Breaking out of the Glass Box

Self portrait in flight - 1982 approxThe idea of a glass ceiling didn’t occur to me until I heard about it, then it seemed I could see its effects everywhere. Jobs I applied for were 9 times out of ten being offered and interviewed by men, and only a few of these had women on interview panels.

OK, so that was the 1980’s and I was green, but it was kind of intimidating, and it continues to be a real issue in a lot of industries.

However it was not the glass ceiling that stopped me.

It was the glass box…. a multi-sided multi-faceted barrier that I could see needed constant working at to expand the options and free me.

Glass walls… many Glass Walls can make that Glass Box..

I think I have some suggestions for you if you are dealing with this yourself.

Glass walls might be anything that stops you. Not having a drivers licence or not having a car. Being unsure of yourself and being inexperienced and too afraid of failure to try new things. If you don’t know how to manage money, or if you have a skill you want to learn but don’t own the equipment to learn on, or if you lack confidence in an area.

Any one of those things might be a wall of the box to push outwards, and gain knowledge so you’re not limited by it. But how can you expand and break free of it?

One of the walls of my own Glass box was social confidence. My earliest years were on isolated bush properties without other kids around, not having the socialisation of young children – oops, it wasn’t picked up that I have some of the challenges of the autism spectrum, and had problems with shyness and noisy places. It turned into a massive wall that took decades of pushing against, to be able to have confidence in these areas. I’m no Steve Jobs but I have my own voice and vision. But for years where I struggled to talk to others, I felt that it was a wall of my own personal Glass Box.

If ever you have felt held back from growing and expanding, especially professionally and in your aspirations or life’s work, maybe you too have felt like you were in a Glass Box.

Or if you were held back by other people or circumstance such as sexism and sexual harassment, bullying and just plain insensitivity in the work place.

It’s a bit of a shame that the very place we want to do well in, the work place or the market place, is actually a place that can hold us back. People everywhere are working in environments that expect them to be almost non-human, to simply work a role and have no personal needs whatsoever. These kinds of walls and barriers are the hardest because there seems no way past them.

I recall doing work experience with an agency filming ads, at 18, and having one of the film crew start coming on to me lewdly. It was enough to put my confidence right down about working in film or indeed just getting a job. How inappropriate that it happened, but when I lost confidence to go looking for work it then became an unemployment shame not a confidence issue. How easily can a barrier turn into a wall, if you don’t know how to get help at the right time.

One time I worked in a place where I came to work depressed because my boyfriend at the time was being violent and abusive towards me – I wasn’t asked what was wrong and I was told by the head of the department not to bring my problems to work. At no stage was I asked what was wrong, and if I had been encouraged or supported to speak up about it, that just may have been enough to give me the confidence to get help for the abuse and threat of violence in my home life, which was creating a real fear of stepping out and growing as a person.

In another job my boss alternatively bullied then sucked up to me and other staff. I always treated him with respect and patience allowing for his behaviour being caused by stress, even though it caused everyone else a good deal more stress. After I left for personal reasons he was rude and scornful to me whenever I spoke with him, When he invited me out to lunch some years later I thought he was going to start treating me professionally and was really hurt when he then attempted to get me to have an affair with him.

No-one deserves a shitty workplace and we all need the best environment for ourselves, our development and our work. Setting up my own business was a step towards that – to try to create a space for good creative work by people with amazing out of this world skills to collaborate with other people with desire for learning, and creating the new. The best intentions don’t automatically give you the skills though!

Sometimes you can’t see a glass ceiling or wall til you bump into it, and because you can’t see it, it can feel impenetrable and also that its “part of you”. Separating yourself from the problem so you can work on it needs the time, space and thought for learning.

Do you ever feel that you have your own Glass Box? Do you ever feel stuck inside it?

Even here in my ideal opportunity – being my own boss and supporting the collaboration of an amazing interdisciplinary group – those walls are a consideration. For starters, I’m a dreamer and imagination is my strong suit. I’m great with math but it’s a duty not a love. Cold calling and pitching are awful, but these things have to be done in order to stay in business. Fortunately remote collaboration tools and innovations in communication are making it so much easier not only participate, but to collaborate, manage and lead in new ways.

My Glass Box would have a variety of facets…  from maintaining self discipline around limiting what I take on, to being outside of work enough to maintain fresh ideas. One wall is all about not being able to articulate myself well under some circumstances. Domestic violence can cause post traumatic stress disorder and it affects a lot of people – what do you do with people who shout, or put you down? For some like me who have been through it, it’s not as simple as taking a deep breath. You have triggers that set you off and you have to know how to cope with them. Confidence in sharing is a big thing I have to motivate myself to do well rather than retreating when it gets tough.

Do you know how to break through the walls of your Glass Box?

One of the things that I most want to say about glass boxes, for anyone, is that it helps to be able to be transparent about them.

Yes, funny ha ha… but its absolutely essential. If you are feeling that you are having to go the struggle alone, worried about what people are going to say, you definitely need help with your situation. Boxing yourself in to deal with the problems yourself is going to make them last a lot, lot, lot longer. The worst thing about it is that while you are struggling with those issues, trapped behind the glass, all that is obvious to everyone else is that you are acting weirdly. Think of a small creature running free through the forest – wonderful and alive and free! Now put it in a glass box – how stressed does it look! If you know the box is there you will understand why that poor creature is jumping up and down trying to escape, whereas if you saw a creature jumping up and down like that (and didn’t see it was in a glass box trying to get out) you would definitely be worried and stay away. It’s the same for yourself – if you trap yourself inside your problems (that are invisible to everyone else) you are going to create more issues. People can’t see that you are trapped!

