Ever since Monday night, I have been dying to write about this. It is now Friday. Why have I waited so many days, you ask? Well, I had to wait until the dust settled, and I also had to figure out how I wanted to write about this. I have figured it out, and now I shall.
For the past year, I have been a waitress. Although I have worked in restaurants before, I had never been a waitress. I have washed dishes, cooked, bussed tables, and catered. But, a year ago when I moved back home to go back to school, I decided waiting tables was the best for me. I applied at every restaurant in town and one hired me – the same day I went in for my interview. As a matter of fact, I did my orientation that same night. Since then, I see how other new hires are funneled through, and I know that my circumstance was very unusual. Even more unusual – a short three months after I was hired they made me a trainer. Shortly after that, I was recognized as a candidate for a pre-management position so that I could be placed into management. All in under a year.
Although I was nervous when I first started waitressing, I quickly found my groove and then gladly accepted that leadership role to help others find their grooves, too. I have been one of the best employees at that restaurant. Not touting my own horn, of course. But I have never been late, I have never called out of a shift, I volunteer my time (read: unpaid) to pick trash up on our highways. I try to be my best and make the restaurant a better place with me in it, not a worse one. I try to temper social tension and keep things smooth – it is a difficult job that we do.
After a year of working my tail off, I was let go.
Now, I want to point out that this is in no way a piece of writing to slam my former employer, or complain about the injustice of it all, or trash The Company. I am actually at peace with what happened – which is bigger than any of this detail – and that’s what I want to write about.
Working for any corporation can be tricky. A locally owned business is run a certain way, and I have worked for many locally-owned businesses. A corporation functions differently. Some of the policies are in place to protect The Company rather than its staff, but I knew this signing on. During my orientation and training, the most important policies – the ones that will result in immediate termination if they are violated – were repeated again and again. There are only two or three, and they are important and I understand why. Then, as a trainer, I ran my own training classes where I reinforced these policies again and again. As trainers, we know what the rules are and it is our job to make sure they are followed.
Unfortunately, I violated one of these policies and as a result, I lost my job. It was a silly error – a brain fart – but the consequences are the same. In the eyes of The Company, any person that violated this policy is a potential liability, and must be removed from the equation. Although one half of me agrees that is a smart business model, the other half thinks that certain policies are not realistic for human beings – better suited for robots – but that is a different argument altogether.
When I made the mistake, on Monday, I was suspended at my boss’ dismay. I was dismayed as well – I have never been suspended before, nor have I been fired, and I was a crying mess during the whole conversation. What I did was so small, and so harmless, that I couldn’t believe this was happening. There was never any risk of anything bad happening, but at the same time, a vital standard was not followed. The Company sees this as – if this mistake was made, it would then follow that a more serious mistake along the same lines could occur later. The Company does not take into consideration the fact that I have never been late, that I work my butt off, that I pick up trash, or that I am a rock star at my job. It is very cold, and businesslike, the enforcement of these policies. That is The Company at work – no one single person or group of individuals; instead a concept and the iron fist that enforces the most important rules.
Monday night I cried and cried, and then I forgave myself for making a mistake. As human beings, we must not strive for perfection. It is through imperfection that we grow and mature, and although the process can be painful, it is a blessing. It is how we evolve and learn. Once I stopped being angry at myself, I wanted to focus all my anger on my management. I decided – briefly – that if I lost my job over this, it was because they did not respect me enough to fight for me. I imagined meeting with them and yelling about how this was wrong and unjust and disproportionate. I imagined all the things I would say and how much better I would feel. I grew tired of that way of thinking rather quickly. I soon accepted the fact that this was not only out of my control, but it was out of their control as well.
On Wednesday, I found out that my shifts for this weekend had been covered by other staff. My heart sank. Without having to be told, I already knew the outcome. I felt desolate and heartbroken. Half of the people I talked to gave me the pity look – head tilt, sad eyes – and the other half were outraged at the injustice of the situation. I merely turned that night over in my head over and over again, wondering how I could be so stupid.
