“I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school. I wish I could make a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.” -Mean Girls
I used to be a very mean girl. It first started when I was 23, freshly promoted, full of big ideas, and sure I was the best ever in my first real “grown-up” job. Complete with a desk, travel, meetings, and budgets—I was an important part of it all. In my mind, the most important part.
When Suzanne joined our team, she was in her late forties, struggled to think 10 minutes into the future, and seemed incapable of learning her new job. She’d been hired for what I thought was the easiest job in the entire company—a combo customer service and billing role. Making phone calls, basic data entry, and doing whatever else the rest of us needed. I thought anyone off the street could do this job flawlessly after just a few days of training, yet Suzanne could not.
It started slowly, her questions eliciting deep sighs and eye rolls as I answered them over and over, encouraging her to write things down. More of my day started to revolve around fixing her mistakes or trying to prevent more. I didn’t see that she was doing her best or struggling. I only saw that she was preventing me from looking good to the people who mattered, and my disgust with her grew.
She knew. I went out of my way to make it clear.
When we spoke, it was short, to the point, and dripping with a thinly veiled insult. I loved making her look small to the team, and then I could tell them how great I was, making myself look like such a big person.
After a year or so, one morning Suzanne finally cracked after another disgusted remark from me:
“You don’t have to like me, but you don’t have to be rude.”
“I don’t have to like you, but asking you to do your work isn’t rude.”
“It’s not if that’s what you’re actually doing. You’re going out of your way to point out everything I do wrong. I don’t deserve to be talked to like that. You need to respect me as a person.”
“Respect isn’t given, it’s earned. Start doing a respectable job and you’ll get respect.”
She left work in tears that day. I didn’t feel bad. I told myself she did it to herself. If she wanted to be treated better, she should be better. None of this was my fault.
Nothing ever improved and we all lost our jobs about six months later when the company closed. Then I got to file my first adult unemployment claim, just like Suzanne. We’re all equally as unimportant when standing in that line each week. It’s a great equalizer of sorts.
Now, almost 20 years later I find myself in Suzanne’s shoes to an extent. I think about her a lot lately and really regret how awful I was. My best work is not enough for some people—even though it really is good work. I am definitely messing up someone’s plan for looking good and being successful in their “grown-up” job. Every mistake I make is analyzed publicly. So, I am currently doing my best to hold on tight while riding out the waves of someone else’s power trip. It feels nearly impossible to do anything right.
I have asked for more kindness, explained my concerns, and demanded respect, but it doesn’t matter. When someone is locked into the mean girl game, all rational thought is gone.
I know this because I used to be a mean girl. I know the power coursing through her veins every time she sees a chance to correct me on a public stage. It’s addicting.
I used to feel undervalued in my own life and relied on the power at work to help boost my ego. Of course, I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing at the time. I was miserable at home and offended by anyone who was happy; it was my mission to bring them down. I believed I was better than others for no reason other than just to feel actually needed and good somewhere. For all of the cruel facade, it’s really a sad and insecure place to be.
Having now been on both sides of this game, I can tell you it’s actually worse to be the mean girl. I used to pity Suzanne for not being as smart or powerful as I was, but I can clearly see now—I was actually the pitiful one. I was the problem. Now, I can also see I am not the actual problem in my current situation. All I can do is work on my reactions to these interactions.
Grown women can be the worst. Absolutely. And I say this AS a grown woman who tries so hard to be positive, work hard, and be a part of the team. I genuinely want to see everyone do well. Heck, I want us all to do better than well, I want us to do phenomenal things! I thought this garbage would end after high school, yet I see it all the time out here in the adult world.
It blows my mind what a minority this mindset puts me in.
Why is that? Why do so many cling to an identity where the only way to move up is to throw others down? Why do they lie to cover up their mistakes instead of working toward a solution together? They gossip and betray, then play innocent when you try to address it head-on.
But Lord help you if you (gasp!) actually stand up to these women and point out it’s not OK to be talked to or treated poorly. You are doing your best and that deserves some polite respect. That is when they’ll feel the cracks of their nice-girl persona start to creep in and spread across their bodies.
Then, they feel attacked. How anyone standing up for their own rights can be perceived as an attack, I will never understand, but it will be. Like a wounded animal, they’ll attack without thought or regard for the situation. More lies, more justification, and more arguments to preserve their persona. All because they aren’t happy with their own life.
Throwing shade has never made anyone grow. Bringing down others has never once made someone a better person. Maybe they feel better for a bit. Perhaps even for a long time, but it won’t last. They are the problem. If we honestly step back and reflect, many of us are the problem.
We need to step back and remember the basic golden rule we learned as kids: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
It’s literally that simple and would make a world of difference. I am not perfect at this (or anything else), but I’m trying and wish badly more people would join in. If you’re doing your best, that’s all that matters. If you stand up for yourself and refuse to allow them to treat you that way, give yourself a pat on the back. You are worth respect, kindness, help, and love. We all are.
We must take time to consider the source when uncalled-for meanness is hurled our way: hurt people, hurt people. Angry people lash out at people. Sad people will never see your full goodness. Those who aren’t happy with their lives will do whatever they can to tear down those who are. They will try to dim your light and bring you to their dark place. I am not better than them, but they are certainly no better than me. We are all doing our best and need to give each other more grace.
Don’t fall into their trap. You are worthy of good. You deserve kindness, love, and support. You are not the version they are spinning of you. Keep your chin up. Keep your light shining. Keep speaking up. The grace you give is the true definition of success. Never forget that. You are a badass. You are far more than the job you do.
If you aren’t happy, please take a moment to breathe before lashing out. Make the changes you need to be happy but don’t tear others down. If you aren’t happy with your life, change it. It’s no one’s fault but yours. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We all have to do some soul-cleansing from time to time. When you look at the world, see everyone as a person. A person who deserves kindness and respect, just like you want. We’re all in this global sisterhood together. It’s hard enough without unnecessary attacks coming from people on our team.
Coming from a former mean girl—you’ll regret this. The shoe will be on the other foot someday.
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