Work Career Now + Beyond

Is freelancing a risky or necessary career move?

When the pandemic hit, I, like many others, feared for my life because I have a medical condition that leaves me vulnerable. My previous job was at a pharmacy and there was no way I was going to continue working there. Risking illness and death for a low-paying job, that was a part of a larger toxic corporation, was not an option. I hunkered down at home and applied for unemployment, which didn’t provide as much support as I needed. So I decided to take on freelancing as a writer.

My dream “job” is to author books but I’ve always known that I can’t just subsist on writing fiction when starting out. I was going to need a job and I preferred it to be dealing with writing and editing. Another appeal of freelancing was being able to work on my own at home. My degrees in English and Journalism, as well as my love for reading, provided me the background and experience to successfully edit for other writers.

But I didn’t think this when I first started. In fact, when I created my freelancing profile, I got no orders. When I later reexamined it, I realized the issue wasn’t with the services I offered or my experience, but rather the pricing and scope of my gigs. Once I changed that, I started to get, and have continued to receive, an almost overwhelming amount of work. On the one hand, I’m glad to be getting projects in a field I’m interested in. However, the only way to really attract any clients was by severely undercharging for my services. It lands me in an unfortunate position of being overworked and underpaid.

Freelancing can be a financially arduous journey, and being underpaid is a kick in the teeth. It undermines the value of your time and effort spent on a task. There is also the possibility of being taken advantage of and, to some degree, I’ve experienced this.

When freelancing, it can be difficult to reject a commission even if you’re uninterested or busy.  I have two novels waiting to be edited and just got another order in today and I can’t bring myself to tell the new buyer that I’m currently overwhelmed. I just have to make it work. If I don’t, the cancellation will affect my reputation on the platform.

I have not been able to find a stable, full-time job in my industry. And at this point in my life, my only other option for work may be going back to where I was at the pharmacy. But even with the amount of stress I’m currently undergoing with freelance, I don’t struggle the way I did when I worked at that pharmacy. I don’t end my day wanting to lapse back into self-harm. I’m not being dehumanized in the way I was at that company.

And freelancing hasn’t been without its benefits. It strips you of associations with company organizations and position titles, so your recognition comes through your work. Before starting freelancing, I had asked myself, what does my experience actually consist of?  My education means that I know how to write about writing in and of itself. This felt redundant and useless.  But I’ve had mostly positive reviews on the projects I’ve completed and that has reassured me that, yes, my education and my passion are useful.

I’ve also found that my freelancing work is beneficial to people who may not have the means to get their works edited by more prestigious editors who charge higher prices. Many of my clients are self-published, just starting out, or struggle with English. This does not mean that their work is not valuable. Money should not be a barrier to creating art and in this way, freelancing is beneficial to the creative community within which I operate. 

The ultimate question for me is; if I wasn’t unemployed would I take on freelancing full-time? I truly don’t know how financially feasible freelancing full-time is at this point, but I am learning that the more I do, the better I get at it and I am capable of carving out my own path doing something I like.

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

How to embrace your competitive side and still be a team player

I spent most of my twenties as a professional auditioneror what most people refer to as an actor.  On a daily basis, I’d go to multiple casting calls. Upon arrival, the receptionist would send me to a dimly lit room filled with chairs occupied by women with a similar physical description to myself. Then, after what sometimes felt like an eternity of tension, a production assistant would usher me into the casting room where I’d somehow sell my abilities in a few lines of dialogue. No pressure.

I always bought into the traditional idea that the entertainment industry was cutthroat, so when I decided to change careers at age thirty to pursue advertising, I was still acclimatized to the dog-eat-dog mindset. I figured I’d need to retire my competitive spirit and work cohesively with others towards campaign delivery and quarterly goals. At this point, I still saw things through a singular lens. I had a limited view of the acting world, where everyone was vying for one job. Then, moving onto the ad world, I had updated my approach to being a team player. But as I eventually learned, things weren’t quite that cut and dry.

We often categorize our environments as either ruthless, where we mentally suit up for battle, or as collaborative, where we act jointly with others. We also tend to view the people around us as either friends or foes. A black and white approach can help ensure a primal sense of safety, as we suss out threats or danger. But, this siloed view of opposition can lead to blind spots, or even a missed opportunity to give our best performance. In fact, for most of us, competition is a running theme throughout our whole lives. Whether it’s growing up with siblings, playing team sports, competing for a promotion, going head to head with others is a constant part of being human. And that’s not a bad thing. In healthy doses, competition keeps us alert and helps us attain our most notable goals. 

A big factor in the way we measure up the competition is the social comparison we embrace with one another. We see others succeed at something we want to do and it drives us to achieve those same results, or better. The U.S.’s first successful venture to the moon was rooted in seeing the Soviets fly to orbit first. Observing their success, America decided it could do better. But in other cases, social comparison can be detrimental. During the cola wars of the eighties, in an effort to beat out Pepsi for the top slot, Coca-Cola sweetened their recipe and called it “New Coke.” It completely flopped, resulting in Pepsi sales briefly skyrocketing. As damage control, Coca-Cola was forced to apologize to the 400,000 customers who wrote letters of complaint and rebranded their original recipe to “Coca-Cola Classic.” Whether they lead us astray or aid in success, social comparisons give us a perceived context in our accomplishments.

We also tend to view the people around us as either friends or foes.

Wherever you view yourself as a “competitor” or “collaborator,” the key to finding a balance may be checking in with yourself periodically. By asking yourself, “Am I losing opportunities to connect because I’m competing too much? or Am I being exploited because I’m cooperating too much?”, can help course correct and create a stable equilibrium. This can help serve our careers over the long term. Adam Galinsky, author of Friend and Foe: Balancing Competition and Collaboration explains, “We’re always cooperating, we’re always competing, and we should recognize that tension and also ask ourselves if we’re finding the right balance.” Simply asking yourself these questions can give you a sense of power and self-awareness to navigate the subtle and not-so-subtle signs with more confidence.