I considered the irony of the fact that I was even there at all. I was not scheduled to work on Monday. I always have a class until seven in the evening. That particular day, my professor had a family emergency and cancelled class. How stranger for that to happen – the material is so intense that missing a class sets us back A LOT. It must have been something really dire for her to cancel. In addition, I got a voicemail from work wondering if I could cover someone else’s shift that night – someone who very rarely takes time off. The voicemail also mentioned that several other people were contacted for the same reason, and whoever called back first got dibs. I happened to be the one that called back first. And then I went into work – everything was going great – and then I made my silly mistake and it all went downhill from there.
I turned this sequence of events over and over in my head. What are the odds? I thought to myself. The probability that all of those things would happen – astronomically small. I (very briefly) wished I had just stayed home that night, or that class hadn’t been canceled, or that the person who needed the night off hadn’t, or that someone else had called back before I did. I railed against the universe, vehemently wishing that anything could have been different.
And then – I started paying attention.
I am the kind of person that believe that things happen for a reason. In addition to that, I believe that we are given signs and sometimes if we do not pay attention, the universe does something dramatic to get our attention. So, I silently apologized to the universe, and said Okay, you’ve got my attention.
I started to wonder if perhaps this was happening for a reason. If maybe – just maybe – something bigger than this was going on. The more I thought about it, and turned it over in my head, the more certain I became. The circumstance was so specific, so intricately designed, that it must be some part of a bigger whole.
From there, I took the time to appreciate the fact that this is not the first time I have been shown how little control I have over my destiny. It is a hard pill to swallow for a control freak such as myself, but it is true nonetheless. If nothing else is gained from this experience – it is that I have learned, once again, that I have to let go a little bit. I’m not in the driver’s seat.
So, I took a deep breath, metaphorically buckled my seat belt, and leaned back to enjoy the ride. I looked at the scenario from the same cold and detached way that The Company does, and from that point of view I understand why the consequences were so severe.
When I went in yesterday to have the official conversation with my boss, I had already spent a full day saying the words out loud: I am getting fired on Thursday”. The more I said it, the less it hurt. I didn’t want to cry again, and so I told the story again and again. I reinforced the peace I felt to others, and I defended my management to everyone. We want to believe that we can affect great change in the world, and we can, but sometimes there are things that happen no matter how much you don’t want them to. None of us wanted this – not me, not my management, and not my coworkers. Even the ones that don’t like me very much were upset. My mistake was so silly, it could have easily happened to anyone. To everyone else – this serves as a reminder that these policies have no wiggle room – even for the most hardworking.
The conversation I had with my boss was wonderful. She was running a bit late, but in the meantime I got to talk to several people and say my goodbyes. Her running late was probably also part of the cosmic design. Some of my favorite people were working that night, and we got to chat and I got to explain what happened and tell them I was okay. We are a tight group – and everyone was sad. I told them not to be sad, that there was something amazing on the horizon for me. That I felt, deep in my gut, that there was a cosmic changing of gears and I had buckled my seat belt. That it was all going to be okay.
Instead of harboring negative energy and being angry, I was able to hug every one of those managers that I have built relationships with and tell them it was okay, and that I was not angry. I was able to comfort them and tell them I knew it wasn’t their fault and I knew they tried. It was very sad and strange to think that I would not be putting on my uniform to go in for another busy set of weekend shifts, but that I would come back and visit and now we could be Facebook friends!
Even better, they did accept my immediate resignation in place of firing me. Even though they had to fire me anyway, at least this way it’s not so bad. On paper, I resigned, as opposed to being fired or let go. Ugh. Just the word “fired” makes my skin crawl. People like me don’t get fired.
In all, it has been a huge effort to see this as a blessing in disguise, and let go of what I cannot control. It has been an exercise in faith, hope, patience, understanding, and forgiveness. It is going against my type, and a seriously hard thing to do. Even this morning, when I woke up, the first thing I thought was: Oh my god, I got fired yesterday. This represents a negative neural pathway that I have used so many times that it is strong and thriving. The much weaker and newer pathway is one of understanding and patience with myself. Forgiveness and faith. Not knowing what might happen, and surrendering to that. But everything I make the conscious choice to think of it this way, I feel a little better. I hope that one day soon that is the way I think when I wake up in the morning, rather than going to an automatically negative place.