself?”
And laughed, along with everyone else.
I was so alone.
Honestly God, what’d I do to deserve this?
And then, I found myself in a familiar situation that had brought a ton of anxiety from earlier in my life.
If any of you have ever moved to a new school growing up, you may have dreaded what I too had dreaded on my first day -
Who was I going to sit next to at lunch?
You see, you usually have assigned seats during class, but when it comes to lunch – that’s a free choice. And it quickly becomes apparent if you do or if you don't have any friends.
Same thing applies at work.
And I knew I’d be sitting alone at my own table during lunch, if it were up to them. So after they had chosen to alienate me at meetings, I refused to allow them to do that to me at lunch. I watched my manager get his food and sit down - and then I purposefully sit right next to him, which catches him and everyone else off guard.
“Well, hi there Jessie, welcome!” he exclaims and laughs along with everyone else.
I hated (HATED) having to sit by him, but I knew I'd be sitting all by myself if I didn’t - and that oddly - would have been more painful.
And I wasn’t going to let them ostracize me again…
I hardly ate a bite of food that entire week.
Nobody knew how much courage that took.
The smirks, faces, actions, bullying - it was just terrible.
And, I’ve got to tell you, it brought a whole new depth to my heart – for anyone who is being bullied or shunned.
It is awful.
It’s hard to put into words exactly how this feels and how much it hurts.
All I can say is - that if you ever see anyone or God forbid, find yourself in this situation - don't just think, "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt..."
Words are exactly what got me there.
And I've personally found, words can either be life-giving or life-draining.
On day two, and with great reluctance (I hate asking for help), I found the man who my GM had reached out to in an effort to look out for me while I was there. He was walking down the hallway and he was all by himself - it was the perfect time to ask him for help.
I desperately needed him.
“Hi, I heard my GM reached out to you, and I just wanted to say thank you. And, I – I really need your help.”
And he just stared at me - in complete disgust - and turned and walked away without saying a word.
I wanted to die.
I just wanted to curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out right there in the freaking hallway.
But, I couldn’t cry.
And I couldn’t quit.
But God knew I wanted to.
I somehow make it through another day and head back to the hotel where we were all staying. Everyone was told to get dinner on their own – which meant, I was eating by myself.
I remembered thinking that it was odd how just a few months prior to this, a senior manager was begging me to sit next to her, talk about my ideas including the Y concept, and treating me like the guest of honor.
And now, I was eating by myself.
Because my manager said something.
Because my mentor betrayed me.
Because of so much bullshit.
There was also another thought that hit me when I returned to my room.
It dawned on me that I was staying at this posh hotel in Beverly Hills and I was just dying to stay at the hostel I was at during the marketing tour.
I would’ve given anything right then to pay the 34 bucks and bunk next to ten complete strangers, have my stuff stolen, and take four different buses each day to get to the office - rather than being there - at that fancy hotel in freaking Beverly Hills.
One of the few shining lights that week was this really nice girl who I had worked with who was based out of San Francisco.
We had created this badass Excel template together with five separate pages to easily calculate savings, costs, discounts, and rebates. It could be used as a national template for our soccer clubs, our accounts, and even our prospects.
And this was all done over the phone and emails - and that’s not an easy thing to do. But we did it, and it was a powerful tool that helped many people.
So, she was at the hotel and sent me a text asking me to grab a drink at the bar with her downstairs.
She was my ONE friend there and she wanted to know what was going on. I said I couldn’t say anything for a while over the phone leading up to that week in LA, but after noticing that everyone seemed to “know” when I got there – I figured, “what the hell,” because I was over listening to HR telling me I couldn’t talk about it – especially when everyone else was.
I had to tell someone.
I met her downstairs and told her everything and she was absolutely mortified.
Then a colleague of ours who had been out eating and drinking with everyone walked in from dinner, right over to us and said, “What is going on with YOU?! Your manager was just out at dinner talking shit about you to everyone!!”
I didn’t even know who that woman was.
And that’s when I finally lost it.
I started bawling. In front of the entire lobby. I couldn’t stand it any longer and I told that woman everything too and she was equally as shocked.
