One day, twenty something years ago, the doctor I was working for called me into her office to tell me my job had been deleted. Not only was I blindsided by this news but I was a bit astounded. I was office manager, working over my 40 hours most weeks. How could that position be deleted? She gave me a month’s salary and a letter of recommendation stating the conditions of my termination. I was asked to finish the day. That meant I had to suck it up, postpone crying and try to tie up loose ends.
I knew I had not done anything wrong , yet as the word circled the office, the other girls working there avoided making eye contact with me. (And because I still feel a little paranoid, I have to add that a week later, the doctor’s sister was office manager). Friends at church who knew I had lost my job never addressed the issue and talked about everything else in the world when we were together. I thought: They all think it’s my fault. I should be wearing a scarlet F – for FIRED.
A few years later I found out a lot more about downsizing. The non-profit agency I worked for was in dire straits. The announcement was made that positions would be cut. Of three in the office, one would go. I figured it was me again – the one making the highest salary would save the agency the most money. But not this time. This time it was last-in-first-out. I did not lose my job.
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief … and breathed in a heart full of guilt. I was very happy about retaining my job but I felt guilty for being happy when someone else was out of work. Just looking at her made me feel worse, so for a full day I tried to avoid her. There didn’t seem to be anything to say without mentioning the elephant in the living room so I stayed away. Then, thankfully, I remembered my own experience and how it felt to be shunned. We finally talked before she had to leave.
Now, as they say, it’s deja vu all over again. In my circle of extended family and friends, five have lost their jobs, for various reasons dealing with “budget cuts,” “downsizing,” “outsourcing,” or “the economy.” All but four have contracts to fulfill. They must go to work every day, do their job with integrity, deal with the averted eyes, the co-workers who stop talking when they enter the breakroom.
When I get the chance, I’ll tell each of them I know how it feels. Really.