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Every day I'd dress up in my business casual outfit, make coffee and head to my car to keep up appearances. From the outside, it appeared I was going to work along with the rest of the commuting masses. But the reality was I had been fired from my new job and I was too embarrassed to tell anyone. My plan, which seemed brilliant to me at the time, was to continue to behave as if I had a job until I found a new one. I didn't want to let anyone know I had failed.
I had been a rising star at my old company when I resigned to take a promotion somewhere else. I was lured by a better title and perception of increased responsibility. I believed I deserved these things and wasn’t getting enough recognition at my current job. I was a hard worker and aggressive in hitting my goals but I was also incapable of receiving feedback that wasn’t full of praise. I couldn’t accept my own weaknesses or address them because I needed so desperately to be the best. My whole identity was crafted around being an overachiever at college and then at work. Beyond my success, I didn’t really have anything else.
I interviewed at the new company during a particularly caustic period in my job. I had become wrapped up in a emotional affair with my boss and was desperate to leave in order to move on from him. The new company told me I was a superstar and offered me a healthy increase in money and title. I took the job to get away from my old boss and to catapult my career.
I knew on the first day of my new job that I had made a mistake. My new boss, who had seemed friendly and warm during the interview process, became a different woman after I signed the offer letter. She told me not to engage with my peers in the California office (she was located in DC) because she was planning on firing all of them. She instructed me not to give my direct employee any work because she couldn’t be trusted either. People at the site came up to me and told me how much they didn’t trust my boss and mentioned that she would call them in the morning to check in on what time I had arrived at work. I was under the microscope of a woman who seemed halfway insane. I told myself I’d stay in the job for one year before I looked for something else.
I only had to wait a month before my new boss decided to take matters into her own hands. She walked into my office on a Monday morning, an unexpected move since she worked in DC. She explained that she had determined that I wasn’t a match for the job and that this was going to be my last day. I started to argue with her and ask for details until it occurred to me that there was no going back on this decision.
I asked her “So this is done, right? You’ve already made your decision?”
She nodded her head in agreement. My immediate reaction was shame. She would have to walk me out of the door to my car as I went past my new coworkers; there’s a tension and look of disbelief on someone’s face when they’ve been fired and I knew I would be incapable of hiding it. As my boss walked me to my car at the back of the building my eyes scanned the hallways to anticipate bumping into anyone. There’s nothing worse than having others watch you at your most humiliated. When I got to my car I still hadn’t quite comprehended what had happened. I drove home and sat on my couch. I, the girl who had never so much as gotten a B- in a blow-off class, was now unemployed.
I wouldn’t say my plan to lie to my friends was conscious. I decided on the first day not to tell anyone immediately and I couldn’t force myself to come clean in the weeks that followed. My next door neighbor was a good friend who worked from home frequently. I didn’t want to admit to myself what had happened, let alone to her. So, I would get dressed in the morning and get in my car to “go to work.” I would go to the gym and then spend the afternoon at a book store.
I tried to tell myself this was an opportunity for some much needed R&R. But I was paranoid that I’d never find employment again and I had to carry the stress of living a double life. I would go to dinner with my friends who would ask how the new job was coming along, I’d give a vague answer and change the subject.
My molotov cocktail of embarrassment and anger came bubbling to the surface on a bar crawl in Hermosa Beach. I was out on the pier with friends, drinking too many margaritas to forget about what was going on with my life. As we left one dive bar to go to another, I started sobbing in the street. My friend Matt, who I wasn’t particularly close to, took notice and asked me what was wrong.
“I got fired Matt,” I told him. “I’m out of a job.”
To my disbelief he didn’t judge me for it and seemed genuinely concerned with how sad I was. He walked me back to my apartment and said that he wouldn’t tell anyone else if I didn’t want him to. The next day I woke up, exhausted and hungover without an energy to carry on the charade.
As I told friends, they were shocked. Not because I hadn’t lived up to my own unrealistic expectations, but that I hadn’t confided in them. I had been the friend who listened to their problems patiently, always willing to give support and advice but I had never let down my guard and shown them who I was.
The truth is that getting fired forced me to be honest with myself about what was going on in my life. Without a job or career achievements to identify with, I had to confront the real me. I was a woman with messed-up coping methods and a destructive perfectionist streak. With the help of my friends who offered support, bottles of red wine, and encouragement, I found out that I liked myself as the imperfect girl that I really was.
A few months later I was hired into a new role where I worked under the tutelage of a very generous and kind boss. He was witty and smart and took me under his wing. That I had taken a risky career move and gotten fired didn’t matter to him. And eventually I decided that it also didn’t matter to me.