For a wide variety of reasons, I've been thinking a good deal this week about bullies. It's been a roller coaster of a week with good, bad, and everything else in-between popping up at various intervals, and everything -- the good, the bad, and many of the "everything elses" has me thinking about bullies.
I strongly dislike bullies. And really -- who doesn't? Who among us thinks, "man, I really like bullies. I think they're great." Nobody. So, I guess that's really an unnecessary statement; however, I really dislike bullies. I am over bullies, and over bullying, and I'm tired of being angry about bullies and their bully ways. Over the past few years, I think I've met more than my fair share of bullies. It happens. It's not fun, but it happens. (I am defining bully here as: someone who uses their power, strength, or influence to intimidate, belittle, or harm others).
My question today comes from this: I was offered a really wonderful, amazing job (and I said yes). This job is at the organization I have worked at now for 2.5 years, in which I have moved up the training ranks, until now, when I will no longer be in training. When I applied for this organization 2.5 years ago, there was a bully standing in my way.
"We've never gotten anyone in there," Dr. X told me. "You're wasting your application."
"It's out of your league," she said. "There's no way you're getting in. You're wasting your time and money."
"You need to change your list. I can't approve this. Put (these sites you don't want to go to) on your list instead."
I continued moving forward, telling her that I understood her point. I changed my list a bagillion ways, trying to reach a compromise, but I left that one site on there. It was my number 1 choice. This was the place I wanted to be. This was what I had been working towards. This was my chance to do exactly what it was I wanted to do. And there she stood, intimidating and condescending, right in my way. In all honesty, it came down to two things: (1) she wanted to wield her power in such a way that those around her would tremble in fear; (2) she had issues with me, personally (for reasons, but not reasons that were my fault, and not reasons that I will explain here. These conversations took place in a much larger context that was awful, and painful and oppressive and not my fault).
Eventually, I submitted the list (without Dr. X's total permission). A few weeks later, I got an interview. A few weeks later, I was accepted as an intern. A year after that, they accepted me as a post-doc. A year later as a second year post-doc. And now, they've offered me a job. Thank goodness I didn't listen to "out of my league," right?
When I told some people close to me about the job, I said, "it kind of makes me want to send an email to Dr. X."
"Why?" they asked. "What would you say?"
"How about 'Dear Dr. X, Fuck you.'"
"You don't really want to say that," they said.
"Oh, but I do," I said, nodding vehemently.
"No you don't. She helped you. You should write her a thank you note. You should tell her that you appreciate that she helped you grow in the face of adversity. I'm sure she would love to hear from you."
And I wish they hadn't said that. I know it was well-intentioned. I know it was because they don't want to think that somebody made something hard for me. I know it was because these particular people have swept that whole era of my life under the rug such that we pretend that it doesn't exist. But I am so tired of that message, and all of the other messages that go along with it. I am tired of hearing that I can't feel/shouldn't feel/am not really angry/sad/pissed off. I am tired of feeling like I have to make sense of things that make no sense, and like I need to be grateful for things towards which I feel no gratitude.
Don't get me wrong -- I have a very active, passionate, meaningful, and important gratitude practice that has brought me intense meaning and joy. This practice, however, developed in opposition to people telling me to be grateful, or appreciative, or happy about things from which I derived no happiness or gratitude or appreciation. "Just be grateful it wasn't worse," I was told. "You can feel glad that all this is happening to make you a better person," someone said. "Look on the bright side. Be happy that you'll come out of this a better psychologist," many people told me.
But I wasn't grateful about those things. I wasn't glad. I wasn't happy. I'm all about making the most of what life gives you, but some lemons just don't make good lemonade. Sometimes, there's power in just letting those lemons be lemons. Sometimes, the strength does not come from making something sweet and tasty out of something sour and bitter, but from saying, "that right there? That's a fucking lemon, y'all, and it's bitter, and it's sour, and it sucks. It's a lemon, and it sucks." Some lemons deserve to just be labeled as lemons, because there's nothing good that can come from them.
However, if the lemons are bad, maybe you pick up a lime next to it. Or maybe you ditch the lemonade idea and decide you want orange juice, or iced tea, or a margarita. And then? When you stand up and say, "THAT is a lemon," and you walk away, and you drink that delicious margarita instead...THEN you can be grateful. THEN you can practice gratitude because you can say, "life just kept giving me all these fucking lemons, and they sucked...so I tried the margaritas, which are pretty damn delicious, so I am GRATEFUL for margaritas!" And isn't that what gratitude's about, really? It's not about making the awful into something good. It's about finding the thing that is delicious, in spite of all the suck.
You start to feel, though, when you keep getting these messages, that somehow, you owe something to the bullies. Somehow, we owe them a word of thanks. We owe them some recognition in our own mind or in our meaning-making or in our conversations with others. When we tell these stories of triumph and overcoming, it's like we owe the bullies some sort of gratitude for being a catalyst in making our kick-assness happen. Like somehow, we would have been a little less kick-ass if people weren't tearing us down. Like somehow, they helped us to prove that we're awesomesauce, and that without them breaking our spirits, we would have been a smidge less awesome.
And that's a bunch of bullshit.
If I hadn't gone through what I did in grad school, I'd still be plenty kick-ass. If Dr. X had been supportive and wonderful and given me gifts of rainbows and sunshine from day one...I STILL would have been kick-ass. Anything and everything that I have done has come from me, and from me alone. I do not owe her or the other bullies anything. I do not owe them my gratitude. I do not owe them my survival. I do not credit them with my survival. They do not get to own my awesome.
So may it be.