Broaden your horizons

Though the world tends to view competition in a generally positive light, the social comparison game can have toxic consequences when taken too far. Most of us have endured the frustration of seeing someone further ahead of us in an industry where we’ve worked hard. Then, that person or company becomes the focal point of what we need to surpass in order to consider ourselves successful. But, this tunnel vision thinking can actually limit results and prevent you from seeing the big picture. Entrepreneur Marie Forleo explains we have to take a broad view and stop thinking small. “Don’t look at one competitoryou want to look at what’s happening in your entire industry,” she explains. “Ask yourself how you can look outside of the box so you can innovate.” That means spending the majority of your time on your own work and focusing on specific competitors.

Keep a negotiation diary

When I entered the shiny, new world of advertising, I had a notebook on me at all times to keep track of tasks, and what I’d pitched in meetings. This was primarily a way of adjusting and learning about my new surroundings. But looking back at a year’s worth of notes, I realized not only had I been cooperating with colleagues to reach goals, but I was competing with them as well. We each pitched ideas during weekly meetings where only a few were acted on. We also went head to head for promotions and bigger assignments, while we all worked towards the same end goal. Keeping a written record of my initiatives also helped me examine my daily actions and decipher what my next career move should be.

Through hindsight, I’ve also realized the many collaborative moments in my former acting career. I frequently networked with fellow performers I met in the audition waiting room. We connected each other with agents, classes, and even exchanged our favorite plays and books on acting. Then, in the casting room, we often worked as scene partners to bring life to a script and help the director see the talents we both had to offer. This made me realize the inaccuracy in my stark view of competitive situations.

Both rivalry and squad goals are a part of everyone’s lives.

My journey has made me realize how often I’d categorized competition and collaboration as two separate mindsets and missed an important point. Both rivalry and squad goals are a part of everyone’s lives. Though competition can make us uncomfortable when we don’t get desired results, we can turn disappointment into motivation to do better next time. For those of us who worry about getting too caught up in the rat race, we can look for ways to cooperate and be of service to restore a sense of equilibrium. If we embrace the productive parts of the competition and still work together, we may find that inner stability and balance it takes to be the best.

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Work Career Now + Beyond

Who says business and friendship don’t mix? Here’s how to work productively with your bestie

I’ve always been a big fan of Behind The Music documentaries. Getting the backstage gossip on my favorite bands is a guilty pleasure I can get lost in for hours. But, as I found out more about how the Rolling Stones don’t speak to one another anymore, or the longstanding feud between John Lennon and Paul McCartney; it made me wonder if working with friends should be off-limits. Adding to that, a friend of mine once told me she mentioned her house-hunting budget to a coworker friend. This created tension during bonus season when she realized my friend earned more than her, although they performed the same role. Things can get even trickier when managers and their employees cross the friendship line and perception forms that one person is receiving a free pass or an advantage over others.

But, when navigated wisely and with the right dynamic, working with your pals can actually be an asset to business and productivity. And for every Beatles feud, there’s a prime example of a solid working friendship, such as the Foo Fighters (with longtime bandmates, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins as best friends). Cooperating with those you share a bond with can capture a true authenticity in your work and creativity that you may not get with mere colleagues.

As human beings, we have a primal desire for close relationships. It’s why Tom Hanks befriended a volleyball when he was marooned in Castaway. It’s also the reason why solitary confinement is considered one of the harshest forms of punishment. Relationships are monumental to our emotional well-being. With the number of hours people put in at work these days, it’s now common that we have at least one good friend who’s either a colleague or business partner. Though there’ll always be those who prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate, there can be huge advantages to doing business with pals or initiating friendship at work. When done wisely, it creates a built-in support system that encourages empathy and thinking outside the box. 

Sounds kind of perfect, right? Getting to work with someone who understands the different facets of your personality. In fact, according to a recent Gallup Poll, people who have friends at work are 43% more likely to receive recognition and praise for their job. But, like everything else in life, these relationships take work. Similar to bonding with a significant other, when friendship and work mix, you’re making a commitment to bring your fair share to the table, both as pals and colleagues. But to provide insurance against any future regret, it takes boundaries and clear communication.

Know your limits

Understanding expectations is crucial when walking the line between friendship and work. If you’re about to go into business together, lay out the rules and make sure you agree on each other’s roles. Decide who will have the ultimate say if you’re divided on a decision because there will be times in the union where you must agree to disagree, and still move forward. 

If you’ve become friends through your job, you still need to understand your own boundaries in how you approach colleagues at work. Referring to that expectation will set the tone for what’s appropriate to your relationship, and serve as a guide if one of you receives a promotion, or if you ever need to compete for an internal role in the future. 

Have friends in high places

You know that old saying: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know? It may be a bit frustrating to hear, and can even seem unfair at times. But some cliches stick around for a reason. And in the career arena, this one carries a heavyweight of truth to it. It’s no secret that your professional relationships make an impression about who you are at work.

If you’re looking to make friends at your office, choose wisely. When you start a new job, check out the lay of the land first. Make sure you’re adding like-minded people to your professional community. The people you surround yourself with don’t necessarily need to have the same goals as you, but they shouldn’t hold you back either. The same goes when choosing a business partner or new hire. Don’t choose them just because they’re fun to have a beer with. When making a decision like this, imagine you’ve never met before, and you’re viewing their credentials on paper. This will help you decide whether your goals are aligned and if your pal really is the best candidate.

Say sorry like you mean it

Whether it’s love birds or business partners, anyone in a close relationship who says they’ve “never had a fight” is probably lying, and if they’re not, there may be a whole lot of bottled resentment headed for self-combustion. As humans, we’re basically wired to get on each other’s nerves from time to time. When it’s your turn to apologize, there’s a single word that entrepreneur Marie Forleo says you should never utter in your sorry speech. That’s the word “if.” As in, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings or I’m sorry if you feel that way.

“When you say if, you take all the responsibility away from you, and you actually put it on the other person, and it makes them feel like crap,” Forleo explains. 

Simply saying, “I’m sorry I made this mistake. What can I do to make it right?” shows that you’re taking ownership of your actions.  Also, remember no matter how close you are with your pal, you can’t pressure them into forgiving you on the spot. Allow the situation time to decompress and don’t rush the process. They’ll come around in their own time.

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In past years, whenever the possibility of working with friends came up, I instantly had sweaty palms. But after seeing multiple examples of working friends where their bond made their work better, I’ve officially rethought my position on it. I now see it as an opportunity to create something great and strengthen the relationship in a way many people don’t get to experience in their lifetime. 