And I was officially worn out.
The next day was our last day at the office and I somehow managed to get through it.
I don’t know how, but I did.
Thank you, God.
My Grandpa wanted me to call him as soon as it was over and fill him in because he was so worried about me being there.
He picked up the phone and was out of breath – he didn’t sound good, and I knew it right away.
“Are you okay, Grandpa?”
/// Words have power ///
He had never said that – even when he hadn’t been feeling great for about 20 years at this point.
And I knew right at that moment his days were numbered.
I could hear it in his voice.
And all the shit that I had been through the past week suddenly didn’t mean a damn thing any more.
And I started bawling.
And that’s when I heard my Grandpa cry for the first time.
“Hey, stop that Jess – you’re making me cry…”
We didn’t talk for long, but I knew I had to go see him quickly and it’d probably be for the last time.
And you know, come to think of it, that was actually one of the most beautiful moments of my life.
He picked up for me.
Despite all of his pain.
He picked up.
He knew I needed him.
And right in that moment,
I knew he needed me.
Showing up is everything.
I returned to Portland and HR wanted to do a follow-up phone call.
“Hi Jessie, how was LA?”
“Miserable, just like I told you it’d be.”
“Surely it wasn’t that bad. Are you sure you’re just not being too sensitive?”
/// Words have power ///
“No, I’m not! It was awful and everyone thinks they know what’s going on, but they don’t! I even had a complete stranger come up to me and she told me that my manager was talking about me to everyone at dinner!”
“What’s her name?!”
“No. I’m not telling you. I’m starting to understand how this works.”
“You HAVE to tell me her name.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“Well if you don’t tell me her name, then when you go for another job or a promotion, your file will be marked with red flags.”
“Well, what does that mean?”
“Well, it will be compared to the others who might not have red flags.”
“I don’t even know her name.”
(Tears start falling down my face)
“Well you need to find out and tell me as soon as you do.”
And then I hung up the phone and sobbed because I have to hand this woman over to HR. And I knew what HR had done to me, and I knew what was coming for her.
So, I try to do the brave thing – and the right thing, which was incredibly difficult.
I find out her last name and I call to give her a heads up.
“Hey AAAAAAAAA, thanks for talking with me in LA.”
“Oh yeah, hi! Oh my gosh, how are you doing?!”
“Well, this is really shitty – but HR did a follow up call and they were saying I was being too sensitive about everything and I told them I wasn’t because you had heard my manager talking about me in front of everyone and…”
“NO!!! I NEVER SAID THAT!”
/// Words have power ///
This moment was so awful that I wanted to die – again.
She was lying.
But I understood why.
HR was a freaking nightmare and she didn’t want to come anywhere close to this situation – because she knew how wrong I was being treated and how my days were numbered – and if she told the truth, she’d be in trouble.
And what’s even worse was that it was this exact moment that I knew I was completely screwed.
Nobody was going to help me.
She had a 10+ year career there and I was just this young, disposable sales rep with a horrible reputation and apparently red flags and it didn’t even matter if people knew it was wrong – they weren’t going to stand up for me.
They couldn’t afford to.
But she has two daughters, so maybe?
“I never said that – now I don’t know if you remember correctly because you had been drinking,” she said.
I had two drinks that night - how dare you.
Grow some damn ovaries.
She’s panicking, worried about her reputation and career and then she literally yelled at me screaming, “You better call them right now and fix this!!”
And I’m in shock, have tears streaming down my face, somehow manage to say okay and hang up.
And then for the next few days I’m sad beyond anything I’ve ever felt.
It was all so wrong.
HR calls a few days later, and even though I knew it was wrong – and I shouldn’t stand up for this woman…
I chose to.
Because I knew my career was soon to be over and even though she lied, I knew I was screwed and oddly enough…
I was worried for her.
“Yeah, I talked to her and it was my misunderstanding.”
“You said you didn’t know her name!” demands HR. “You lied to us!”
“I didn’t know her last name – but then I found out, and I called her.”
“You shouldn’t have done that!”
“Well now we’re going to have to call her.”