How to to deal with villains at work (and life) and thrive

Antoinette “Bonnie” Candia-Bailey, PhD was a gentle soul who took her own life on January 8, 2024. She was an experienced professional, beloved educator, and the vice president of student affairs at Lincoln University of Missouri when she killed herself. She accused the university president John B. Moseley of “micromanagement, inconsistency and arrogance” in a letter addressed to him and sent to friends, family, and alumni of Lincoln University, according to a report.

The details surrounding Candia-Bailey’s suicide are heartbreaking. She was betrayed and failed by a system not built to see or hear her distress. 

Candia-Bailey’s suicide teaches us that workplace villains can cost us our purpose and our lives. However, with a shift in perspective and mindset, these workplace villains can offer valuable lessons that could inoculate our souls from the impacts of their actions. 

As we grieve her loss and tackle the systemic realities of workplace misogyny, it is equally important to understand that we cannot just rely on others or on external solutions steeped in ancestral patterns to ensure our safety and well-being at work. 

Protecting ourselves means becoming conscious of our inner realms and inner resources, as it can literally mean the difference between life and death. Our awareness can function as a spell breaker, healing and empowering us by transforming our experiences into knowledge that will serve our growth, development, and freedom. 

Although we cannot change what is, or what other others do, we can free ourselves from the negative bonds caused by our interactions with our villains, especially at work where we spend so much of our lives.

Wayne Dyer wrote:

“Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much larger. Some are villains and others are good guys. But all of them are necessary; otherwise, they wouldn’t be in the play.”  

Our villains may exist to teach us valuable lessons. With the help of these three rituals, we can interact with our workplace villains from a beneficial perspective, and gain insight that will allow us to level up and protect ourselves from harm.

See yourself

You are learning to see yourself in a mirror of reflection as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece of a divine creator. You are already worthy of your self-discovery. The purpose of seeing yourself is to keep you connected to your soul: your intentions, your gifts to share, and your impact on the world. 

This awareness of who you are at the core of your being will help you to in the words of Bob Marley “emancipate yourself from mental slavery” and give you the choice to transcend any categories that may have been defined for you by others. 

You are more than your job, gender, age, religion, sexuality, race, nationality, or political affiliation. There is no one quite like you, and there never will be. You are an inherent life force on this planet here for a limited amount of time to express your aliveness and accomplish what matters most to you. 

Ponder these questions for a moment: 

  • What are my intentions?
  • How do I intend to use my human experience?
  • What are my gifts to share?
  • Who benefits from my gifts?
  • Who could benefit from my gifts?

You may be thinking “But I don’t know my gifts, my intentions, or even where to start.” Congratulations. Being aware of how little you know about yourself is a sign that you are becoming aware of yourself. 

Regardless of how you approach it, exploring your innate strengths and authentic qualities can help you discover, appreciate, and cultivate them as your gifts or superpowers. Also, here’s where you can recognize who benefits from your presence.

Your intentions are ongoing signals of what matters most to you. Having both short- and long-term intentions will motivate your decisions and give you discernment when dealing with others. 

Intentions vary from person to person and can change from moment to moment, day to day, or year to year. The bottom line is that your outside world reflects your inner states, so this ritual of checking in with yourself is crucial for dealing with your villains.  

Seeing yourself is a continuous practice that will keep you in touch with your inner self (soul) and help you to make informed, aligned choices about who and what will best serve your journey and your well-being.  

Accept your villain

Accepting your villain is not about confronting, challenging, or changing your villain. It is about observing and acknowledging how others make you feel as information for your development.

Your villains may exist for a variety of reasons, or for no apparent reason at all. An organization or system can act as a villain. You may even be your own villain. Accepting your villain is not about pointing fingers or judging everyone or yourself; rather, it is about cultivating your deeper discernment around whom you choose to surround yourself with. 

The process of accepting your villains requires that you notice and accept if another person’s behaviors and actions harm you (emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically, or otherwise). You know best whether you’re valued or exploited, supported, or mistreated. 

The most important part of this step is that you must be truthful with yourself about the reality of your relationships and their impact on your well-being.

Accepting your villains exactly as they are instead of how they “ought” to be allows the reality of your experiences to inform your journey regardless of whether your villain is your boss, partner, colleague, corporation, a system, or anything in between.  

This ritual enhances your awareness of yourself and of others. Instead of distorting the reality of any aspects of your relationships that may not serve your well-being, you pay attention to what is with intention to best inform your next steps. 

Maya Angelou guided us well when she said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” In this same essence, accepting your villains as villains can help you to protect your well-being and foster healthier connections. Here, you are empowered to move with your eyes open (with deliberate intent) towards your villains, or not. The choice is yours.   

Free yourself

In Buddhist symbolism, a closed lotus flower symbolizes the beginning of your journey, a partly open flower symbolizes your growth during your journey, and a fully blossomed flower represents your fulfillment at the end of your life.

You too are this one of a kind expression of life, gifted with a limited amount of time on this planet for your existence. Just as a lotus flower can remain closed until the end of its journey and never fully blossom, you too can remain stuck in energies, patterns, and relationships that suffocate your soul and put you out of alignment with your divine right to be free and to grow—even at work.

Try this:

Reflect on a time you interacted with your villain and write down: 

  1. From this experience, what did I learn about myself?
  2. From this experience, what did I learn about my villain?
  3. How will I apply these lessons?

There is no right or wrong way to check in with yourself. Freeing oneself is not a onetime event; it is a continuous process that will protect you and help you to build your inner strength and resilience. The more you turn your experiences with your villains into insights for your growth, the more you step out of old thought patterns and step into all the possibilities of you.

While we mourn and learn from the tragic loss of Antoinette Candia-Bailey, let us not miss an important lesson she shared in the hours before she took her life: “I hope this message touches someone. If your soul is empty, troubled, in despair, and you see red flags, leave. Don’t try to stick around. My soul can now rest.”

It is easy to ignore the subtle signals we receive, take them for granted, or not recognize them until, like wandering into a rabbit hole, it is too late or too hard to reverse. As with sparkling breadcrumbs in the rabbit hole, learning from your experiences will guide you to free yourself.

When your perspective changes, your reality changes. By looking at every experience, both “good” and “bad,” through the lens of “What can I learn from this experience?” you liberate your evolving soul from the despair of dealing with your villains and you open (free) yourself up to grow.  

Choosing freedom means taking steps, no matter how small, that better align you with your intentions, well being and purposeful existence. Through these rituals, you become aware that you have the power to choose how you respond to any experience, and that you can choose freedom. 

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