The Moment I Became a Rebel at Work

“You bring up ideas that you haven’t thought through and you don’t stick to the agenda. Your presentation skills need work, too. You go off script and your hands and arms distract from what you’re saying,” explains my boss to me during the always fun annual performance review.

“Wait, you know Toni, that famous London presentation guy the agency brought in? He loved my style. He even asked me to help him with his business. And you’re criticizing me for my presentation style? Really?” I shoot back, incredulous at this “improvement area.” Sure, if I was being dinged on administrative issues, I would accept his comments. But this?

“You know you bring up ideas out of nowhere. Ideas we haven’t rehearsed. A lot of them are half-baked.”

“Well, yeah. Because I see presentations as a conversation with clients. Not a one-way, convince-them-and-leave-meeting. If they say something interesting, I want to talk about it. Right then. I want to bounce ideas around.”

“You’re young, still. You need to learn more about strategy and timing. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to be more polished, play the game the way people like it played.”

“Excuse me, Harry. My accounts have grown faster than any others in this office. Clients ask for me. If my ‘style’ is so unpolished why are things working? Isn’t the goal to make money and have happy clients?”

“This is an unproductive conversation and not like you. It’s also an example of how you let your emotions take over. Why don’t you just sign this performance review, and we can get back to the office.”

“Nope. I’m not signing that. Signing means I agree with what you’ve written. I don’t agree. At all.”

“You’re over-reacting. This is not worth arguing about.”

“Oh, it most definitely is. I’m not signing it.”

That was the moment I began to rebel at work. It was the first time I really stood up for myself.

I had always been the good girl, working quietly around the system to get ahead. My default was polite and nice, my grandfather’s mantra playing in my head: “It’s nice to be nice.”

My grandfather was a repressed, depressed, alcoholic, holding everything tight inside.

Speaking up that day and saying “NO” filled me with euphoric energy. Like I met the real me and she was amazing. Strong-willed. Courageous. Confident that she would figure things out even if she got fired.

I never took BS at work after that. I quit a few months later. Clients followed. The agency sued me. I won.

Rebelling for myself freed me.

There are always other jobs.

Better bosses.

Things to learn.

Skills to master.

Questions to consider.

But only one me.

All these years later people ask for career advice. I feel so unqualified. And I hate preachy experts, thought leaders, influencers, and all those who make a living doling out “I’ve figured it all out and have the formula for you!” advice.

The only thing I know for sure is that you have to rebel for yourself.

For what’s good for you.

For what helps you show up with energy, curiosity, mischievousness and a wide-open mind.

Even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

I’m still in touch with the old boss who tried to get me to sign that performance evaluation.

He was a bad boss and is a good person.

I am my own person.

I am a Rebel at Work.

Most happy in the wilder-ness of people, ideas and nature. Joyfully rebellious when rested.