There’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about the past few weeks.

I posted a lot while I was still in my old job about how difficult and stressful and demoralizing it was working in a call center.

I spent so long trying to get out of there that I didn’t think about how long it would take me to recover once I did find a new job.

The answer? A few months at least, apparently.

Now that I’m not exhausted, depressed, and anxious all the time, I can monitor my own behavior more clearly.

I see how the erosion of my self-esteem in a customer service environment has grown and manifests itself in other parts of my life.

In a call center, unless the caller is cursing you six ways to Sunday, there is no recourse but to listen and attempt to de-escalate. With my personality type, it’s also hard to not internalize that negativity. I’m a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser, so needles to say, that kind of situation is terrible for my mental health and emotional well-being.

It’s difficult knowing that you have two choices: accept verbal abuse from a customer which you do not deserve or hang up and most likely be fired. I applied for jobs the entire time I was working in call center jobs, so the possibility of finding another job if I got fired seemed slim. When faced with the fear of homelessness or the stress and anxiety of being yelled at every day for things you cannot control… it’s a difficult choice to say the least and I did the best I could in those circumstances.

I find recently that it’s more difficult for me to say “No” than it used to be. That I have a harder time asserting my emotional boundaries, or knowing where they are. I was never perfect at this to begin with – I will be the first to admit that. Verbal abuse and manipulation are far too familiar to me, unfortunately, so this has been something I’ve struggled with throughout my life.

The idea that “the customer is always right,” however, exacerbates this problem. Spending all day, every day catering to the needs of others, even when they’re wrong, or rude, or abusive, or refuse to listen… Also, customer service positions are filled by more women than men, so the idea that being nice, polite, accommodating, always pleasant and chipper is definitely sexist and misogynist as well as a bad idea mentally and emotionally.

It’s hard enough to stand up for yourself as a woman without being labeled a bitch, but even moreso when a 40-hour work-week has anesthetized you to verbal abuse and made it less stressful to just be accommodating because it will get people off the phone faster.

I find it harder now to assert myself without feeling guilty for it. Like if I could theoretically do something, I should, whether or not it’s my preference or even in my own best interests. I’m trying to find balance between being kind and humanist while still taking care of myself and not being a doormat. I couldn’t put myself first at my old job, and now that I’m out of there, it’s still hard to do sometimes.

I know identity is performative rather than necessarily inherent. But I spent so long having to perform this persona that I hated, that it’s been a difficult journey back to being the person I’ve wanted to be all along. I’m getting there, slowly but surely. I have a lot of responsibility in my new job, which is stressful but also quite refreshing. Because it means that someone believes in me and trusts me to get a job done. I’d rather be able to do things and learn from my mistakes when I do mess up than never have the power to do anything at all.

In a weird way, I have yet another opportunity to re-create myself. Normally, I’m an intelligent, passionate, strong-willed woman. But none of those traits were really applicable to my last job and fell by the wayside. I’m finding those parts of myself again, and it’s nice to start liking myself again.

But also feeling like I have to work so hard to get back to the person I was two years ago is kind of disheartening. I think sometimes about where I might be as far as self-growth if I hadn’t had to spend two years miserable working in call centers.

Or is this just making me grow in a different way?

Who knows.

I’m glad to feel as if I’m moving forward rather than marching in place. I just need to get my artistic confidence back. I’m really creatively blocked and anxious since I haven’t created work in so long. I think I just need to put myself out there and fail brilliantly a few times so I can get out of my head.

But at least for the first time in a long time, I feel like things are getting better.

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