There are many difficult life lessons that I’ve learned the hard way, but I’m glad to have learned them. This is my most personal article, and I hope that the mistakes that gave me strength do the same for you. All of us face difficult life lessons, and as cheesy as it sounds, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Of all the difficult life lessons I’m glad to have learned, this was the one that hurt the most. The word frenemies conjures up scenes from ‘Mean Girls’, full of back stabbing, plotting and mind games. The truth is, we often don’t know who our frenemies are. My personal experience is as follows: At a particularly hard time, I became friends with an older, maternal type woman who I became very close to. The more support she gave me, the more dependant I became on that support. We were both going through a difficult time and supported each other. The support was so important to me that I was happy to overlook the darker side of the friendship. She liked to keep me in my place, the fact that she was my manager allowed her to do so. She would call me ‘stupid’, ‘useless’, and ‘a chubby little bitch’. Once I lost the weight she simply said “you were much prettier before you lost the weight”. All this would be forgotten with a “I’m sorry, you know I don’t really mean it, your friendship means the world to me”. The shit eventually hit the fan when I realised she had truly stabbed me in the back. I still feel sad thinking about the image of a friend I had in my head that I’ve lost, but my eyes are fully open to frenemies now.
2. Blood Doesn’t Make You Family
Another difficult life lesson is that blood isn’t thicker than water. Don’t get me wrong, I have family members I love madly – my Dad is the salt of the earth. However, the truth is, whatever the “relation” to someone is, if they bring your more sadness than joy, pull you down more than they raise you up, undermine you and insult you, blood is irrelevant. I don’t believe anyone is bound to anyone by DNA. That’s why, I have friends I consider family, and relatives I consider, at best, acquaintances. Remember, “Blood makes you related, loyalty makes you family.”
3. Once a Bully...
I always thought, having overcome some moderate bullying in primary school, that bullies were pathetic and could never hurt me again. I was blindsided. Bullying happens in the workplace too. As in all social establishments, there is a hierarchy, which is applied to staff also. I’ve already mentioned a colleague, but I’m now referring to our superior. I was expected to do everything and anything seeing as I lived close to our workplace. 10pm and the new staff member couldn’t work the till? My phone would ring. As soon as I asked for my “extra work” to be acknowledged (with a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ – not cash) the abuse received was unbelievable. I had doors slammed in my face and was called into private meetings where I was screamed at and sworn at. Even on a good day I would be ridiculed for having a degree and told “kids have no hope with people like you being teachers” (I was, at the time, between teaching posts). The worst part was: I accepted it.
4. Sexual Harassment
As is true with most women, we’re afraid of crying wolf. The same, charming gentleman referred to in the previous point, would frequently make highly inappropriate comments. He would jeer and jest about my sex life; he would poke my behind; make comments such as “You’ve lost weight, but your tits are still phenomenal”. Despite the fact that I was 22 and he was 50, I assumed it was in jest and in the name of banter, until the demons of the previous point started to arise and I realised the comments were more about keeping me “in my place”.
5. Bad Things Happen to Good (and Young) People
We all like to believe that karma will work things out, and I wish that this was always true. However, 1 in 3 people are affected by cancer. 1 in 4 people will suffer mental health problems. Bad people do terrible things to good, innocent people. Around 10% of young people have tried to harm themselves. This is one lesson I’m still to accept, but bad things happen all the time, and focusing on the good, the positive, the joy, is the only way to move forward.
6. “do Unto Others...” Doesn’t Always Work
From my Sunday mornings in a cold chapel vestry, "do unto others..." was something I grew up believing. I always believed that if I was nice to people, if I went that extra mile, if I respected others, the same courtesy would be bestowed upon me. Sadly, this often proved to be foolish. For my own sanity, I’ve adopted an attitude that I will treat people as they treat me. I will always try my original approach first, but if it’s continually thrown in my face, I’m happy to burn the bridge. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation - it’s sanity.
7. Love is Going to Getcha!
This was a difficult pill for me to swallow, but I’m SO glad it happened. Being from a divorced family, I was very adamant that love was fictional, that I would NEVER be stupid enough to fall in love. Boy was I wrong, and gosh am I glad I was. It hit me like a bus and as reluctant as I was to admit it, I never looked back. Thanks to my man – my constant source of strength and joy.
Although many tears were shed learning these lessons, they have made me happier in the long run. I only have real friends who I love fiercely. The ‘family’ in my life are there because I want them, not because I’m obligated to anyone. I have a career I love. I don’t dread Monday mornings because I refuse to settle in employment where things aren’t right. What battles have made you stronger?