I’ve Been Stabbed in the Back

"To Be Stabbed in the Back" by LadyKenora Used with Permission

"To Be Stabbed in the Back" by LadyKenora Used with Permission

Those are the words that came to my mind five years ago when a person I thought to be a colleague went forward and published an article about our work on a health initiative---making it appear that the project was solely his.  Yes, the national publication was vital to my career.  No, I didn’t see it coming.   Yes, he was a white male (and quite privileged).  I didn’t find out until I saw the journal publish the article and at that point to go back and ask for a retraction would be a spectacle.  The editor was appalled, nonetheless.

As I often mentor others, when you face a set back its key to put it into perspective and ask:  Is this five minutes, five hours, five days, five weeks, five months or five years of recovery.  THIS was five years.  The project was starting and it would be a while before another paper could be written about the results of that initiative.  Unfortunately, it didn’t end there.  The next hit was that I was taken off the project by this same man after I complained and stated that I expected to be included in the write up of the results of the project.   My options as a consultant were totally different than as an employee. I moved on.

Five years later, I cannot begin to say how much my work ended up turning in a much better direction.  I started another similar project in a different county and garnered better results with better support. I presented a better paper to the National Council on Foundations.  And the original publication where I thought the original article would be published is ready to share the results of this work when done.  I also began driving a different agenda for my work that now supports the activity of a consulting team of several professionals.  All that helped to position me for a Board of Trustee role for one the nation’s largest public safety net hospitals—a role I deeply cherish for what I can do to advance health equity.

When a setback occurs in your career—and they will—it requires assessing what kind of challenge it truly poses for your life—not all set backs are equal.  Our emotions alone are not enough of a measure of the problem because our anger, fear, hurt or frustration can reflect our own ego surrounding a situation.   And sometimes we can stay stuck in the emotions instead of forming our best response that gets us what we most want for our career: respect, opportunity and advancement. 

Que se puede hacer? What to do? 

Go nurture yourself and acknowledge the pain—but stay ready to move forward.  Take a hard look at your role in the situation and write down the lessons learned. Make a list of options.  Identify what resources you have or who your allies may be.  Ask your trusted advisers for feedback on the ideas you generate.  Look at the end goal you have for your career and weigh these against the organizational politics involved, the interpersonal dynamics, and the short and long-term consequences you may face with each action.  As much as possible don’t burn bridges on the way out of a situation that one day you may have to cross on the way back.

Probably the most helpful thinking to adopt is to get away from “either/or” thinking to “what if I do X and I do Y”.  It helped enormously that I maintained my sense of professionalism and that my network of other colleagues supported my next set of activities.  No one succeeds alone and it does take your own personal grit and tenacity to find the path forward.   Tell me how you overcame a challenge and let’s share lessons learned among our LatinaVIDA community.