“We’ve decided to let you go.”
I used to believe getting fired was exclusive to people who were lazy, incompetent, rude, or simply bad at their job. I believed there was always a way to prevent it, because the world is just and surely an employer would be invested enough to make sure the employee could correct any mistakes or wrongful behavior, if the above were somehow not true. I believed it would and frankly could never happen to me.
And then it did.
October 2018, in the same week that I was told I was the top quality scorer of September in my sector, and on the very same day that I was upgraded to the much better parking lot available, my manager messaged me during my lunch break to come to the HR office, where I was subsequently let go.
Naturally, I was shell-shocked. My body and mind went numb as I stared at my manager while she listed off excuses and words that went in one ear and out the other. They cited attendance points, which made no sense to me given the fact their policy gave a chart specifying amounts, the levels of warnings you’d receive at each tier, and the fact that I’d received none of the verbal, written, or emailed warnings mentioned above. I’d asked my direct supervisor only days before how many points I had accrued (as that was the only way to access the information given employees have no way of tracking themt ourselves), and she’d assured me I had fewer than the lowest disciplinary tier required.
Of course, none of these things came to mind in the moment. I could only bite my lip until it bled and nod as the numbness spread. The one thing I held onto while my old manager stared at her computer screen and the HR representative smiled benignly was this: I would not cry. Not for them, not over this. Only one more thought popped into my head while they sent someone to collect my things from my desk and went through my bag to find any company-related materials. I blurted out that I had my working novel manuscript and other documents on the company computer, and asked that I be allowed to take it off before they took the computer and wiped it.
Numbness carried me through the awkward minutes of trying to transfer documents with shaking hands. Once I finally managed to figure out Google drive and how to upload things, I was escorted out of the building and sent down the road to retrieve my car—only to have to drive it back and deposit my brand new parking pass in a lovely twist of irony.
And that was that. Lots of fake smiles and sympathy, lots of awkward glances away. Lots of blurry eyes and trying not to cry and breaths that completely disappeared until I pulled off the side of the road and fought through a panic attack as the tentative future I’d built for myself came crashing down around me.
Let’s pause for just a second to talk about the why.
I wish I could say the real reason why my old company let me go. I say ‘my old company’ rather than the corporation’s actual name out of respect, despite the fact they treated me with so little respect in the end it’s almost laughable. I was advised to take legal action by no fewer than ten people based on their excuse and the circumstances surrounding the firing, but after a lot of thought, I decided against. We live in Alabama where you can fire without cause. If I was able to prove that it was wrongful termination, it wouldn’t really change anything. Besides, they’d immediately cut me off from any access I had to messages, emails, and any communication in my accounts that could provide evidence or backing.
That aside, my favorite kind of question to ask is why. Why? Why fire me, out of all the employees there, when I know my value as an employee and have had it confirmed time and again by various levels of management?
In ten months of working for the company’s communication center, I never slacked or slipped. My scores (quality and number of interactions per hour) started high and remained high throughout my time there. It’s a company that demands a lot of its employees, especially those on the bottom tier, and according to every review and report, I met and exceeded those demands. My only critique during my first quarterly review was that I occasionally talked too fast on the phone.
More and more in those last months, I was asked to help train the new recruits, was observed by visiting company representatives from the other branch as an example of our services, was asked to contribute to various issues tech was working on, and in addition to this several of my ideas were used to restructure the way we trained new employees and provided services with other companies. I rest confident in the fact that there was nothing I could have done better or differently, and if attendance was truly the issue, that I had no warning as per their policy in order to correct the behavior and was given the wrong information about the points, using the only avenue at my disposal.
I sent a long, detailed email after being let go, listing the above along with other information, and ended it with a few questions. I asked about the company policies, about my firing, and asked my HR representative to please consider the requests and statements I’d made, to pass them along to the appropriate parties, and that I expected a response.
The only response I received came from the HR rep two days later. It was two lines, beginning with “Hey there!” and ending with “Best, HR.”
Where did I go from there?
I drove to my sister’s brand new shop, walked right to the back room where there’s a tiny hidden sofa, and whispered, “I just got fired.” And I broke down. Hard.
It’s difficult to go back and try to relive that moment in my head, or that completely awful day. Kaitlin immediately wrapped me up in her arms, kissed the top of my head, and supplied me with delicious chocolate while I wailed about the injustice in the world. In her dear, loving way, she bought me an original art piece from a scientific illustrator we’d both been Instagram stalking in hopes of inspiring me. Even so, I was a high-powered locomotive completely without tracks, and I had no idea where to direct myself from there without my 1-2 year corporate plan ahead of me.
The coming days were full of deep uncertainty, full-fledged insecurity, the pain of rejection, and a loss of something I…had never really wanted but had grown important to me over the months. I will say that I am lucky enough to live in a close-knit family that would have let me live and eat without the fear of being turned out to the streets as many others in a similar position may face. Even so, I felt small. So, very small and untouchable.
I came out knowing two things. Never again did I want to work for a big, corporate company no matter how flashy the perks. And never again would I have to sit for thirty minutes, listening to a middle-aged lady in the suburbs screaming at me about how her avocados were not as ripe as she’d wished.
I’ll never miss that.
It didn’t take long to reap the benefits of no longer working for said company. Yes, I was temporarily jobless and afraid, but I was able to rest a soul that had become weary and hardened by the petty, angry, relentless complaints of upper middle class America.
My mind which I once loved exploring was suddenly allowed to empty itself of polished speeches about pricing markups and to once again wander corridors full of dreamy imaginings. I let myself dream of a career path that wanders the same odd path my feet have always followed, one in which I’m the stone mason, the bricklayer, the gardener and the gatekeeper all at once. It’s not easy, it may not be lucrative for a long while, but it’s full of unbridled passion and wild joy marked on either side by thickets of wildflowers.
I’m walking that path currently. I get to play the Mary Poppins to a sweet little child every day, I’m dating the most wonderful man, cooking and baking beautiful things, luxuriating in reading books and poetry, and writing daily, be it silly asides or instagram posts or the novel that will come along in its time. My nails are dirty from having to pull the occasional weed or fix a cracked stone, yet I carry on with wind in my hair and a smile on my face.
They let me go, sure. But now I’m letting go. There’s no shame, guilt, or sorrow. I did that mostly miserable job to the best of my abilities and gave it so much of my inner light that I felt full of shadows for months and months. No more. I hope, if you’re reading this and you’ve recently lost your job, that you see a light at the end of the tunnel. And if you’re in a job or career you hate, please remember that this is the only life you get. Live it to the fullest.