A few years ago now, I was panicking not knowing how to handle company growth and was encountering a major cashflow crisis, with the worry I stopped sleeping altogether for about a week, got irrational with sleep deprivation and stress and wrote the wrong kind of email to the wrong person and voila – black mark on my name with a department no-one would want as an enemy. There is no allowance for being under incredible stress and there is no forgiveness, and I lost the good reputation I formerly had with them, and it badly affected my confidence. Because I was supposed to be running a good little arts business, jumping up and down panicking inside an invisible glass box was not a good look and left me with a lot of shame afterwards, eventually leading to anxiety and panic attacks. It was horrible but at least it taught me to avoid such a crisis  – the hard way.  Business to business is a different skill set and isn’t an easy intuitive step. Thanks to the advice of others I was eventually able to get over it and learned a lot about business management in the process (um, and how to manage anxiety and panic attacks!).

But how to develop that awareness and to allow others to see the issues, and enable them to help you break it down? One way is through having work mates and work partners who understand you are learning and will help you with awareness and growth. This takes some conversation but it’s the easiest and most rewarding way I know of.

A second method of stretching and melting the glass is through a peer network, but this takes a lot of trust. It sometimes seems very hard to get past the superficial and explore deeper issues, and I see this as being a problem for many more people. What if all of us could talk more openly about the challenges we deal with, whether personal or professional, and receive advice? Sometimes talking about things is seen as complaining but if you are working through something, gaining input and getting advice on a topic, it’s more like asking for a sharing of brain processor time, so together you can work it out.

I’ve been really grateful for the professional people I know who’ve given me space to talk about these deeper issues, particularly when encountering some really horrible situations where I’ve made a mess of things and not known what to do.

The glass box can be there for anyone and those walls can be all sorts of challenges. Sometimes it’s our own skill that needs to be developed. You can sometimes hear yourself knocking against someone else’s walls when there is tension and miscommunication between you that you don’t know how to handle. Think about people you really wanted to work with but for some reason it didn’t work out – whether something went wrong, there was miscommunication or it never really clicked. Chances are for either or both of you, it was part of an ongoing thread, some little challenge to learning and doing that is still needing sorting out. Sometimes we need to reflect on those Glass Walls a bit to see them (um, seriously, no pun intended).

Some of the walls are there because of what is outside us too. We’ll call them society’s walls. These may be the challenges for working or studying if you have health issues or a disability or are a single mum, because you might have the capacity for it if only…. If only the opportunities were flexible, or could be done at home, or if it could be tailored for you. If only… these things feel just out of reach and start to feel impossible. Where are the people you need to help make it possible? Society seems to so easily judge those who can’t work full time, yet we have so many incredible tools to make it possible for other kinds of participation, if we can enable it. I know people who suffer this glass wall, and have to deal with the judgements of others, whether its poor health or other problems in the way. I understand that the impact of the judgement can actually be a worse glass wall than the disability itself. People need to just stop saying “Couldn’t you just…. “ as they really don’t have the right to assume what someone else can do. And everyone facing a barrier needs acknowledgement, not judgement.

Glass box… How do we break out of our Glass box…

But before you go too far starting to imagine the worst, there is no Glass Box.

Everything is still clear and everything is open to you.

Whenever you start to believe you are inside a closed box and make yourself trapped in the illusion of it….    you’re making the box, but there is no box.

There’s no denying the barriers, and those barriers are where the work is.

No matter where the barrier is, its actually a POINT not a complete wall.

We have barriers and hurdles. Every time you bump into a wall, remember to back away, realise that you have bumped into and are pushing against a single point. Step back slightly, step to the side, look clearly where you are going to go and step around it.

See clearly and look at the thing stopping you and enlist help for that.

Enlisting help is the true way past any point, and over any barrier.

It’s much easier to get help for a single hurdle than it is for getting help for panic attacks and anxiety brought on by being trapped inside glass walls.

Knowing where to get help is the first barrier to overcome, because there are many, many options and even more people that want you to succeed than you even know about.

Feeling trapped is the worst kind of frustration and the more trapped you feel, the more despair is caused. I know that there are very very real issues, sometimes we aren’t equipped for a situation and sometimes the situations aren’t ideal. Starting to see glass boxes and glass ceilings and glass walls can be good to take ownership and recognition of an issue and to realise there is a boundary that has to be dealt with in some way. Just be aware that barriers are only in one area, and to allow yourself the potential to work around and discover other ways to reach your goals.

What I am going to ask of you now, is to be there and allow other people to enlist your help to get past their barriers, because the more of this we have, the less mental health and bullying and stress problems there will be in the workplace. And its quite possible that with that little bit of openness, someone will care enough to ask why that contractor wrote a stressy email instead of escalating it with a formal letter of complaint about it. Someone else might get a hand with a problem instead of being judged for not being all there at work. And that with a little bit more openness, increased job sharing and collaboration will be possible, allowing for a more varied workplace and increased employment. And even more openness, we can have trust in the work place allowing for people of all sorts of ability and talent to collaborate. And openness is the key to someone stuck with their challenge, knowing how to relieve the pressure and get around it.

Openness is going to be the key to all sorts of people being able to break out of their Glass Box and overcome all sorts of barriers.

We all need to help those who are stuck in Glass Boxes see how to get around those walls, including ourselves.

Good luck with those challenges, open up to enlist help and definitely be open to others doing so.