Not many people talk about getting fired from a job. It is a demoralizing experience which is often outside of your control. That, and you never want to get caught saying untoward things about your former employer (no matter how true they are). It is no wonder people stay silent – especially when they are in the midst of the process.
I’ve been getting fired for six months, from a job I excelled at while working with a company I’ve been with for four years. I’m not sure how the separation process started. I got sick. Really sick. In and out of the hospital sick.
When I returned to work a week after I fell ill I learned that a) my job had been posted and b) interviews had already taken place. I didn’t understand what had gone so wrong that I needed to be replaced. I couldn’t think of one thing that had happened in the prior six months, other than my occasionally struggling with a rapidly increasing workload, which I had been proactively addressing. I couldn’t bring myself to ask why because I wasn’t supposed to know my job was on the line. Worse, I knew that some of my coworkers were aware that my boss was planning on letting me go.
My heart was broken.
I apologized to my employer for being sick.
I apologized profusely to my employer for being sick.
I scrambled to complete work that hadn’t been done while I was out. I worked late, weekends, through lunch, everything I could do to just get one more thing done. Nobody said a word to me about my performance or being sick. If they noticed how hard I was working, I didn’t hear of it.
Every day, I went into work wondering if it would be my last day. I cleaned up loose ends, made extensive notes on my files, and tidied my desk so my replacement wouldn’t be left with a mess. I woke up mentally checking the calendar to see whether the two people most likely to deliver the news would be in the office. I worked hard, remained pleasant, and kept my chin up for eight hours a day, and returned home crumpled and drained.
I began preparing for what the holidays would look like if I lost my job. I put off shopping for gifts just in case. I kept my smile on and refused to let the clouds follow me home. At least I tried to.
I got a fantastic holiday bonus. My boss said lots of nice things about me to our new employees at the Christmas party. I was the “best ever” and “really smart” and “knew my stuff” and was a great resource for anyone who needed help.
Instead of feeling like I had survived a tsunami, I felt sad that someone who had given me a glowing endorsement and joked with me during the day couldn’t also be open with me about why he had interviewed people to replace me just a few weeks earlier.
I dragged myself into work when I should have been at home resting. I worked before work when I should have slept in a little longer. I worked on weekends when I should have been paying attention to my family and recuperating. I worked and worked and worked.
While all of this was happening, one of my children was diagnosed with ADHD. His struggles at school became overwhelming for him, for his teachers, for all of us, and he was suspended from school for a week while we worked out a solution.
I worked from home that week, sick, brokenhearted by my son’s struggles and trying to find help for him, and terrified that even though I was giving my all and working even more hours at home than I would have done in the office, it still wasn’t going to be enough to save my job. I requested family leave and offered to work from home while on leave to minimize the impact my life might have on the company’s ability to get work done. My request for family leave was ignored.
And I ignored my son to save my job.
I ignored my son to save my job.
Not a proud mama moment when I realized that.
I didn’t start looking for a new job because I was terrified that my health issues would prevent me from keeping it. I kept hoping that if I just worked hard enough they would see my value and commitment to the company, and that a few years from now we could all look back on this at a Christmas party and laugh: Remember that time you almost made a huge mistake by firing me because I have a body and a child? I’m so grateful that you chose to support me and look at all we’ve accomplished since then!
My health issues got worse. I was terrified that there was something really very wrong because my body was attacking me from every direction and nobody could pinpoint the cause. I put off doctors’ visits and tests because I didn’t want to miss work. I kept putting them off, for months, until I was too sick to put off appointments any longer.
I put my health on a backburner despite never having been told that my employer was unhappy with my performance or attendance. Not one peep in six months.
My job had become an abusive partner.
I worked hard, I remained positive, I ignored my own needs as a human being, but still…no matter what I did I knew the bruises would come and they would be painful. And even if things did smooth over again, the fear of being fired for going to a doctor’s appointment was always there. I never knew which landmine I might step in.
Through my actions I was choosing to stay in that relationship.
I had a lonnnnng think about where I was and how I was going to manage. My body was broken. My heart was broken. My marriage was breaking under the strain. My life was broken. I could not be a willing participant in this relationship any longer. Would not.
Test result after test result pointed to physical ailments caused by stress. My chronic dizziness, headaches, and nerve damage were TMJ dysfunction. My heart palpitations and light-headedness, which sometimes lasted for as long as a week: mitral valve prolapse which can become symptomatic when you are under stress. Achy knees and muscle spasms and tummy troubles: I haven’t been eating properly or going to the gym do you know why? Yeah. Stress. Too drained to leave the sofa when I got home from work.
So I started making choices. Rather than running every choice I made through the filter of “will my employer be inconvenienced by this?” I created some rules which were in alignment with my values:
- Doctor appointments, tests, and follow ups will be scheduled in a way that is as minimally impactful on work as possible, but they will be scheduled.
- School meetings and other appointments needed to help my son will be scheduled in a way that is as minimally impactful on work as possible, but they will be scheduled.
- If I am sick, I do not work from home – I rest. If my son needs my attention, I do not work. I have plenty of paid time off and am a salaried employee, and I will use the benefits I negotiated for and my employer agreed to rather than work out of fear of being buried in assignments.
- It doesn’t matter how many hours I work, there is more work that needs to be done, and it will be there tomorrow.
- It is WAY past time to find a new job.
A CRAZY thing happened when I started bringing my actions into alignment with what I believe at my core are the most important things – family and health. All of the physical ailments that had been plaguing me: GONE. Literally overnight. One day I woke up and felt fine.
Nothing about my circumstances changed.
Except my thoughts.
I released myself.
They are interviewing for my position again. This time, I feel fine about it. I’m sure I’ll find a new workplace to call home before I lose my job, but if I don’t it will be ok.
Have you ever been fired and known about it ahead of time? What did you do?
If you think you are about to get fired, here are some helpful articles:
Try approaching your employer to resolve the issue or, alternatively, work together to plan a transition that works for both you and your employer.
Look at getting fired as an opportunity, and start working on your next great thing.
Practial suggestions – get on top of your finances, ensure you have copies of your contacts and work samples, and start taking those tchotchkes home.