Longstanding business relationships will always present at least some ups and downs. Of course, you’ll never find the perfect business partner or colleagues, but the fear many of us have about mixing business and friendship may be unfounded at times. Strong friendship and loyalty can help create great work. When a business has heart behind it, people take note. It’s amazing what happens when friends go out on a limb and truly support one another. 

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Work Startups Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

Startups fail 90% of the time and it’s not because of money

I’m not saying there is a 90% chance your startup will fail. Statistics give probability and averages, but they’re not meant to discourage you from bringing disruptive ideas to the table. So yes, 90% of startups fail. But starting a business is not necessarily a risky gamble for everyone. You can build on failures that these insights point toward. And while there is a lot of worry over “angel investors” and VC support, a lot of problems that startups face aren’t even directly tied to finance. Instead, a lot of the barriers are related to inconsistencies in their ideas and teams. So what are the issues that you need to keep an eye on? Here are a few important questions you should be seriously asking yourself if you’re building a startup:

1. Does anyone need your product?

Working on a community project, I was introduced to the design thinking methodology. It gives a framework to approach problems and find good solutions for them. The design thinking process has five non-linear stages: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Empathizing with a problem is crucial, but many startups actually make the mistake of overlooking it. According to CB Insights, 42% of startups fail because they’re providing a solution to a problem that no one has. Most entrepreneurs are ready to have a solution at hand, without really researching who their solution caters to. Startup owners, while focusing on how good their product is, forget why customers need their products. For instance, let’s say you’re building a mobile app that helps you track your finances. You even have amazing features to sync shares in the stock market. But all your customer needs is a calculator with a to-do list.

In the design process, the next most crucial part is prototyping and testing. The process is not linear because the loop of adjusting your product according to your customers’ reaction keeps pivoting your business model. Your startup needs features that people want, not everything that you find interesting to develop. The best way to move forward on a startup is to develop your product and learn from what your customer needs. 

2. Is your team right for your startup?

One-man group projects are destined to fail right from the start. Approximately 23% of startups fail because the team is insufficient. Many startups die before they even take off because they’re incapable of creating their prototype or minimum viable product (MVP). Sometimes, this could be the result of startups not having enough people on board or the team just isn’t getting along well. 

It’s also critical to have different types of skill sets on board. A financial or technology officer may seem unnecessary at first, but trying to solve problems that aren’t in your expertise will take an extra amount of time and effort. Once you have a passionate team that knows what it’s doing, the long hours become may become a bit more bearable and success is more likely on the horizon. 

Working with a discordant team is just as bad as working alone. So many startups lose opportunities because they simply cannot agree or work together. Even teammates who don’t share your passion may drag you down. The premature phase of a startup needs people who’re willing to put in the effort. A good team can figure out its dynamics, assign responsibilities clearly, and be accountable for its actions. 

3. What else could go wrong?

Other reasons why startups fail are because they’ve either run out of cash, scaled prematurely, or don’t have enough knowledge or experience. Funded startups seem to face more money issues as compared to unfunded startups. Yes, pricing is a big challenge for most startups: You need to cover your expenses and also keep the price low enough to attract customers. Failing to set a good pricing policy caused around 18% of entrepreneurs to shut down their businesses. 

But a lot of these are also business decisions. Growing your company before its destined can be detrimental. In fact, 70% of startups scale up too early. If the lifetime value of your customers doesn’t cover the cost of acquiring customers, you’re not ready to expand yet. Getting outcompeted, poor marketing, mistimed launches, bad pivoting, failed geographical expansion, legal challenges, and not benefitting from networks are some of the common business mistakes startup founders make.

The startup world is scary but the most successful companies today were disruptive ideas of the past. Building a company from scratch is no easy task; it needs a passion-driven spirit and an ability to shift perspective constantly. Good entrepreneurs don’t just have good ideas, they know what makes an idea work.

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Work Now + Beyond

Workplace professionalism is a construct rooted in white supremacy

There has been a recent push across the U.S. made by several employers, advocating for the return to in-person workspaces after a year 42% of American workers (successfully) worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, Black people, in particular, have been opposing this return to normalcy because white-collar workplaces have always been a source of oppression for us in a number of different ways; all equally as harmful as the next. 

In fact, only a mere 3% of Black professionals want to go back to work full-time in the office. Therefore, white professionals must reckon with what that statistic illustrates about the type of environments that workplaces have created to the detriment of their Black employees.

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In the context of white-collar work settings, workplace professionalism is “working and behaving in such a way that others think as competent, reliable and respectful,” according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The concept of professionalism also emphasizes how people physically present themselves at work or as an extension or representation of their employer even while away from the office. 

Unfortunately, though, as a result of having to learn to adapt within white workspaces, Black people have had to learn to code switch—a term coined by Einar Haugen in 1954 to describe language alternation, or the mixing of two or more languages, or dialects—manipulate our natural hair texture, or overall abandon our culture as a means for survival in the workplace. And if we fail to successfully integrate or become what white employers deem as “professional,” we risk facing punishment.

In truth, this conversation is long overdue. “Professionalism is just a synonym for obedience,” Chika Ekemezie says in an article for Zora. And she’s right. “The less social capital you have, the more you are tethered to professionalism”: meaning, performing professionalism becomes even more essential the more financially insecure a person is, which puts a lot of pressure on working-class Black Americans to conform to a status quo that centers whiteness or we risk being barred from economic and job opportunities.

Consequently, “these expectations of professionalism are so common to us — from our outer appearance to the way we behave — we begin to create different versions of ourselves, doppelgängers to help us get through the day,” Chika explains. However, having to be what is essentially “reformed” versions of ourselves for long hours of the day, five days a week, can have negative consequences on our mental health and job performance.

According to a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Cost of Codeswitching,” the authors assert: “Seeking to avoid stereotypes can deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance. [In addition] feigning commonality with [white] coworkers also reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.”

Ultimately and unsurprisingly, workplace professionalism in the U.S. wasn’t designed with Black people and Black culture in mind. And especially in a white-dominated society, Blackness is seen as inherently unkept, unrefined, and undignified. 

