I got fired yesterday. Naturally, they didn’t use those words; instead, I was reassured I was not terminated from the company per se, just from the job I currently held, that I had the option to work another job within the company for about half the pay. This action floored me because I had never received any kind of disciplinary action or at this job, or even had a conversation about how I could improve my performance. As far as I could tell from sales numbers and the results of a recent inventory, the store was performing up to par without major losses; I had never stolen from the store and did not have any attendance issues.
To add insult to injury, this was a position I had held for less than two months, a job I started a mere two weeks prior to the store opening, two weeks in which to get the store completely staffed, set up, receive training on all company procedures, bookkeeping and store process. I had thrown an immense amount of time and energy into learning what I could in the time I had; to hiring the best people I could, to running and arranging the store as best I knew how. In spite of this, it was still apparently not good enough.
Not good enough. It is a phrase that has haunted me for years, a fear that lives and thrives constantly below the surface, that terror that I will do my best, only to find it inadequate. Of course this situation brings with it concrete problems; after all, I have a family, a mortgage and a budget, all of which depend on my bringing income in, but this isn’t what keeps me up at night and brings angry tears to my eyes. It is being able to honestly examine my actions, my performance, my behavior, and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt I had done the best I can. I think on some level I had wanted to find a major flaw in my performance or attitude, a recognition that I had not really put my all into this, when in reality this experience had from beginning to end stretched me to my mental and physical capacity.
Knowing I had done my best, worked hard and been honest and seeing that this has still proven inadequate scared the shit out of me. It meant I was more than I realized subject to forces beyond my command and my abilities. I had long ago accepted this in personal relationships (you can’t make someone like you), your health (you can still fall ill in spite of best efforts to stay healthy) and the weather (I do live in Ohio), but I expected a certain level of logic in the workforce. After years of working, I had seen people go from verbal warning to written warning to probation to termination. There was some safety in this, an opportunity to correct behavior or to realize it was time to look elsewhere because you were not able to meet expectations, unreasonable or otherwise.
As I sat looking at the poor woman the decision makers had sent to deliver their news, as I pressed her for their reasoning and received only vague answers, such as they “just wanted something different” , someone with a “firmer hand.” I heard they had someone in mind and the reality of the situation hit me. This is not about me. This is about a young company not yet governed by conventional human resource’s standards, about owners still basing their decisions on how they feel about certain types of people who are outside their comfort zone. I recalled their hesitancy at moving people of certain races and sexual orientations into positions of leadership, their displeasure at my decision to staff my store with people who had lived and worked in the nearby urban area most of their lives and not source the surrounding suburban areas for employees. I have heard their consternation with music that is not classic or soft rock played in their stores and watched them give certain people second chance after second chance and give others the boot without much warning. I could see patterns and determining factors in the faces and demeanors of who stayed and who went.
In that moment I was able to feel strangely grateful I did not fit in this mold; it’s like when someone calls you crazy and you’re glad you aren’t their version of sane. In spite of all their money and power, I knew something they didn’t. Through this experience, I had been placed seriously out of my comfort zone and had learned to interact with a demographic I had little experience with. I had learned what I had always suspected; that people are just people, that we are all driven by the same basic needs and desires. I had my ability to stay compassionate challenged and while I was tempted at times to use a “firmer hand” (i.e., keep the “undesirables” in their place), I stayed true to myself. I met people controlled completely by substances try to scam the store because for some reason, that seemed like the only way to meet their needs. I also met and hired some of the most honest and hardworking women I have ever had the privilege to be around, single moms who lived and breathed their children’s well-being.
Despite this moment of clarity, the rejection still stung and the anger was still there along with the desire to write a long nasty letter criticizing everything from their silver spoon, house-on-the-hill mentality to the middle school gossip ring they depending on to make their decisions. I chose instead to have faith and look forward. One of the biggest gifts of faith is perspective: knowing and believing that though something hurts now, it won’t hurt forever, remembering that you survived and been brought through worse, and truly hoping that this speed bump will be a stepping stool to something better. It’s realizing that even if that speed bump is not a stepping stool but instead causes you to stumble and fall further, you’ll survive that too. It’s knowing I have skills and abilities and personality traits that are worth something and seeking people and situations that recognize and appreciate that because I believe they’re out there. I really do.