Radical Condor (I’m not great right now but I will be?)

[This is a lightly edited version of an internal blog post I recently shared at work.]

If you’ve heard the concept of Radical Candor, then Radical Condor will speak to you on a spiritual level.

Dunno if you noticed, but I’ve been taking a lot of time off lately, and I’ve been… not myself. This is an attempt to give some context, I guess.

To preface: I got lucky in 2020. My husband and I moved back to Australia weeks before the pandemic descended. Within months we’d both gotten our dream jobs, a rental by the beach, and later in the year we bought our first property in regional Victoria. We felt disproportionately fortunate (and still do). We felt like we were living in the calm eye of what now seems like a never-ending tornado.

Sure, there was anxiety, and fear – lockdowns meant that the people we moved home to spend time with felt as far away as they did when we lived on another continent. But 2020 was an objectively good year for us personally, and that says a lot. But for me, 2021 has been (emotionally) kinda poo. The adjustment to the new property has been rough, and intense. We have no regrets, but that doesn’t mean the change is easy.

Since March, I’ve also had some personal stuff going on that’s yet to be resolved (if it ever gets resolved). Because of this, and through intense therapy, I’ve been taken on a journey back through my childhood and my psyche that I never expected, bringing up a lot of stuff that I now realize I’ve been suppressing for most of my adult life.

The heavy hitter right now is low self-esteem, and a doubting of my own reality and feelings. And this is affecting me at work.

The personal sh*t

I was raised in a cult that sent a very strong message about women: We exist to serve others, be a good wife, support our husbands at all costs, and bear children. To be a good woman is to be selfless and quietly long-suffering, live through hard times and never complain. Always put others before yourself. Smile and get on with it. Forgive and forget hurtful behavior without ever demanding to be heard or understood. A good woman – a Good Person – is 100% selfless. Your needs come last. Even after leaving the cult, a lot of this message was (and to a certain extent, still is) reinforced by key women in my life.

Today, this goes against everything I consciously believe. Selflessness is important, but saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything will destroy a person. I’ve watched it happen first-hand.

Another artefact of my upbringing has been a distrust of my own reality. Throughout my life, I’ve been told by influential people that I overreact, I’m too sensitive, I need to “let things go.” In some cases, I was told that things I experienced didn’t actually happen. I was discouraged from questioning anything (or anyone) that felt wrong, and I was often told that my feelings weren’t the “correct” ones – I should be more grateful, less sad, focus on the positive, etc. Over time, this created an internal environment where my brain doesn’t trust itself, and consistently seeks external validation in order to find (and hold on to) reality.

To finally see this clearly is both terrifying and liberating.

But as I finally start living a more authentic life – one that involves asking for respect, communicating and holding heathy boundaries, calling out hurtful behavior, and asking to be heard and acknowledged when I’m hurt – that deeply-buried, conditioned voice comes barreling out and starts shouting at me:

You’re a bad person.
You don’t deserve to ask for any of this.
You should be grateful.
Other people have so much less.
Forgive and forget.
Shut up and smile.
Take it on the chin.
It is what it is.
They’re just like that.
Accept them as they are.
Love conquers all.

On a good day, I can recognise this voice for what it is (deep childhood conditioning) and hold it at arms length. Sometimes I even laugh at it, or feel sorry for it and for other people who are still under its spell.

But on stressful days, or days where I’m tired or sick, or on days when I feel scared about living on a plastic-filled, burning planet whose destruction I’m partly responsible for, or when I’m finally standing up for myself but getting pushback, it’s a lot harder to ignore. It gets louder, and the messages get more and more extreme:

You don’t deserve the kind of respect you’re asking for.
You’re not important enough to be this demanding.
You’re not good enough to hold other people accountable for hurtful behavior.
You don’t deserve to have your feelings acknowledged by anyone.
You should feel lucky that you have any friends at all.
They’re all better off without you.
The world would be better off without you.
You are a waste of resources.
You don’t deserve to be alive.

…good times.

What this means at work

All of this translates to a deep distrust of my own actions, my words, my value, and my viewpoints.

Someone will genuinely ask me what I think, or how I am, or just give me a compliment, and sometimes I’ll just start crying. Because that voice takes over:

What you think doesn’t matter.
Your feelings aren’t important.
They’re just saying that to be nice – you’re not actually very good at anything.
You should be fired and replaced with someone quiet, reliable, and skilled.
You should walk away and save your colleagues the frustration of working with you.
You’re nothing to anyone but an annoyance, a distraction, and a dead weight.
How are you still employed?
You’re a fraud.

