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Between a Rock and a Hard Space

Do you ever find yourself in the unfilled spaces of life?

These gaps are felt by everyone in every stage of life. Struggles never truly go away, no matter how old you are. I am sharing this story about my life, hoping that it will resonate with young women who may need a little encouragement or even just the knowledge that someone else has dealt with the same issues that they have experienced.

After college, I experienced a lot of gaps. Gaps in expectation, gaps in aspirations for myself, and gaps between where I was versus where I want to be. I started working a job in my college town right after I finished school. Little did I know, I was honestly over-qualified for this job, and it would not lead to anything, despite having been told by my employer that it would. I was young and new to the world, perhaps a little too naive. I used to hate using this word because I associated it with stupidity, but unfortunately, being naive often comes with the territory when you enter the “real world.”

I worked for a man who knew my skill level and took advantage of my qualifications in graphic design, journalism, and technology every day. None of these things were a part of my job description as the “front desk clerk.” Looking back, I let this go on for longer than it should have. I was working a front desk job, which he offered me out of desperation to fill the position after the previous “front desk clerk” abruptly left. He gave me this job even though I told him I was not a “front desk type of person.” He assured me that I would grow into it and be trained, along with his assistance.

I took the job after he told me there was an opportunity for me to transition into newspaper and magazine work, which sounded pretty good to me because that was more along the lines of what I studied in school. He made remarks like, “I’ll coach you up,” “This is a teaching moment between you and I,” “This doesn’t leave this room,” and “I’m telling you this because I trust you not to take it the wrong way.”

Overall, the environment was very unprofessional. He would talk about my body language, which was extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing to me. He would talk about the importance of body language and how mine made him feel a certain way. I understand that this is part of the way humans communicate, but the way he would try to use this as a manipulation technique to make me feel small was crossing a line. He would frequently bring this up, and I never truly knew how to handle it because no one had ever brought up my body language to me before. I remember not saying much in these conversations that we had. I did not speak up when I probably should have. Emotionally, I think his use of these words made me feel like I should not trust him and that I should not overstep the boundaries that I had set for an employee/employer relationship.

He would also preach “teamwork,” but then would be secretive with other employees. He would bring employees into his office and close the door so that I could not hear what was being said. They would laugh and hoop and holler while blasting music from his computer. They would have lunch together and bond over golf and gambling. I never felt farther from the “team” that he so desperately wanted. This could be because of the way I distanced myself after the way he spoke to me, but also, he spent a lot of time with other employees and was more of a “friend” to certain people. I drew a line between being a friend to him a long time ago. In my mind, I was his employee through and through.

During my first month working as the “front desk clerk,“ I taught myself the ins and outs of the job and beyond, without any coaching from my boss or trainer. I was utterly under-appreciated and taken advantage of when he hurled projects at me to work on, such as creating advertisements, marketing campaigns, magazines, and other designs for the company without being paid for that work.

When he began confronting me for days in a row about my “attitude” towards him, I was quite blindsided. He did this in his office with the door closed. He gaslighted me, brought up conversations from months prior, and tried to make me feel like I was alone, claiming that everyone in the office had a problem with me. I knew this to be untrue.

I could not have made it through this season without the help of strong women in my life. Elon and my mom gave me the best possible professional advice during these few days.

This is where the “US” comes in. Without the “US,” the Unfilled Spaces can feel like overwhelming chasms of uncertainty, doubt, and fear.

Having reliable women on your side to confide in and collaborate with is vital. I was certainly feeling many emotions and worried about my future and what others would think if I were to be fired or if I quit my job. I cried a lot around this time; I felt lost because I had never had to stick up for myself in this type of situation before. I was totally consumed with worry about whether or not to speak up. What I really wanted to do was to quit and walk away. I realized that it was important not to let him win. I couldn’t let him strip away every part of me, although I had lost a good bit of self-confidence.

Despite my fear and doubt, I kept my resolve, and the last time he called me into his office to gaslight me and manipulate me, I came prepared with the words to express my feelings and the truth. I wrote a letter and brought in another employee as a witness. I made it known that I would be speaking first. I spoke up for myself, and I think it surprised him that I, a 22-year-old female, could actually speak up and call him out for being unprofessional, egotistical, and manipulative. I turned in my two-weeks notice soon after.

I think it was during my employment here at my first real job that I lost my voice. It opened my eyes to how selfish and cruel people can be. It’s safe to say it broke my spirit a little bit.

These days, I have a new job. I moved back home. I still have no idea what I should be doing, but I am in a better place. I can tell that I have changed. I am not the same person when it comes to being communicative and outgoing. I think it’s because I lack trust in people and fear opening up too much.

Everyone deals with Unfilled Spaces and the emotions that come along with them. I still am even now.

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