HOW TO WRITE A PERSONAL BILL OF RIGHTS {to keep you sane in a crazy workplace}

When my clients finally get out of #workhell and into the career of their dreams, every single one of them asks me the same question: Why didn't I do this sooner?  

“Great question!” I say, “Why didn’t you?”  And the answer is often the same: "I didn’t know I was allowed to."

And this answer guts me every, single time.  

 

It takes me right back to a job I hated and felt trapped in and into one of the biggest blocks I had to overcome to make the leap out.  I vividly remember one specific day when my boss approached me in the hall.  “Oh, and we need another person for the ongoing weekend program.  I volunteered you.  It’s two hours in the morning every Saturday.”

I swallowed.  I didn’t have 2 hours every weekend after my regular 50 hour work week to spare. But I didn’t want to be difficult.

“Okay,” I hesitated.  “I can probably make that work.  What’s the pay?”

He laughed.  “We’re not doing after-hours bonuses anymore.  Sorry.  The budget was cut.”

“Okay,” I said, looking down, “I need to think about this.  Can I let you know in the morning?”

He looked at me sharply.  “I’m surprised.  I thought you cared about the company.”

I felt like I’d been punched in gut.  I was wracked with guilt.  Why am I so selfish? Why am I not more giving? Why can’t I just be content to pay my dues like everyone else?  Why do I think I’m entitled to more than the rest of the team?  Who am I to think I deserve THAT?

Then something in me snapped a little bit, and it was my turn to laugh.  “I’ll think it over tonight and shoot you an email tomorrow morning.”  And then I smiled, turned, and straight-up sashayed away with the wind blowing my hair back and rock music playing.

JK.  I started working extra hours for free the following day.  Because I was a doormat.  Because I truly didn’t know I was allowed to say no.  I didn’t know I had the right to decide what was okay for me and what was not.  

And let me tell you, lady:

When you allow other people to set your priorities and rights, you are giving away all of the tremendous power that you have.

 

Toxic workplaces can feel crazy-making.  Here's how to stand up for yourself and feel empowered, not trapped.

 

MY FEAR OF THE E WORD

I wanted to stand up for myself, but I was terrified of being Entitled.  Probably because “don’t get too big for your britches” was a central part of my upbringing, and probably because I find little more obnoxious than someone walking into a room and demanding that everything revolve around them.  I did NOT want to be an entitled, spoiled, diva-like presence at work.  

But what is underneath entitled?  If you’re entitled to something, you deserve it.  It’s your right.  Available to you by virtue of your existence on the planet.  When you think about entitled equalling deserving, things get interesting.  We all think we deserve things.  Sometimes we feel deserving of good things, like respect, and sometimes in our darker moments, we feel like we deserve bad things, like punishment (anyone ever suffered through a run the day after WAY too much cake?)

When my boss cornered me that day, my internal monologue was: selfish, entitled, spoiled, bad.

When I was actually working for free every weekend, my inner monologue was slightly different: “How dare he?  Why didn’t I stand up for myself?  This is not okay.”  And my internal ranting coalesced around a single thought:  

“It is 100% okay for me to ask to be compensated for the work I do.  I am a qualified professional, and it's okay for me to ask to be paid and respected.”

 

If you are reading this and thinking, “DUH!  I would never let myself be treated like that,”  Awesome!  Hella respect to you.  I had to get there the hard way.  I had to remember that yes, it is entirely okay to feel deserving of respect. 

It is entirely okay to (professionally and reasonably) set the conditions under which you will and will not work.  It’s entirely okay say no when those conditions are violated, especially if they severely conflict with your safety and values. 

 

It’s SO okay to walk away from relationships, work situations, and environments that consistently violate your values and rights. 

 

Doing so doesn’t make you spoiled, selfish, unworthy, bad.  It makes you a strong, powerful person who knows her worth on a cellular level and isn’t afraid to show it.  {In a classy-ass way, of course}

After this turning point, I decided I wanted to be allowed to have certain rights, things that were okay and not okay with me.  And since no one else was going to anoint me as worthy of having rights, I kind of needed to do it myself. 

 

So I wrote my own declaration of independence, and in it, my own, personal bill of work rights:

 

I have the right to feel safe at work.

I have the right to be respected and not yelled at, cursed at, or put down.

I have the right to stay calm even when my boss and coworkers are freaking out.

I have the right not to answer every email the second it comes in.

I have the right to ask for what I need.

I have the right to respectfully ask questions.

I have the right to be paid for my time on the clock.

I have the right to take a lunch break, even if no one else does.

I have the right to be myself.

I have the right to say no to things that don’t align with my values.

 

It was incredibly empowering, incredibly scary, and the side effects were interesting.

 

The Consequences

So here’s the thing about this Bill of Rights: creating it is easy.  Living it?  Not so much.  It is absolutely possible to walk this talk, but it takes practice and support.  Sometimes, there are tangible consequences to standing up for your rights, so make sure you’re doing it in a way that feels safe.  The first time I said no to my boss I almost hyperventilated.  “Oh my god I am so fired!  I’m going to end up homeless living in a box on the street!”  None of that happened.  My boss actually kind of respected the fact that I was honest with him about what I could handle.  We workshopped it and actually built a better relationship in the process.  Who knew?

This is absolutely not an excuse to yell "F You!" at your boss or demand a raise and promotion when you've been there two weeks.  This is an excuse to start getting clear on who you are, what you believe, and how you want to show up at work.  A Personal Bill of Rights isn't about making others respect you...it's about living your respect for yourself.

The reality of living your Bill of Rights means that people might be confused. If you haven’t taken a lunch break in three years and all of a sudden you start clocking out at 12PM sharp, your coworkers might wonder what’s up.  They are not necessarily jerks who want to judge you.  They may not even notice, but they may need time to get used to this new, empowered you.  That’s okay.  You can usually do this gradually and without alienating people (if that's your jam).

So how do you do this?

 

Step #1: Remember your wholeness.

Remember that you were born incredibly powerful and whole.  If you’ve given up some of that wholeness along the way, it’s not the end of the world.  Your power source is within, so you can always come back home to it.  Just practice.  Making coming home to your power a daily activity.  Yoga works super well for me, but you can journal, run, meditate, talk with a friend-do what works for you.

 

Step #2: figure out what you believe about your work rights.

My beliefs about this are great, but they may or may not work for you.  To start walking your talk, you need to figure out what your talk is. What do you believe your rights at work are?  When are you great at standing up for yourself?  What does it take to reconnect you to your personal power?

 

Step #3: Write your own bill of rights. Experiment.

This takes so much practice.  Start with 5 rights you'd like to embody.  Share them with a coach/partner/friend and practice them in a safe space before bringing it to work.  Step out of your comfort zone, but not so far that you freak out.  Revise where necessary.  Notice what fears and feelings pop up for you along the way.

You've got this.

 

If this was helpful, click the share buttons below and talk to me about your insights.  

Next week on the blog, I'll be dealing with a super common barrier to work satisfaction: Tryin' to put everybody else's oxygen mask on first.  

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