The idea that we can successfully keep up this illusion of professionalism to remain physically integrated with white people is ridiculous. Because the culture surrounding what constitutes professionalism has forced Black people to adhere to whiteness in a way that’s simply unnatural and unsustainable. 

Even still, Black people have continued to fight a losing battle of performing respectability in the workplace that will never be good enough because the goal post for what professionalism means and who it truly applies to is always moving.

So, if there was ever a time to re-examine toxic workplace culture, it’s now. In the past year, Black communities across America have been hit hard by a global pandemic and have watched as the policing and justice system continues to have a flagrant disregard for our livelihood. And despite all of the racial injustice that was highlighted in both 2020 and 2021, the support for Black lives is at an all-time low.  

Coming back to the office would only serve as an added burden on Black American’s mental and emotional well-being. Working from home, on the other hand, has finally allowed Black professionals the freedom of self-expression without having to endure the inherent racism that comes from being amongst predominantly white work environments.

Understandably, though, adjusting to telework has been difficult for many and ultimately isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to rectifying, improving, or rebuilding racist workplaces. 

But whatever the case, in whatever a post-pandemic society looks like, we can’t resort back to western, white supremacist work culture just because it’s comfortable for some while disadvantageous for others. And to put it plainly, professionalism has long been about control just to remind racially marginalized communities white people hold the power and can wield it against us whenever and however they like.

In turn, there needs to be a continuous conversation for how we can accommodate Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities into the workplace all while dismantling the oppressive idea of professionalism. Because wearing a bonnet, a durag, braids, dread locs, natural hair, or just overall being unapologetically and authentically Black while working never hurt anyone.

And if we’re all working to build a more equitable society, traditional ideas of professionalism would have no place there anyway.

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

Why the #HireBlack initiative is crucial for the modern workplace

Before finding out about the #HireBlack Initiative, my mental health was deteriorating with every passing day. I started to equate my self-worth to my inability to land a job. I cried many nights over being ghosted by jobs, not knowing what I did wrong. At that point, I was begging to get a simple rejection email as proof of being noticed. I spent so much time in college landing opportunities and internships, strengthening my professional relationships, and getting high grades, only to be reduced to not even being a second thought. 

I kept getting flashbacks from a horrible phone call I had with a job recruiter about a promising job offer. After telling me about the opportunity, the conversation did a 180. He told me that because I didn’t immediately get a job or internship the summer after I graduated college, I lost my chance at landing an entry-level job. No matter how great I did in college, it will mean nothing. Despite me working twice as hard to get more experience to make me more hireable in my already competitive field.

The recruiter thought being “real” with me was the best way to go but, instead, he was outright cold. I was holding back tears from the sound of my dreams being crushed. He then thought adding me as a LinkedIn connection would be seen as extending an olive branch after ripping me apart. Seeing that the person I was talking to was a white man made me feel not only personally attacked but had microaggressions thrown at me for no reason. It was like dealing with a racist guidance counselor from hell.

This upsetting situation all came to a head one fateful day over the summer. I have noticed #HireBlack LinkedIn posts from a friend of mine. I’ve been seeing them for the last couple of days and thought nothing of it, but soon decided to put myself out there in an attempt to try something new. At this point, I was willing to try anything for a new result.

The goal was simple; get 19 Black women signed up to get resume feedback on Juneteenth. Creator, Niani Tolbert, wanted to help other Black women in the same position as her – furloughed, jobless, and looking for a fresh start. Tolbert is a job recruiter herself, so she understands how companies select their candidates. At this point last year, not only was the number of people receiving unemployment getting higher but so was racial tensions worsening in the United States. June was a rough month to go through as a Black person. #HireBlack ultimately blew up. 

Job opportunities are always hard to come by, but it’s even worse when systemic racism fights you at every turn.

Along with thousands of other women, I joined the #HireBlack Initiative with hopes of bettering ourselves professionally using resources that are typically hard to come by. Black women who wish to start their careers get their resumes looked over without paying a fee. They can also seek advice about pivoting to a new industry, negotiation tips for higher pay, promoting their Black-owned business, and so much more. The management platform Slack played an essential role in opening communication channels within the initiatives. It hosted conversations about hair politics, discrimination, and everyday events that have long-lasting effects. There was finally a place for Black women to be Black women without sacrificing their identity. 

Initially, #HireBlack was only for those who identified as Black women. Tolbert understood how much harder it is for Black women to get hired compared to other demographics. In a Forbes interview, Tolbert states, “To my core, I believe in giving people resources, and I also believe in helping people pass their limiting beliefs … On another hand, trying to make sure that I am helping to challenge people to think bigger. Whether that’s helping people through coaching or helping through recruiting, I’ve always been trying to do those two because I think that when you have empowered people and you give them resources, they can be the best that they can be. They can do anything.”

Job opportunities are always hard to come by, but it’s even worse when systemic racism fights you at every turn.

Tolbert also said the idea of professionalism is inherently “Eurocentric.” The pressure to straighten naturally curly hair to appease jobs, ‘fix’ the way you talk, or be ashamed of your name because of racist unconscious bias. Through this process of whitewashing, Black women become the hardest hit in the job market and lead them to higher unemployment, few work benefits, and less job stability. Society forces Black women to change themselves to conform to their norms and yet still don’t provide them with the proper access to a sustainable lifestyle. This clear discrepancy is why the #HireBlack Initiative’s most significant objective is to get 10,000 Black women hired. This goal will help offset the established systematic racism and sexism which Black women are constantly fighting against.

While a tool for positive change, it is unfortunate that the #HireBlack initiative came from the turbulent job market mixed with the lack of intersectionality in American society. This plays a huge role in how Black women are oppressed and often discriminated against due to the cross-section of negative effects on gender, race, and class. Even though #HireBlack doesn’t solve everything, it contributes to the fight against gross mistreatment black women face due to systematic racism.

For as long as I’ve been in this community, I was fortunate enough to get a coach to critique my resume and help improve my LinkedIn page. I’ve made friends with other women, heard their personal stories, and listened to their advice. I even donated money because I believe in the message of #HireBlack. I was also able to land my first industry job because of my experience!

