I had a lengthy employment slump. At the end of 2014, the oil company I consulted for cut the team I built and put in place to implement training and technical writing for their worldwide operations. Between that and a physical injury I had not taken care of after a car accident, I fell into a depression that took several years to even start to come out of. Depression is a fucking nightmare. Depression combined with chronic pain locked me in a state of emotional paralysis and killed my motivation.

During those years, I freelanced, took on pro bono work and small projects. I moved to my toxic parent’s home. One of the small jobs I took was as a virtual assistant in a company owned by a woman I connected with through a small business networking organization we both were members of when I owned my consulting company. When I met her, she was frustrated about one of her assistants who was kind of a shit disturber. Not her words, my interpretation of her description of the woman. The woman wanted to be full time staff, not an assistant but something more pivotal to the company. All of that sounds terrific, and I’d cheer someone like that on.

Emily and I joined with three other company owners for a weekend conference with the CEO of the business network where we met in New York City, presented our companies, built pitches, discussed our challenges, and got each other’s feedback. It was very intimate and we gained great insight from the weekend. Over time Emily and I talked once in a while and I interviewed her for a series of 30 business owner interviews I recorded about their experiences a heads of companies.

So here I was years later, in need of work and trying to network with some kind of vitality while deeply depressed. I reached out to Emily. She was gracious, and kind and immediately offered that I’d be someone she’d like to have work with her team. I was vague; she was vague and I had no idea what capacity I was being thought of for. She got clear quickly and I joined as one of her contracted assistants. The work is pretty much what you know virtual assistant work to be. Emily markets her company to small business owners and promotes her team of very skilled assistants able to handle pretty much any aspect of business for or with the business owners. On her org chart she, as ceo sits at the top and parallel to her is her on the chart is her operations manager. Below herself and the ops manager are a single level of her hr manager, her IT manager, and one other position that wasn’t part of her full time staff when I was working there. The hr manager, it turns out, is the woman Emily was frustrated about years ago. And this woman is the sole reason Emily’s company is not ten times the size it could be. She’s the epitome of do what I say not what I do. Her words were about the company. Her actions are all about control, sabotage and undermining the people she works with. I found it odd that she had become a pivotal person in the company.

I didn’t stay at the company very long. Too often in work we see pretty quickly after settling in, there are politics and levels of dysfunction that we’d never see from a sales call or a speaker’s event or a smartly crafted marketing message or anywhere on the outside. With this woman, it seemed her promotion was an alternative to her wrath. The environment was difficult with this woman being the only person between the assistants and the managing staff and no “permission” for assistants to have direct access to Emily even though Emily’s door was always open virtually (a pun). On my exit interview I expressed this and it fell on deaf ears. I had settled for this because I needed work. Settling rarely works out.