In 2015, I was working in a French environment in a company in Japan. In a special French 1-year renewable contract, this was my very first real professional experience not as an intern.
My colleagues were all Japanese women and I quickly understood that they didn’t appreciate me one bit. Many things were told behind my back on a daily basis.
The one that hated me the most was my superior though. She had been in her position for the past 15 years or so and was well aware that her position and the department results prevented her from ever getting fired.
In the first year, I got constantly harassed at work. While the original reason seemed to be that they hated the fact I was a smoker, they let it grow and their animosity for me grew to encompass my entire personality.
In the beginner of 2016, after about 9 months in the company, while I was working on my computer, my boss, who couldn’t see me from her desk, got up to go get coffee and saw that I was laying down on my chair.
I was typing with my back far in the chair, in a relaxed position which allowed me to type faster while being more comfortable.
Out of the blue, she told me to sit upright. Under the shock of such a sudden request, I obliged.
However, an hour later, during lunch, I started thinking about it and really understood it shouldn’t matter how I sat as long as I didn’t sit in this way in front of clients or when talking to colleagues.
In the afternoon, I forgot about it and ended up sitting in the same way while typing a report. My superior passed by again and saw me sitting in this way which pushed her to make the same comment.
This time, though, I answered saying it shouldn’t matter since nobody could see me. She tried to get the other colleagues to weight in but as it was obviously a pointless topic, they all acted as if they didn’t hear her.
After long negotiations, I reluctantly accepted her request and sat upright again.
A few weeks later, I had a meeting with her about my potential renewal. I told her I did want to be renewed (since I didn’t have a back-up plan ready), but not under the same conditions. I needed more respect.
Among the examples of clear harassment I gave, was the chair topic. I informed her it was something that my superior shouldn’t be telling me and people such as my mother should only be the ones doing so (again, if not in a meeting).
She contradicted, saying I didn’t have enough experience and it was only my opinion but I pushed back stating I had obtained confirmation from numerous people it was a wrong thing to say.
She thus told me she would check with another colleague (of her status but different department).
However, instead of just talking to him on the side, she brought him in the office and asked me to sit in the same way I did before.
Thus began one of the most gibberish talks I ever took part in.
The colleague, who a French person recently arrived that I will call S., was flabbergasted at the topic itself and, just like anybody would, believed it didn’t matter as long as I didn’t sit in this way in front of clients.
Yet, she insisted, pushed him to say he agreed with her. Knowing his position as a new employee and being aware of the Japanese culture, he knew better than to go head to head with a veteran like her.
I then received a message on skype by another colleague in S.’s office, telling me he was in some sort of a state of frustrated anger due to what he had been made to say.
At that precise moment, he hated her for having put him in such a position.
He, unfortunately, went on holidays the next day. Thus, I went to him only 3 weeks later and apologized for having been the cause of all this.
He turned my apology down and told me he could see how bad a manager she was so he did not blame me.
And there it came. He told me he had been in a similar situation with an awful manager in Indonesia in the past. The way he survived it was by doing the following:
“Take this as an opportunity to learn what you don’t want to become when you will be a manager.”
I had never seen my experience in a positive way. Every day, all I could see was negative. So the idea of seeing this as positive came as a shock to me.
I did get renewed in the end. And I engraved this advice into my head. It changed my mindset and allowed me not only to stop taking at heart difficult situations in the office but even to actually appreciate those.
I believe this experience may have been the light-bulb moment which since then has evolved into the growth mindset I now have.
Opportunities are all around us. Every single thing, even a bad experience, is an opportunity in disguise to learn, to become a better version of ourselves.
Now, just a bit more than 3 years later, among all the things I was told in my experience in that company, the above quote is the only one I remember.
I clearly recall the glass shattering in my head, opening a new world in front of my eyes. One where positivity would outshine negativity.
Which it did. A year later, when I left the company, I had gotten to a much better relationship with my superior.
I had since then taken every opportunity to learn, to adapt myself to the situations. I also learned to fight the right battles.
I could talk about this experience for hours. While at the time I didn’t realize how strong an impact it would leave on me, I now understand I simply got the right advice at the right time.
I hope to one day be able to provide the same life-changing experience to someone. I will certainly not realize the impact I will have which is why I will keep on sharing and believing.
Thank you so much S.. You were the first to really put me in the right path to become the best version I can become.