From the humble beginnings of June 2020 to now, #HireBlack has created a safe space for Black women. It has now become a place where non-Black allies can join the initiative to tackle their internalized bias. There are more professional services to improve your online professionalism. Weekly coffee hours are live-streamed on LinkedIn to talk about upcoming events. Job recruiters are available to increase network opportunities. The initiative held a virtual conference to address workplace issues and finding solutions. By no means has #HireBlack finished with its mission. It’s only getting started. 

In the words of Tolbert, let’s get to werk.

If you’re still looking for a job, need help, or know someone who would like this, reach out to the #HireBlack website. To join the #HireBlack Initiative, submit your invitation to join the Slack channel. Be a part of a community that only wants to see you succeed and flourish as the proud Black woman you are.

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Work Career Now + Beyond

No one wants to work and that tells you a lot about modern-day capitalism

The word career makes me break out in hives. Not because having a career is inherently wrong, but because of the implications that it has in our society. A typical career means showing up to a job at least five days a week to work 40+ hours and climb up some proverbial ladder, whether it be pay, responsibility, or industry knowledge. But what that means for many of us in the workforce is a lopsided work-life balance.

In a recent study, the World Health Organization discovered 488 million people worldwide were exposed to long working hours, amounting to more than 55 hours per week. Overwork leads to an estimated 35% higher risk of having a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease. In 2016, overwork resulted in more than 745,000 people dying from the aforementioned symptoms—which really makes you think about what a standard workweek should look like for everyone.

Recently, I came across a TikTok video suggesting 20 hours, four-day workweeks should be our goal. In the comments of this TikTok, one user suggested that this should actually be a reality by now. With a little more research, I found that in 1928, economist John Maynard Keynes actually predicted society would shift to 15-hour workweeks within a century. He believed this shorter workweek would be enough to meet demand as rates of productivity and industry increased. A few years later, in 1933, U.S. Congress almost passed a 30-hour workweek bill as an alternative to unemployment during the Great Depression. However, this bill did not pass. By the 1940s, workers for Kellogg’s took matters into their own hands and voted in favor of six-hour workdays. By 1985, however, Kelloggs was back to eight-hour days.

I have to admit, I’m miffed that society is still so far from Keynes’ prediction. The pandemic has exposed many of us to society’s labor flaws. In fact, four-day workweeks were proposed at the height of the pandemic as people reevaluated what was important to them. For example, Spain is testing four-day workweeks without dropping workers’ pay. Additionally, New Zealand and Japan are trialing lower hours. Furthermore, fewer hours have been associated with better work. In 2019, Microsoft tried out a four-day workweek in Japan, finding that it boosted productivity by 40%. Many believe shorter workweeks help place more of an onus on productivity and output rather than time spent in a workplace. Others believe shorter workweeks are actually better for the economy, workers, and the environment.

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The trend toward less time in-office also reflects today’s workforce reprioritizing flexibility. According to a LinkedIn Workforce Confidence survey, 50% of the respondents said the flexibility of hours or location has become more important to them when looking for a new job. Keep in mind, an additional 45% voted for work-life balance. According to Prudential Financial’s Pulse of the American Worker survey, 68% of workers want a hybrid workplace model in which they can work both remotely and in-office. In addition, 1 in 4 workers is considering quitting their job because they’re looking for a new job with more flexibility.

Though I wasn’t asked to be part of any of these surveys, I also would have voted for flexibility. The pandemic has made it clear to me that I don’t want to live to work, but rather work to live. I value my free time and I want to protect it at all costs because it helps me perform better at my job. But flexibility isn’t always afforded to every single person in the workforce. Finding a job in the first place is already a matter of luck, privilege, or experience depending on who you’re talking to and what field they work in. This means that a lot of us don’t have the option of being picky when it comes to jobs, which can eliminate the possibility of working for an employer who accommodates our needs and values. And this is a major reason why women are leaving the workforce at such a rapid pace.

Since last year, nearly 2.4 million women exited the workforce, compared to less than 1.8 million men. According to CBS News, more women, and women of color in particular, work in essential jobs that require them to physically show up to work. This means less flexibility in their schedule, time, and location. And since most women are still responsible for caregiving in the household, unlike men, women aren’t always able to balance a job on top of that. This is one of the reasons why childcare has become such an important topic amongst legislators.

Because people are leaving the workforce, industries like fast food are currently facing labor shortages. According to Business Insider, the restaurant industry is an “exceptionally difficult business” for workers because of long hours, little pay, and a high rate of sexual harassment and assault. During the pandemic, dining rooms were closed and late-night services, such as McDonald’s 24-hour service, were halted. Now, fast-food workers aren’t interested in returning to a pre-COVID workplace. In the last couple of weeks, people have published photos and videos of the signs fast-food workers have posted to warn customers of this issue.

On May 19, 2021, McDonald’s workers in 15 U.S. cities went on strike to demand the fast-food chain pay its workers at least $15 an hour. After all, companies like Amazon and Target already offer a $15 minimum wage. But the Fight for $15 doesn’t account for healthcare, paid leave, or overtime pay—benefits that should be afforded to anyone working any job. And, if we learned anything in the last year, it’s that front-line workers need to be recognized more and paid better.

Care workers, positions primarily held by women and people of color, are also experiencing “low wages, long hours, and scant benefits” for decades. However, care workers are looking for financial security and more normal work schedules. While unions have helped bargain for living wages and benefits for home-care aid workers, not all states have these unions. In the U.S., President Joe Biden proposed to spend $400 billion on home- and community-based services, which could offer all care jobs better wages and benefits—if it passes.

But for many of us, change in the workplace isn’t happening fast enough. This is why people are starting to take matters into their own hands. In South Korea, millennials are pushing back against conventional success in favor of following their passions. Don’t Worry Village is one project that helps 20 and 30-something-year-olds find happiness after failure or burning out in the corporate world. Their slogan is “It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to fail” and they practice this ethos by offering people the opportunity to retreat to the village and experiment by creating their own projects. In addition, in southern Seoul, there is the “School of Quitting Jobs,” which offers 50 courses on topics like managing an identity crisis, how to brainstorm a Plan B, and how-to-YouTube.