When I’m like this – in the thick of it – and I don’t take time off, I often have to skip meetings because I don’t know if I’m going to make it through without bursting into tears. Often I’ll pull it together and be normal. Sometimes I cry after meetings, running through everything I said and did, berating myself for anything resembling confidence or an opinion or a mistake.

At a higher level, I feel like I’m not worthy of this job at all.

  • I don’t go to conferences or network with people or have a personal brand or try and be a thought leader, because I feel like I have to pretend to be someone I’m not in those spaces.

  • I have nothing valuable to share or to offer anyone except “use as few words as possible, and make it as simple as possible to understand and translate, so that customers can get the thing done and move the heck on with their day.”

  • I don’t do any personal growth stuff, because all I care about is making our products easier to use. In a world of performance review cycles, this is terrifying.

  • I don’t have any influence and I’m not interested in being influential because I’m an awful role model.

  • I don’t have any career goals, except “help make products easier for people to use and hopefully get paid for it until such time as I am financially able to stop working and disappear into a forest somewhere and grow a beard.”

    • That singular focus (user experience) feels like the important part of my job, the thing I’m being paid for, and the only thing I’m occasionally okay at. When I’m this low, it’s the thing I hold on to, the life raft, the one thing that keeps me opening my laptop every day instead of quitting. I’m not terrible at this. I can still earn a paycheck. Sometimes, the things I do might actually help to make things easier for customers.

But because I don’t do all of this other stuff, I feel like an abject failure. I’m constantly afraid of being fired for silly reasons, like swearing, or cracking jokes in meetings, or not blogging enough, or not being an expert on anything, or because I’m really, really bad at using Figma (yes, I did a training for it, and no I don’t remember any of it). I have ADHD which makes it very hard to do anything that’s not Super Maximum Urgent OMG QUICK AHHH!!! So all these free courses and amazing learning get added to a long to-do list that just keeps getting longer – because unless it’s vitally important to the most urgent task at hand, I physically cannot retain the information, no matter how hard I try.

When I’m feeling low and worthless and I admit to it, people are really nice and tell me I’m wrong. And sure, I believe that they believe I’m good and worthwhile. I can’t deny their reality or their experience. But when I’m low, I also believe that they don’t truly know how bad and awful I am, and then I feel guilty that I’ve somehow led them to believe that I’m a worthwhile person to invest in – personally or professionally.

^ and this is the thought process I’m working hard to combat. Some days it’s real and I believe it. Other days I can get distance from it and see that it’s not really true.

The good news

Thankfully, I have plenty of good days/weeks along with the bad days/weeks so this isn’t a permanent state right now. Nor is this a cry for help.

I have The Best Partner In The Known Universe (no offense to anyone else’s partners, but it’s true) so I’m safe and very well cared for. My partner and my friends just get it and quickly rip me back to reality when I kick off one of my ‘And Here’s Why Erica Sucks’ PowerPoint presentations. It doesn’t always work, but it sometimes helps to have a bunch of people yelling (nicely) at you, telling you that they like you.

I also have excellent colleagues and an excellent manager so this is not a failing of anyone at work. It’s just timing, and personal stuff, and a pandemic, capitalism, a burning planet… and what feels like a lot of processing and learning. At the moment, it’s affecting my ability to not cry during working hours.

What’s the point?

Thanks for asking! I don’t know what the point of this is, other than radical candor; some kind of explanation for why I’ve been weird, a bit avoidant, probably annoying? and quiet? lately.

The best I can hope for right now is that one other person will read this and think “huh, it’s not just me.” Or that maybe this inspires them to be radically candid about whatever they’re going through, so that together we can normalize saying “I’m not okay but I’m working on it” to each other without scrambling for quick fixes or throwing platitudes at each other.

Just… I guess this is just an FYI.

What can I do to help?

Nothing, really. Being normal is good. I’m not asking for extra patience or kindness. That’ll only make me feel more weird.


I really hope that one day I’ll be able to write an honest follow up post to this one that says “hey everyone, guess what? I’m all good now, thanks for your patience, haha all good TOTES CHILLAXIN’ BRAH” or whatever, but right now that feels like a mirage. Instead, I’m crying and writing this one.

So, yeah. I’m not okay right now, but I believe I will be. And I’m working on it.

Thanks for your patience.

**Phrases like “it is what it is” and “that’s just your opinion” are called thought terminating clichés. Platitudes, like “love conquers all,” are often used as thought terminating clichés. Both have a tendency to halt progress and growth.