It seemed as if I had finally made it. I had a management job at a growing company. This included my own office, a very nice desk, travel, a corporate credit card, a good salary, and an assistant. I worked directly with the company’s executives to generate policies and increase sales. I worked hard and my contributions were recognized.
The scenario I was living was one that I was supposed to want. I had always thought that you got a job in a particular field, then you worked hard, climbed the ladder, and eventually “made it.” Even though I didn’t know what “making it” actually meant, I thought it was the way things worked. This was the path to success.
It’s in my nature to do the things I think I am supposed to do, so even though I wasn’t particularly enthralled by this scenario, I kept at it. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t fully happy with the situation, but I stuck with it. I put in a lot of hours and did the best I could, but began to feel more and more dissatisfied.
My work situation was full of personalities I didn’t take to. Types of people who liked to bulldoze other’s opinions and scapegoat other people when things went wrong. People who seemed to enjoy putting each other down, yelling, and cursing at each other. This is not at all my personality type and I started to realize that if I wanted to fit in, I needed to become more like this. I gave it a whirl, but it made me feel dirty.
My boss, who was the CEO, saw that my personality was fitting in less and less with the company’s corporate culture. I was still working hard, but he thought this wasn’t enough. To remedy this, he enrolled me in a Dale Carnegie training course for effective communication. Every Wednesday night for four months, I would spend three and a half hours learning how to interact more effectively with personalities unlike mine.
At first, I was into this idea. I had heard great things about the Dale Carnegie systems and looked forward to learning how to better deal with the people at work. I still felt positive when I started going to the class. The course focused on professional confidence and public speaking both things I could use help with.
The more classes I attended, the more I realized that to efficiently apply the principles I was learning, you truly had to care about your profession and want to be great at it. This made me think about my attitude about my job and toward work in general. It became clear to me that I worked hard because it was expected. It was what I was supposed to do. However, it wasn’t what I wanted to do. The Dale Carnegie class that was supposed to give me confidence in my job made me feel more and more distant from it.
I earned my Dale Carnegie certification and tried to make things better at work. This seemed to do the trick for a while. I knew I was mentally in trouble though when I received an email from my company’s VP of Sales. It was an email to my boss with me cc’d, telling my boss what a great job the VP thought I was doing. It was a highly flattering email. The VP was a particularly difficult person to please; I should have been thrilled. Instead I felt like a fraud. The job didn’t have my heart. I was fooling everyone around me into thinking I was into it and truly cared.
It was around this time that the company started to do very poorly. Things hadn’t been going well for a while and revenue started rapidly declining. People in a satellite office started to get laid off. A couple of people in my office were laid off. Our HR woman confided in me that the company was having trouble paying its rent.
Even though I didn’t like my job and didn’t want to assimilate into the culture of my workplace, I still didn’t want to lose my job. The CEO told me I had nothing to worry about. The founder of the company shook my hand and told me I would be the last to go. I felt that I had a handle on my job security.
Things continued on. The company’s lack of funds became a joke. They were living on credit and having trouble keeping our health insurance premiums paid. Large sale after large sale slipped away, but we kept going.
One morning in October, there was a board meeting. Mid-session, my boss slipped out of the meeting and into my office. He shut the door and said, “the board meeting went really bad. We’re going to have to let you go.”
I was told that I would work for the next two weeks, then get two weeks salary as my severance package. Through my veil of shock, I got my boss to throw on the company’s laptop that I’d been using for the last couple of years. Although I didn’t need the laptop, I wanted to walk out with whatever I could.
The two weeks that followed were some of the slowest (and lowest) of my life. The founder of the company refused to acknowledge me. I was supposed to spend my time wrapping up my work, but didn’t care anymore. Every morning, I would wake up and do a mental countdown, followed by an internal pep talk, “Eight more days, you can do it!” The time crept by.
On the next to last day of my employment, I decided that there should be a going-away lunch with my coworkers. I had been to other lunches of this sort where the company had picked up the tab. I told the HR woman that I’d like to have a lunch and that I would like to put it on my corporate card. She shot me down and said that I couldn’t put it on the card and that it was inappropriate for me to ask. I didn’t think this was a big deal and proceeded to plan the lunch anyway, intending for the attendees to pay for their meals.
The HR woman got all riled up and flew into a VP’s office. She told the VP that I was running around the office, waving my credit card in the air, and proclaiming that the company was buying us all lunch the next day. Rumors started to fly and my boss got word of this. He came into my office and took away my corporate card. I felt like some sort of criminal. The company had taken away my job and my little remaining dignity was quickly following.
It was that same day that I was called into a meeting with my boss and the VP. They wanted to know why I was cleaning out my office. When I told them I was preparing for my last day, they informed me that I was supposed to work for another two weeks. My boss denied ever saying I would work for two weeks, then get two weeks severance. I didn’t have anything in writing to back up this conversation. Not being able to hold things in check anymore, I cried in the meeting and told them I could not work for another two weeks. I felt completely degraded by the company I had worked so hard for. My severance package, which was meager to begin with, was taken away. I was told I had “misunderstood the initial layoff conversation.”
This was the lowest of my low at the company. I was labeled as a criminal, misled, and outright lied to. I was walking away from my job with nothing but a laptop I didn’t need. No severance, no nothing. I had a month of health insurance left and felt lost and confused. On my last day, I felt numb inside, then quietly walked away. The only triumph I took with me was not losing myself and becoming one of them.