While the phrase “I do not dream of labor” has become common amongst millennials and Gen Z-ers, it’s not a joke or a meme. When we look only through the lens of capital, labor defines our value. When we prioritize trade, industry, and profit over human life, it leaves those of us who make those things possible unable to enjoy living. When productivity and progress take precedent over existence, life isn’t lived.

Today, a job or career can feel like trying to swim to the surface of the ocean while our leg is caught in seaweed. We need radical change because long gone are the days in which people are okay with sitting at their desks well into the night or being on their feet servicing customers for 10+ hours. No one ever wanted their workday to look like this and yet these scenarios are commonplace in our world today. While it can be hard to express the need for flexibility to future employers, change can start with us—if we’re bold enough to ask.

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

How being a stay-at-home mom helped my career

Mother’s Day is a celebration of all the cherished forms of motherhood. This one is for the strong mothers, the nurturing ones, for the mothers who have lost children, for the children who have lost mothers, for those who are aching to be mothers, for those who choose not to be mothers. Read more here.

Nine months may sound like a lot, but really, it’s quite short a time for life to enter this world and a career to end. For me, I went from planning my travel schedule to scheduling prenatal visits. One minute, I was on a plane to Cairo, prepping for a week-long shoot and lots of R&R. The next, I was puking in the bathroom of my 40th-floor advertising agency.

I knew things had to change; I just didn’t know how fast time would move. My belly was growing and, soon enough, I was taking a sabbatical from work, shifting from working nonstop for 13 years to take care of my daughter. And just like that, in a blink, three years passed. I continued freelance writing, but I didn’t know how it would be once I was back to work.

The opportunity to get back onto the working scene finally presented itself and I remember feeling like I would pass out from the stress of walking into an office again. I felt like I didn’t know how to talk. I kept checking to see if there was any dribble of milk on my clothes and making sure I didn’t babytalk to my boss. However, as the days went by, I realized there were skills I had learned as a mother that would be integral to work success.

Here are some skills that helped me transition from home to the office:

1. Patience

There are very few things or people in life that test you as much as your kids. Whether it’s spending half your day waiting for them to put on their shoes or spending a good part of the evening trying to make them finish their meal, kids have a way of trying you. And boy, do mine try me!

But, actually, this helped me become a stronger career woman. I used to be an impatient soul, always rushing because I didn’t want to waste time. Now, I’m open to long debates and questions in the workplace because I get a lot of them at home. This helps with team management and deadlines because you know how to manage tough situations and moody colleagues.

2. Time management

Remember the days when it was all about you? When you languidly made it through the day, doing as you pleased? Those days are long gone. Say hello to a strict schedule and routine. Because without those necessities, kids are just a hot mess. I spent so much time putting my kids on a schedule that my own free spirit somehow caught on as well.

Now, I’m a master of time management. I can have her to ballet, him for tennis, both dressed for a party and in bed, without blinking an eye and losing any time. So imagine the importance of multitasking at work? I can craft an idea, write it, delegate, and move to the next within a day. You’re suddenly not drowning in deadlines and not having panic attacks when someone requests a 3000-word document by end of the day. You’ve got this.

3. Multitasking

I was always good at this. But now, I can order groceries, change a diaper, put baby-shark on the TV, and velcro my other kid’s shoes at the same time. When I returned to the office, I found that I could use this to better manage my work as well. In my pre-kids life, I would focus days on coming up with a creative concept and refuse to take on any other task. But now, I know that I can do all that while preparing a presentation and reading the news.

I’ve always been a list-maker, but when a lot is on the line, it helps me immensely to plan my week on a Saturday. I plan right down to what they will be eating, who they’ll have a playdate with, my work deliverables, my gym routine, date night with my husband, even a walk to clear my head. It helps me to feel like I have control of the situation and lets me focus solely on the task at hand, instead of panicking about everything at once.

4. Perspective

When a kid gets sick, even with the minor flu, a lot of stuff falls into perspective. All the stuff you’re worrying about seems less daunting. You stress less about the house being too messy, not fitting into your old clothes, and not reading enough. You focus on the big stuff. And it carries forward into work also.

You pick and choose your battles at work. You realize if you fail, it isn’t the end of the world – you will do better the next time. If you’ve got too much work, you take a breath and plow through because at least the important stuff is in place. It’s all about perspective and realizing what really matters. It’s the same in the office, right? My day used to be ruined when my boss yelled at me, or I messed up on a big pitch. Now I realize that pretty much nothing is the end of the world. You plow through and do better.

5. Appreciation

You know what they say. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Time away from work leads to a greater appreciation of it. You realize how privileged you are to be able to work towards something you love. I used to whine about my late working hours incessantly. Then when I became a mum I cribbed about the sleepless nights. But now that I have to juggle both, I realize how fortunate I am to have an opportunity to do both. This means when I’m at work, I can put my heart into creating amazing campaigns, working on strategies, and tossing ideas around with my peers. But at home, I can then focus on the stories of how my son made a new best friend, and my daughter finally perfectly sketched out a unicorn.

So at home, I am able to feel like I am leading by example. My kids see that doing what you love is the best gift you can receive, and that hard work pays off. And at work, I am mindful of how my kids are the reason I can really put myself out there, and how my career helps me feel better about myself and in turn, be a better parent.

6. Conflict management

You can imagine the chaos that commences every morning at 5:30 am with two kids, barely two years apart. However, both are exceptionally important personnel so I cannot offend anyone. This means if he’s snatching her doll, I need to explain to her that he’s hurting her feelings as well as his future chances of playing with her. And if she’s grumpy about the extra hugs he got, then I need to explain that his predicament (a nightmare) warrants this response, but she’s equally important to me. Isn’t this the same attitude we need to excel in the workplace?

I deal with stressors every day at work, but it helps to realize that sometimes my peers just need a bit of venting, someone to hear them out, and then we can return to work. I use this same logic with managing my own stress. To understand that every day, I will be faced with a new challenge, but with some positive self-talk, I can take it on, just like my kids do.

7. Inspiration

Your mission to become better has become not just a personal need but one that will be viewed by two little humans as well. Life changes when you’ve suddenly got to uphold the title of ‘role model.’ I now put the same heart and soul into my work that I do at home. Because for me, both define an exceptionally important part of who I am, and I must succeed.

