The only time in my working life that I ever had an inkling I might get myself fired was when I was in college. I was trying to make some extra dough to fund my nicotine habit and cheap drinks at our college town’s dive bars. My conscience wouldn’t allow me to utilize my parent’s money to fund those things entirely.
I took a part-time job as a telemarketer rounding up donations for the democratic party. I detested cold-calling people on the list I was provided with prior to each shift. None of them, unsurprisingly, wanted to talk to me. I stumbled over my words as my nerves got the best of me. The majority of the people I called hung up on me.
Now, my memory of all this is admittedly fuzzy, being that it happened 35 + years ago. But there came a point where I realized that I was kidding myself if I thought my employer was going to keep me on. I was not a persuasive person. I was not comfortable trying to be one. So I quit before they got a chance to fire me.
Many years later, I found myself working at a non-profit serving senior citizens in the Denver metro. I started out running the food pantry there, which was something I quickly realized I loved.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit. A new program was being started at my non-profit which aimed to address feelings of loneliness and isolation brought on by the pandemic lockdown amongst senior citizens in our county. This is when I was given a new opportunity. An opportunity to essentially helm this program and build it into something beneficial.
The agency purchased new software for the project and I was given a new title. The food pantry was going to be run by someone else. I was sad to have to give that up. The opportunity to use my social work skills (I worked as a case manager, then a certified social worker, in Wisconsin for about 15 years before that) in a bit of a new way, however, was something I was unable to resist.
I was trained on the new software by a smart, nerdy, good-natured millennial who was my favorite person at the non-profit. Her tech expertise was spread thin, however, as the ED (Executive Director, for those not familiar with non-profit lingo) had delegated a variety of projects for her to accomplish with set deadlines.
I thought I had gotten the hang of it after a few weeks. I was reaching out to seniors (cold calling on a list-perhaps a red flag I didn’t see at the time?) all day long, checking in with them to see how they were managing lockdown. Asking questions to determine what supports they had in place to manage in the day-to-day, both with practical things like grocery shopping and housekeeping, and with their anxieties about spending so much time at home alone. Determining based on their responses how our non-profit could help or what other resources were available to meet their needs.
I documented everything I was required to in the new software. When I had questions, I would call or text my millennial tech co-worker friend for answers. Sometimes it would take a while for her to respond, being that she had other projects to attend to. Or she would come over to me (they had me working off-site) when she had a little break in her day to address whatever difficulty I was having with using the software for documenting all the information I was gathering. Sometimes she would not have the answers I needed so she’d have to do some checking and get back to me. Understandable. I did the best I could each day and hoped it would all work out.
Then Hubs and I went on vacation, to visit family and friends in Minnesota and Wisconsin for a couple of weeks.
I came back to work on a Monday. I checked my emails and responded to them. I checked my documentation to refresh my brain as to where I had left things. I picked up the phone and made callbacks to the seniors I had spoken to two weeks prior.
Toward the end of that day, I got a call from my boss requesting I drive over to the office for a meeting with the ED. I assumed this was merely a “check-in” sort of deal, where I reviewed my progress and where things stood with the project and what steps needed to be taken going forward.
I drove over and walked into the building. I was greeted by my boss and the ED as they ushered me into the conference room. We sat down and exchanged pleasantries. Then the ED said something to the effect of “This is not working for us”. I asked for clarification on what that meant. She said that “unfortunately” they were going to have to let me go.
My jaw dropped to the floor. The tears started flowing. I felt sick to my stomach. Wounded. Rejected. Shocked. Utterly beside myself.
I think I actually said, “you’re kidding me”.
When I sought answers as to why this was happening, I was told that while I was on vacation, it was discovered that there were “several” errors in the electronic documentation I had completed. Addresses and names were mixed up. The ED said my co-workers had to fix the errors in my absence. I was told that the non-profit didn’t have the time to allow me to continue as they needed someone doing this job that would not make these kinds of errors. I asked if I could stay on but in a different role and I was told “no”.
I texted Hubs and simply told him I’d been fired. That I was devastated and coming home soon.
I got in my truck and bawled like a baby. I bawled all the way home and I bawled for almost 3 days straight afterward. I was humiliated. Ashamed. Embarrassed. You know, all of those lovely feelings. I couldn’t eat and I could barely sleep. I was completely beside myself. My ego was beyond bruised.
But, here’s the thing. Time is wonderful. It has such healing power.
With the emotional support of Hubs and time spent feeling my feelings, my wounds became less raw. Just a little less raw. Just enough so that I had the nerve to call another non-profit ED who I had become friends with through my job running the food pantry to see what kind of volunteer opportunities she might have for me. I knew enough about myself to know that I had to get myself back out there, doing what good I could in the world. I needed to do something productive with my time and energy.
She took me up on it and I found myself sorting through donated goods at her non-profit a few days later. It felt so good to get out of my house (and out of my head) and just do something.
She called me a couple of days later. She reminded me of her dream of having a food pantry at her non-profit; another program to offer to the low-income, unhoused, or marginally housed families and individuals they served. She asked if I was “up for” leading it. I jumped at the chance.
Together, we cleared out the backroom and painted shelves. I made connections to a major food bank to partner with. I wrote a couple of grants (something I had told my previous ED I had a keen interest in doing but never got the opportunity there) to get funding for things like freezers, refrigerators, and of course, to purchase food.
I worked there for almost two years before we moved back to Wisconsin.
The moral of this story is this: you may get fired from your job someday. Even from a job you put your “all” into. When/if this happens, take the time you need to feel all those awful feelings. Talk to people you have loving relationships with about these feelings. Cry for as long as you need to.
Then, when the tears start to dry up, think about your next move. It doesn’t have to be anything fantastical. It just needs to be something that gets you out into the world. Into the world where you can interact with others. Working with others to accomplish something. Gifting yourself the opportunity to laugh and connect with others.
Because it just may be that the shocking end was what needed to happen for a new, surprising, and enlightening experience to happen for you.