Bullies Are Like Sandpaper... 

Bullies are like sandpaper – they grind you down bit by bit, but eventually, they just make you a more polished version of yourself.

In this time of #metoo and the gender pay gap, I guess like many people I’ve done some self-reflection. I’ve always thought that I’ve been pretty unaffected by it all. It’s something that has happened to other people. I am strong. I am independent. I am successful. I have always felt that I’ve been paid fairly, and I’ve never had someone act inappropriately in the work place. I’ve been lucky.

But then, wait… It did happen. I was bullied, and only now, several years later, do I realise that’s exactly what it was. Bullying can disguise itself in so many ways. Physically. Emotionally. Intellectually. Professionally. I just thought it was a personality clash and that somehow, I was in some way culpable. But hold on, it was bullying. Honestly, I think I’d blocked it out of my mind, but only when I was talking to a friend about what I was going to write for this piece, did it surface. Something that I had buried deep.

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The bully picked his moments. I was going through a divorce whilst returning to work for the first time in a few years. I was a single parent of two amazing children who’d had their world rocked and now we were all adjusting to relying on childminders. To top it all, I had the commute from hell across West London so days now started much, much earlier, and evenings finished much later after homework, bath, dinner and some time to cuddle up and be a family.

I was in my late thirties, very experienced, professional, sociable, happy and knowledgeable in my field. I got on with everyone and people generally liked working with me. The bully was not much older than me and new to his post. 

I’d not been there all that long, only a couple of weeks, so I’m not entirely sure where it went wrong. Was I a threat? Was it the opposite, did he fancy me? Maybe I was just vulnerable? Frankly, we will never know but his character and demeanour proved suffocating.

His micro-management, inconsistent and quick-to-critique style slowly chipped away at my confidence. At my appraisal he claimed “I expect excellence as standard. I know it’s a shortfall of mine, but I find it hard to give praise. I am far too critical and only see the negative.” 

Good to know. 

On occasions, I needed his professional support and seniority to nudge something over the line. The outcomes varied: 

“I’ll hold a mirror up and deflect it back to you – what do you think?” On one occasion I was told to “use your brain”.  

Often in meetings, the bully would ‘shush’ me. He would ask a question, I would attempt to answer it and he would stop me mid-flow if he didn’t like the sound of how it started. Not just an “Excuse me …”, but a “shush shush” with his finger up at his lips and pointing at me, like I was two years old. 

After experiencing a plethora of his other mind-blowingly questionable management skills, I left as soon as I could. This was intended to be my ‘forever job’ but I had no desire to stay any longer than I needed to, and I guess I took the easy way out. I could have reported him for harassment, but instead, I left, letting fate do the rest.

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It wasn’t that much later that I started out on my own. A fresh start. Motivated, excited and wanting to make a difference, I now run FMCGenie, working with emerging food and drinks brands as they take on the multiple retailers. A couple of years in and I’m doing great. Pulling in a good wage, receiving industry awards and meeting some incredible people along the way. I work flexibly so I can be there for my children – one has just finished her GCSEs. I no longer commute and no longer have to suffer ignorant, bullying line managers. I bounce out of bed each morning with the world at my feet. 

I am my own boss. Karma has a way of finding you in the end.

Jane Arthern