These are just some of the ways that being a mother has helped me be a better career woman. So when I see in the media that mothers are sometimes sidelined as being ineffective members of the workforce, I cringe. Employers need to realize that life lessons are harder to come by and mothers are masters at making it all work. Because after all, what other choice do we have?

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Work Startups Career Career Advice Now + Beyond Interviews

Sanja Kon talks about women in cryptocurrency and investing in yourself

Finance and tech aren’t known for their gender inclusivity. Cryptocurrency’s additional layer of mystery hasn’t made it the most welcoming field, either. But Sanja Kon, CEO of Utrust, has been paving her own path in the industry. Utrust, a blockchain startup, supports trade across borders and between businesses as its own “payment ecosystem.” Kon joined the company in 2018 and, two years later, became CEO. As a speaker for a WomenX Impact, Kon spoke with The Tempest about her career as a woman in the field of crypto.

“You would think that in 2021, we would have equally the same number of women as men in key roles in a company, but it’s not the way,” Kon admitted. Among global fintech startup founders, women make up only 7 percent. In the US, women account for 37 percent of the entire fintech workforce. 

But Kon highly recommends blockchain as a path for women interested in finance. According to her, the digital currency industry is already pivoting to focus on gender diversity and inclusion. “I think it’s an amazing industry for women,” she said, suggesting that it’s more diverse than traditional areas of the tech industry.

Blockchain, most typically associated with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, has often been shadowed in mystery. Essentially, it serves as a digital record of transactions and, as a result, is the foundation for digital currency, aka cryptocurrency. But although blockchain technology was released a decade ago, it’s continued to cast a shadow of confusion and uncertainty.  

But despite the widespread skepticism, Kon believes that anyone interested in the field can start learning on their own. “I think everyone should really start educating themselves,” she said. Kon, herself, was not always in cryptocurrency. In fact, most of her career has been in marketing and e-commerce. She has been a leader and executive in large corporate companies including eBay and Virgin. In fact, she was PayPal’s head of marketplace, based in London, when she learned about blockchain. When Kon began to research the other side of her work in e-commerce, UTrust caught her attention.

“I really wanted to bring a layer of innovation,” Kon said. “While I was advising them, I fell in love with the project, with a team with a vision,” she added.

Between her work at large corporate companies to Utrust’s start-up environment, Kon admits “everything has advantages and disadvantages.” Her experience in corporate helped her to build skills in leadership and organization. To Kon, it was a “safe environment” to grow as a leader. 

“When I moved from PayPal into a startup, it was difficult for some people to understand: why would I leave a secure place? But my intuition was telling me that that was the right thing to do for me because I felt excited. The most important thing for you to do is be excited with what you do,” Kon said. “Passion is recognizable. When I hire people in my team, yes, we look into skills but skills can be built. Passion cannot be built.”

She admits that a startup company, like Utrust, brings with it a lot more pressure. “You always have the pressure of finding mentors, fundraising, finding investors for your company, and at the same time politically continuing to grow the company,” she said. In exchange, “there’s a lot of more variety and you really see the impact of your actions on a daily basis,” she added. 

She also emphasized how important work culture and mentorship are to combating gender disparity, saying, “I was really fortunate because my co-founders at Utrust are all men and they really believed in me.”

Mentorship is a big theme throughout Kon’s career path. Kon, herself, has volunteered as a mentor, both within her former role at eBay and for the Young Women Network. The most common piece of advice she gives to other women is to continue growing a network and finding mentorship among women in your industry, two or three years older than you.

“It’s really important to have a support system and find maybe other women that have been in your shoes. It’s your next step and you can learn from them, how they did it and surround yourself with other women that are where you want to be now,” she said. As a speaker for WomenXImpact, she is looking forward to the event which is expected to take place in Bologna, Italy later this year. 

“Italy is a place where there’s a lot to do in terms of giving more power to women, giving them a voice, giving them a place to thrive and share their ideas. Unfortunately, I think it’s really as much behind other countries,” she said, comparing it to her experience living in the UK. Kon was born in Croatia but, at the age of five, moved with her family to Italy where she grew up. 

However, as a young girl in Italy, Kon did not have a lot of mentors herself. “I was born in a family and in a culture where women are not supposed to grow up and be successful leaders,” she said. “Growing up, I never had a role model […] no one taught me the process for growing my career or learning, or even for creating wealth.”

It wasn’t until she began working in her industry that she found like-minded people and managers to look up to. In the past eight years, she has also invested in a business coach. “It’s about investing in yourself, in your education–really believing in yourself, even if you don’t have anyone in your environment that is successful,” Kon said.

“Your past does not equal your future,” she emphasized. “It’s our power to take in our hands, our destiny–and just don’t be afraid to explore.”

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Work Career Career Advice Now + Beyond

Having a side hustle might not be the best career move

Is it just me or are we measuring our worth based on how much we can do in a day? On how many things can we add to the resume, boast about at the next brunch with our friends, and blame our tiredness on? Even after clocking in the standard 9 to 5 working time, I find many people attempting to further one-up themselves in the professional world. To me, it feels like the side hustle culture is an inherent part of how we measure our worth; i.e. if we aren’t hustling on the side then we aren’t deserving of praise and a decent life.

When I first started my side hustle, a bookkeeping role, I relished the chance to take on more work outside of my 9 to 5 job. It made me feel like I could take on anything and I considered myself to be more accomplished.

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Whilst I was getting underway with my side job, I was growing tired. But I continued working day and night, weekdays and weekends, and even dreaming about work. I tried to convince myself that I could handle the extra work and pressure. I mean, isn’t that how entrepreneurs achieve their success? By working non-stop? As time went on, my stress levels grew, I wasn’t getting any downtime, I was growing more distant from my family and friends, and I couldn’t focus clearly on either my day job or side hustle. Any spare moment I had, I was working.

I started my side hustle to make extra money. It wasn’t a passion project, but rather a financial necessity. I had to be honest with myself and measure the effort put in against the rewards of said effort. Was being overworked worth the little bit of extra cash?

