They say you can learn a lot from bad experiences. If so then I think I made a deposit in my knowledge bank as a result of the following story.

I was working at an office job, which was bad enough as I don’t like sitting, being trapped in front of a computer, or answering phones. But the emotional culture in this place was equally toxic to my personality type. There wasn’t any communication—everything was assumed or implied or you just kind of tried to figure it out but then never really knew if you got it right.

Then there was the guy I had to work with whom I dubbed Toad. I didn’t really like that at first because I felt it is insulting to Mr. Toad of Toad Hall from Wind in the Willows. But it fits both his revolting personal hygiene and repellent personality.  I never liked or trusted him from the beginning, and over time it dawned on me that among his other character flaws, Toad is a bully.

As just one example, he spent a lot of time and effort avoiding talking to clients.  He would direct me to take a message, then grill me about what they wanted, and/or listen to my side of the conversation and berate me for how I handled the call.  I couldn’t help but observe to myself that with a fraction of the amount of effort he put into evading the calls, he could have just talked to them himself.  It reminded me of the classic conversation between parents and children, about how in the amount of time they’ve spent arguing about cleaning their room they could have had it done.

The obvious question is why did I not speak to the owner about Toad?  One, the aforementioned custom in this workplace of never mentioning the elephant in the room, and two, since Toad’s position was much more important than mine I worried that I would have been viewed as the troublemaker.

I won’t go into every situation in which he harassed, badgered, intimidated, or degraded me, but the last incident was the most memorable.  He wanted me to lie for him and tell someone he was in a meeting when he wasn’t.  This may not seem like a big deal to many but it is to me as I value truthfulness.  So I told the customer that he was in the middle of something and unable to take the call.

As expected, he called me from the next room, having listened to what I said, and really gave me a hard time, saying that it sounded like he was blowing the guy off, which is exactly what was happening in this and other situations.  I said that I wasn’t going to lie.  He then threatened me with “if you can’t do your job then we’ll get someone in here who can” (which he didn’t have the authority to do, by the way). I said, “I’m really not trying to be difficult, but I’m not going to lie.”

I was glad that exchange with Toad took place over the phone because I was shaking, my voice was quavering, I was flushed, and I was sweating through several layers of clothing. But I realized that even if all that is happening when you stand up to a bully—you’re still standing up to a bully.

After this took place, I contacted someone about a job I was interested in. I heard back the same day, had an interview two days later, a job offer the day after that, and turned in my notice the following week. It is worth noting that that I had been looking for another job the entire year I was there, but never got an interview anywhere. Yet as soon as this incident took place I had a new job almost immediately. It’s as if I learned what I needed to and once I acted on it then the way was paved for me to be able to move on and no longer remain stuck there.

The other coincidence was that around this time I had a conversation with someone about how I was looking for performance opportunities. He recommended I get in touch with a woman he knew who was putting together a storytelling show. I did so, and discovered she was still looking for people for her next event. The theme? Work. I had a new job and a chance to be on stage; a happy ending to this tale.