I want to start with something simple: I’ve worked in places where I was unhappy, unproductive, and afraid — and all the while, I thought I wanted to work there. I thought that I was lucky. I thought that it would be stupid to leave.

I began my career making coffee, selling books, and setting appointments. I’m very familiar with the bottom-rung world of retail. With skill, self-determination, and lots of opportunity, I’ve since moved on from these traditional customer service roles and into the software world. This was, and still is in many ways, a whole new arena for me. It’s a place with exciting innovation, good pay, co-working spaces, fancy snacks, and even fancier buzzwords. There’s a great deal about this world that fits my needs and personality. It’s fantastic to work with really smart people who love what they do; it raises your game and keeps things exciting. Working in a thriving and innovative industry is fulfilling too and, let’s admit it, the snacks, lockers, lunches, and parties don’t hurt. And yet, apart from all the perks, there are some really uncomfortable things happening in this world that keep coming to my attention.

I want to be clear; it’s normal to want to be liked and included. It’s a basic human desire, everyone feels it, and there’s no need to be ashamed of it—no matter what the world tells us. However, problems arise when we start to believe that others are better, stronger, happier than we are and the only way we can be ok is to be near them. The desire to be in with “the cool kids” can get us into hot water, especially when there are people in the world who, consciously or unconsciously, exploit it for their own gain.

Certain parts of the tech industry seem to thrive on exploiting this “cool kid” culture and have become nothing more than exclusive clubs who keep members using a combination of perks, fear tactics, and the devaluing and subjugation of others. This blog is a call to those who are caught up in this messiness. It’s a reminder that things are different elsewhere. Good, happy places to work do exist, I promise.

The tech world is obsessed with the “best”, the “brightest”, the “fastest”, the “smartest”, or any other data they can come up with that puts them at the top. This unchecked obsession can lead to unhealthy company culture perpetuated by even less healthy leadership. These exclusive cultures often start with a hero to worship–a person with seemingly exemplary attributes or one-of-a-kind traits. Though some of these leader’s skills and qualities may be above average, their deification tends to come from a combination of narcissism and manipulation, not reality.

These cults of personality are often created by a certain type of charismatic authority, a leader that produces tangible results for the company but leaves the humans around them feeling resentful, angry, and afraid. Sadly, these humans are never quite angry enough to leave because they’ve been led to believe that the only thing worse than working there would be not working there. Exclusion from the culture becomes worse than the daily pain of being present. The trickiest part is that the bad is embedded among layers of perks, benefits, and “culture”, a circle you’ve been invited into and wouldn’t dare forsake. This is how people get trapped.

Whether it stems from personal insecurity, delusion, or a simple desire to control others, there are similarities in charismatic individuals like these; they tend to be narcissistic, energetic, and have an “inner clarity unhindered by the anxieties and guilt that afflict more ordinary people.”1 Though they claim to care about you, and they may genuinely believe they do, you need to trust your gut and do what’s best for you. It’s not normal or healthy to fear your boss’ disapproval or retribution at every turn. It’s not wrong to ask for a boundary between work and life. It’s not unreasonable to be respected for exactly who you are.

It is not my intention to vilify every successful person who has followers. There are many successful people who build safe and welcoming environments, and let their work speak for itself. It’s my intention to help those who’ve gone astray, those who are lost and no longer see the forest for the trees. There are companies in the world that offer the benefits you’re looking for without asking for your self-worth in return. We’re all grown up now; high school is over. Don’t let your desire to be part of the cool group keep you working with, and for, unhealthy people. Don’t let the fear that there’s nothing better keep you somewhere that really isn’t so great. Don’t let someone else tell you they’re the best you can do, you decide. There are better places out there, I promise; And you really do deserve more.

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