While it was a huge reason, taking on a side hustle was not only due to finances. Entering full-time employment exposed me to the societal pressures of having a side hustle. My friends and colleagues described their side jobs as more of a hobby from which they can make more money whilst exploring their more creative pursuits. This brought a welcome change of pace and helped them to expand their horizons. Once I saw this in my friends and colleagues, I felt compelled to do the same and be part of the culture.

Was being overworked worth the little bit of extra cash?

This is a trend that’s becoming more popular today, with nearly half of working Americans (45%) report having a gig outside of their primary job and 25% of people in the UK describe themselves as having a side hustle. Not only can another job provide additional income, but it can also allow workers to discover the right vocation without waving goodbye to a regular paycheck, and could eventually lead to full-time work. Although the low-risk factors to working outside of 9 to 5 (earn extra without losing a job) were attractive to me, I realized soon enough my side job wasn’t going to lead anywhere when my capacity levels were dipping.


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While I am not against side hustle culture, I can’t rule out the expectations that have been imposed on millennials and Gen-Zers to fill our spare time with more work (Senior Designer Lex Lofthouse explores this notion in her Create Leicester webinar). We’re bombarded with the message that we should always be doing something and we should always keep busy. As a result, a side hustle acts as another burden on our shoulders we’re expected to perform.

If you’re considering a side hustle, it’s worth taking the time to figure out how you can balance your full-time job and side hustle without burning out. Here are the points to take on board:

• Ask yourself what your motive is. Do you want extra money, a career change, or pursue other interests outside your day job?
• Follow a side hustle schedule. Whether it’s 2 or 3 hours a day or week, set out a schedule you know you can commit to.
• Set boundaries between your main job and side hustle. It’s not fair on your employer if you bring your personal work to your full-time job. You need to keep both responsibilities completely separate.
• Allow yourself time to rest and rejuvenate. Having a side hustle isn’t ‘me-time’ – I’ve come across websites where they have suggested that it is, which is ridiculous. It’s hard work you’re putting into your second job, so give yourself time to switch off.
• Be careful with your spending. Keep records of your side hustle expenses and ensure that what you’re spending to build your business is a necessity.
• Find a community or mentor you can open up to. Interacting with others can help you manage your stress as well as leaning helpful tips and advice.
• If it’s not right for you, then quit. This doesn’t mean you failed — if anything, it means you’ve worked out your priorities.

I’ll never say “never” to side hustles again. I’ll keep an open mind. But I’ve tried it before and I want to give myself a break right now. It feels like the side hustle culture glamorizes the work/no rest mentality millennials and Gen Z should live up to – and that is harmful. A side hustle can only work if you can prioritize it realistically alongside everything else you’re doing. Otherwise, like me, you will end up in a downward spiral.

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Work Now + Beyond

My boss’s constant gaslighting made me question my sanity

Gaslighting is commonly associated with romantic relationships. However, this form of abuse is present everywhere, especially at work. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, gaslighting involves psychological manipulation and/or emotional abuse to exert power or gain control. I did not realize gaslighting at work existed until this summer. I found myself in a very bizarre situation where I was constantly subjected to manipulation and found myself under immense stress and self-doubt.

I worked at an organization that I believed would value and empower me because that is what the organization claims to promote. Just after a few weeks though, I began doubting the quality of my work and felt terrible most of the time. Gaslighters will have you constantly question your self-worth to prevent you from succeeding.  It is up to you to set boundaries to protect your mental health and sense of self-worth. Always remember nothing is more important than your mental health.

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I remember feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I had. I was struggling to strike a balance between work and other commitments. It is commonplace to feel like that once in a while, isn’t it? Well apparently for gaslighters there is no room for validation or empathy. I communicated my feelings to my supervisor who instantly dismissed my feelings and expressed her dissatisfaction with me. It got to a point where I doubted my own sanity. I almost accepted that I was at fault and perhaps incapable of handling tasks effectively.

However, I was fortunate enough to have supportive colleagues who stepped in to rescue me from a toxic situation. Gaslighters will negate your feelings and opinions and instead insist that their approach is always correct.

I did not let this experience define me and neither should you.

It is difficult to identify gaslighters or gaslighting but if you have ever doubted your capabilities or sanity at work then you have probably been a victim of gaslighting. Gaslighters are very smart! They tend to pass on judgments and passive-aggressive comments under the guise of well-intentioned feedback or support. 

Gaslighting is more frequent at work because it is a competitive environment and everyone just wants to excel. It is, however, also underreported because the victim usually ends up thinking it is his or her fault. Working with a gaslighting boss or colleagues can become demeaning and undermine your self-confidence. It aids negativity, which can seep into your personal life as well as push you out of your preferred career.

Every once in a while, it is alright for your boss or colleague to disagree with you. But if it occurs recurrently and you find yourself second-guessing your choices all the time, you are probably being gaslighted. Confusing you makes them feel correct. They may even drop back-handed compliments to maintain an upper hand.

I personally believe people that people gaslight at work due to a lack of self-confidence and assurance. Undermining other people’s credibility reduces their chances of getting ahead. This in turn makes the gaslighter feel in control or powerful. It has been proven by research that gaslighters tend to have low self-esteem. Their behaviors make them assume a sense of power or control.

In order to ascertain whether you are being gaslighted or not look out for recurrent behavioral patterns that are confusing you. If you constantly find yourself perplexed and doubt your abilities, you are being gaslighted – trust your instincts. Do not allow your boss or colleagues’ behavior to take over you. 

Sometimes speaking to a trusted colleague can help. I was lucky enough to have trust-worthy and supportive colleagues that I vented out to. They stepped in to make sure I was doing alright and reminded me that my work was valued.

There is little conversation about gaslighting at work but it is extremely prevalent and dangerous. It can demotivate people and push them out of their chosen careers. It is important that you figure out whether or not you are being gaslighted. Once you are sure, try to keep a record of all your interactions with the gaslighter. Take screenshots of emails and messages. That is what I did! This is especially important if you plan to report the case to your management or HR.

Always remember nothing is more important than your mental health.

In my experience, a confrontation with the gaslighter never goes well. They will not listen to you and instead throw unwarranted arguments at you. It is best to get support from a management team or HR. It was difficult for me to get any form of help because my gaslighter was at the very top. Albeit, it was a testing experience but I held my ground. I did not let this experience define me and neither should you.

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