“I am SO sorry that happened to you…”
“What? That is unfair, you should fight for your job back…”
“Are you serious? Why would you get fired?”
“You? What did you do to get fired?”
“What a tragedy….”
“Are you OK?”
These are just a sampling of the sympathies I received last week. On an average, quiet Thursday afternoon, I reported to my supervisor’s office for our weekly meeting. Data report in hand, I braced myself for another hour of uncomfortable conversation and rapid note-taking into my overflowing agenda. However, something twitched in my gut, whispering that change was coming. Little did I know that my average Thursday was about to get a LOT more interesting…
Let me back up my story for contextual purposes; I am an almost twenty-four-year-old woman, a young professional, and brand new to the state I currently live in. I took my (former) job in August 2018, imagining that the role would be my platform for a wealthy, fantastical career. I hauled ass from Pennsylvania to Wilmington, North Carolina, preparing to make it “big time” as a rockstar in the sexual violence prevention field.
If only I knew that a major hurricane would wreak havoc on my sweet new town less than two weeks into my job. If only I knew that my visions for prevention and my style of workflow were utterly incompatible with my superiors. If only I knew what I did not know…
Following the hurricane, I returned to work a month behind and with three months’ worth of work ahead of me; I lost the race before the starting gun ever went off. As I hit the ground limping, my gut began tingling every morning, hinting that this job was not the right fit for me. I dismissed my instincts and trucked forth with a can-do attitude, a host of “yes pleases,” constant over-apologizing, and defining my self-worth through the eyes of my director and colleagues.
Safe to say, I was an anxious, depressed, manic mess. I lost seventeen pounds and would shake when someone called my name out in the office. My ideas were rarely accepted, so I defeatedly stepped away from the table, feeling unworthy and foolish for thinking that I belonged.
The idea of “the table” is a phrase often used by inclusive, intersectional feminists. The table is a metaphor for inviting all walks of life (primarily women-identifying, non-binary, and folks under the LGBTQIA + spectrum) to share their voice, have their dreams and experiences validated, and achieve success without taking the “seat” of another person.
As I stayed in my position, I felt unworthy of my place. Moreover, I saw fellow colleagues at the table feel threatened and fearful of losing their own spots. Thus, I fell prey to a (not so uncommon) culture of paranoia and defensiveness. The toxic culture encouraged passive aggressiveness rather than productivity, frustration instead of fulfillment, and entrapment rather than empowerment.
Seeing and experiencing firsthand the troubles the misunderstood table brought my workplace, I could not help but question how we, proud feminists, teach and lead younger generations. As much as fellow feminists and I advocate for equality, justice, and inclusivity, there are misaligned visions between feminist professionals in the workplace.
The root of why the table was misconstrued, at least in my experience, was because my colleagues and I could not coalesce and expand our visions for a better world. The culture of fear submerged collaboration, and stepping back, I know now exactly how I do not want to lead, and precisely the kinds of experiences I want to offer my future mentees.
Moving forward, I see the importance of leading with an open mind, as well as an eagerness to learn from younger generations that equally matches the passion to teach them. While I am young and certainly do not have all the answers to success in the workplace (hello, I got fired!), I do believe that women successfully leading women requires healthy boundaries, deep listening, humility, and an openness to change.
While my coworkers and colleagues were (and still are!) sweet, kind, hilarious, and full of depth, there were an endless string of boundaries and barriers that kept me from genuine connection and success in our office. I worked myself ragged and still did not check off every item on my to-do lists. When I mastered one protocol for outreach, I bumbled another for printing services. When I was instructed to be more autonomous, I was chastised for being too innovative. No matter what I did, I was doggedly stuck between a rock and a hard place.
As the weeks and months unfolded, my gut’s intuition grew stronger. Following the New Year, my heart and mind knew that I could not continue down the perfectionistic, push-over, overly-sensitive rabbit hole I had dug myself into; I needed change. I needed self-advocacy and self-determinism more than any empty, rare praise I received from my superior. Thus, I committed myself to a daily meditation practice that included visualizations of the life I wanted.
Three days into my meditations, my visualizations included leaving my job so that I may write, create, connect, and experience true freedom and flexibility. The tingly gut-feeling took over my meditations, confirming that I needed to leave my job. However, the thought of leaving my position terrified me; “what would I do? where would I go? how would I have financial stability?” While my intuition and the universe were telling me to leave, I was too fearful to act upon their guidance.
Fast forward to Thursday, January 10th. I printed out my report on the success rates of our office’s university-wide programming from 2017-2018 and added the final touches on my list of items to discuss with my director. Before I even left my desk, my boss came into my office to tell me she was ready for our meeting. She could not look me in the eye and spoke in hushed tones, and I knew in that moment that something big was about to happen.
A few minutes later, the universe gifted me with being fired. I was free. Rather than express anger or sadness, I shook her hand and happily packed up my belongings from my office. I handed over my office keys and employment ID, and I drove home blasting P!nk’s “So What” in my car.
I’ll be blunt; while I was initially elated to be set free, I felt like a failure for the first few minutes into my unemployment. I am the Columbia grad, the greatest intern my past employers ever had, the trustworthy and insightful friend, a mentor to younger women and girls, and the woman who always received honors and accolades for being a leader and strong academic; being fired felt like a slap in the face. However, I quickly realized that my former boss did me a kindness; I can now experience and work towards the life I am meant to live. By no means did I fail. Rather, I opened myself up to life’s possibilities, and in return, the universe promoted me to an untapped life of freedom, discovery, and creativity.
Funny enough, while I received a handful of notes of sorrow and empathy regarding my unemployment, I also welcomed notes of encouragement and pride. Some folks expressed how proud they were of me. Others wrote notes of enthusiasm and excitement for my new life and future. I received encouraging phone calls from my mentors and close relatives, and listening to their own stories of trial and error became my motivation to try again.
By the end of my first day of unemployment, I felt on top of the world (however, I do want to acknowledge my financial privilege and how my safety net of finances gives me access to more time to search for my next job). I recognize that my experience of being fired is rare and highly unique. However, for anyone who either fears unemployment or was recently fired, here are a few steps I recommend for alleviating your anxieties:
This is a time in your life when you can BE whoever you want to be! Without being tied to the label of your job, you can reinvent yourself and create the career you’ve truly wanted.
While I am enjoying the extra sleep and time with my puppy, I recognize that this cannot be my permanent reality. I am giving myself a month to visit my family, travel on my birthday, and then hunker down and apply for a new job. Come February, I am polishing up my resume, crafting new cover letters, and scheduling out interviews. Additionally, I am keeping myself on a consistent schedule; wake up around 7:30am, take my pup out and feed her, clean up the apartment, run to the bank, and finish various and sundry errands.
Since being unemployed, I’ve taken time to collect a series of free webinars and $10 online courses for social media marketing, photography, self-help, and so much more. My time is precious, and I want to take advantage of this month to learn and grow my interests and skillsets.
Do not take being fired to heart. Do not use being fired as an excuse to give up on your life and dreams. This is a season of tests and resilience. This is a time to show up for yourself and to prove how strong you are.
I am thrilled about the endless possibilities at my fingertips. I am excited for what is to come. My heart and spirit are ready for the next phase of this messy, sweet story.
Thanks for the promotion, Life. I promise I will not let you down.