09/17/2012 11:13 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2012

Don't Be Corporate Roadkill: Get Up, Girl!

I sat on the floor of my darkened bedroom with the last moments of November light trickling away. I was talking on the phone with my best friend about leaving my job.

This friend knew just how much I loved my job, so she knew something had gone awry.

"Maybe someone else can do a better job than me," I confided to her. I didn't feel like I was living up to a standard of a specific critic, I was a new mother, and I was having some personal challenges with a loved one who was addicted to prescription medication (this flipped my life upside down).

My close friend, who also happened to be my business mentor, listened closely. Then she spoke. "Julie, you are operating at 90 percent, do you really think that they will find someone who will operate at 95 percent?" she said. "Why are you so willing to give up?"

It was a dark moment in my life and two nights of insomnia had just added to my despair. Her vote of confidence -- and her willingness to confront -- were just enough fuel to ignite me out of my somber haze.

I had to agree with her. I knew deep inside I was capable and worthy. I realized at that moment I had a choice. I could allow myself to be intimidated by the critic in my life and circumstances beyond my control, or I could stand up and not allow myself to be corporate roadkill.

Many of us, especially women, do a number on ourselves in the workplace. WOW! Even some of the most amazing women I know are often way-to-willing to look through the 'I am not worthy lens.' This can happen when we get knocked down in a professional setting or just by our own high expectations.

I have two words, GET UP! You are amazing, wonderful, full of potential and have so much to offer the world. GIRL, GET UP!

Today I was speaking to a young woman I adore, Alexa. She will be a fabulous leader one day. She is bright, competent, dedicated. She has a keen mind and wants to make a huge difference in decreasing conflict amongst warring nations. She shared how a recent boss would publicly mock her in front of other people and how she would often just break down crying.

That same boss also skipped Alexa's going-away party, but privately had bought her a bracelet. In our conversation, it became evident that the boss saw her as somewhat of a daughter figure and could be really nice or publicly condescending. It also came out that the boss was mocking everyone that worked for her. Alexa realized there was a pattern. I had Alexa tell me the entire story, the same story with the same facts, but this time she would use "I's" (instead of "she did this, she did that"). I could see Alexa's transformation immediately. Alexa started with how she was in charge and fully responsible for herself. She shared in great detail what she learned from this situation. Alexa added that, when she eventually has the opportunity to lead, she will be open to other people's ideas, and communicate effectively to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary conflict. Alexa realized her boss was trying to 'toughen her up' and that if she encountered another person like her boss, she will have some new adaptive strategies. She will now try to take that person's behavior less personally because she knows she is a competent, hard-working young woman. She now knows to look for patterns in people's behavior and not just assume there was something wrong with her. Alexa's eyes lit up when she talked about how she will manage people one day. She felt empowered looking through the lens of personal accountability. In her previous victim lens, Alexa only felt angry, hurt and ashamed. So next time you find yourself on the 'down on myself highway': Write "I am worthy" down three times on your closest mobile device. Then text those words to a good friend if you need reinforcement. (You may want to call her too, as she might be wondering "what is this all about?")
  1. Write down two lessons learned from the situation you are facing. Take this perspective though: I am in charge of my life and feelings, I am not the victim.
  2. Write down three action items you will take to better your situation. Remember the only difference between stress and pressure is that stress occurs when you don't have a plan. Alexa will now tell her bosses that she is worthy and would like to be treated with dignity and respect.
  3. Take your professional role seriously, but learn to laugh at yourself. Be great but let go of the need to be 'perfect.'
  4. And if you make a mistake somewhere, apologize for the action taken, not for the person you are.
I didn't quit my job that November day in 2004. I built a stunning 20-year career as a nonprofit leader serving over 25,000 inner city youth. The critic I mentioned shared with me once that his parents would yell at him if he got 4 A's and a B (wondering why he got a B). I could relate as I was doing the same thing to myself and continue to do so from time to time. He later became a trusted adviser and friend. If I could just instill one thing as I look at young women these days, including my friends and my daughter, it's protect your self-esteem. Own it. Never give it away and if you fall down, you do not have to be 'flattened' by life. Take the punch and by all means, get back up.

Julie Kantor writes weekly on job search and careers including corporate culture. She is co-founder of a an innovative Startup called Barrel of Jobs that incentivizes people helping their friends get jobs.