It was a year ago, November 2020, when I walked into his office for the last time. He was at his desk, face trained on the screen before him, eyes red-rimmed. He looked tired. Deflated. Weak. I set the box of files on the chair across from him. The same chair that I’d occupied countless times for countless conversations, both business and personal. “Peace out,” I offered awkwardly, unsure of exactly what to say to convey to him everything I wanted to say in that moment. I valued your mentorship. I looked at you like a father figure, someone to be trusted, someone whose advice I often sought. I’ve been unhappy here for YEARS but always stayed out of loyalty to you, to what you’ve built. I had such respect for you, despite it all. He glanced up briefly and was already turning his attention back to his computer screen before he finished exhaling, “Thank you, Sierra.” I lingered in the doorway for a moment, thinking he might say something more. When he didn’t, I slipped out quietly. Disappointed. Hurt. Angry. Regretful.
Having left his office for the last time, no closure to be had, I walked down the hall to my office. Or rather, the office that until just hours prior had been mine for the past almost 15 years. It was there that I was watched as I cleared out my work area. Watched, as though I was inherently untrustworthy. I had no chance to remove personal documents from my computer, no opportunity to save the contacts I had curated over the years, no ability to send a farewell message to the clients with whom I’d built relationships. I packed my personal items into the box I was provided. I asked permission to take a few items I had acquired from the company, including a book. I remember the conference I had received it at. The author was the keynote speaker and was a delight to speak with during the cocktail hour at the end of the day. The company had paid for the trip and the conference. But that book, those memories, all the experiences…they were all mine.
I left my old office that night with 15 years worth of stress packed into one cardboard box, feeling like my life was over. Why? Because I had believed him all those years. You’d hate corporate life. All those lies he’d told me. Everyone is replaceable. I’d fallen for all of them, hook, line, and sinker. You’ve got it good here. I had believed him because why shouldn’t I? He was there to congratulate me on my engagement in 2005 and hug me at my mom’s wake in 2006. He attended my wedding in 2008 and patted my back encouragingly when I announced my pregnancy in 2012. He’d quelled my anxiety more times than I could count throughout the recession. We’d talked business and life, about past experiences and future goals. He taught me lots. And I believed him.
So when I found myself jobless, without warning, the company having been sold and the new owner having decided to manage it himself, I vowed to give myself a break. Lick my wounds. Consider my next move. And in November 2020, with my daughter’s school fighting to maintain a “hybrid” schedule mid-pandemic, my first move was to regroup. To be fully committed to supporting her distance learning instead of half-assing the oversight of her education between work calls and work emails and various other work things that, in the end, didn’t deserve a modicum of my attention. I did that. And I fought to keep myself here, rather than letting what was left of me just fade away into nothingness. I half-heartedly browsed job openings in the beginning, still hearing echoes in the back of my head of him, convincing me that there was no other job out there for me. I began applying, anyway. Slowly. Just enough to have satisfied the “job hunt” requirements.
And then around late February 2021, things changed ever so slightly. We seemed to have turned a corner in the pandemic, at least locally. School was back to a fuller in-person schedule than we’d seen in a year and despite all those nagging voices in the back of my head that I’d never find a job better suited to me than the one he’d taken from me, I was ready to actually try. And, gosh, did I try. Quietly and without fanfare, I began browsing more seriously. Submitting more resumes. Writing more cover letters. Making more phone calls. And the interview requests began coming in. Sometimes second interviews, thirds, even. Some were over quickly, some lasted all day. Some were in-person, some attended from my living room via video conference. Follow-up emails. Returned voicemails. Thank yous. I was doing everything right. But the offers weren’t coming in.
That went on for months. Me, applying and interviewing and ending every week feeling inadequate and hopeless. Me, keeping it all to myself, lest my husband or anyone else important to me find out what a useless failure I was. Me, reading social media posts from friends and family, griping in general terms about the “lazy” people who weren’t working during the pandemic. How they wished they could “have it easy,” too. I wanted to scream and set the record straight for them. I’m trying! I’m giving every last ounce of what’s left of me, fucking trying. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why no one wants me. It wasn’t a vacation. It wasn’t fun or relaxing. It was months of the same, day in and day out. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Depression. Feeling dehumanized, constantly being measured and judged by hiring managers and recruiters and bubbly talent acquisition specialists. Having my already tender, raw emotional state being mauled and manhandled by people with rough hands and rougher words. Putting on a braver face than I actually had and pretending like the fact that I’d been searching for months and not found a position was no big deal. Yeah, those ignorant posts from people I love cut especially deep in those months.
And sometime around August 2021, something shifted in me. I felt completely defeated by the job search and was resigned to the fact that I’d never find a new gig. I went through the motions, responding to interview requests. I showed up groomed and appropriately dressed. I said all the right things, having had so much practice answering the questions they all ask. But I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I got the job or didn’t, because I went in expecting that I wouldn’t, anyway. And it was when I stopped caring about if they liked me or not that I began to consider whether or not I liked them. Could I see myself happy here? And somehow, it seemed that interviewers began liking me more. By the end of September, I had a recruiter trying to sell me on a position, written offers from two companies, and was in the final stages of interviews with a third agency. I AM capable and worthy of a new job. People DO see the value I bring to the table. The cobwebs were finally being cleared out, my sense of self-worth returning.
It was a month ago, October 2021, when I walked into my new office for the first time. I had survived the phone screening, the in-person interview with my direct supervisor, and the two subsequent video interviews with other decision-makers. I had signed the offer letter and passed the background check. I was moving on, taking a step toward the new person I’m becoming. My new position is wildly different than my last. It’s a different industry entirely, from general management to human resources. I have different responsibilities. I took a pay cut to be where I am but you know what? I’ll get back to where I was eventually. And in the meantime, I’ve found a new home with this new family who took me in when I was at my absolute lowest. These are the people who are going to help carry me through to the next phase of my life, I’ve told myself. I’m going to be happy here. I know I will be, and not because someone told me I would be. Because I can look around and see that people are genuinely happy to be at work. I’ve read the policies that promote actual things like work/life balance and advancement. I’ve seen the bonuses and raises come through for processing. I’ve attended company-sponsored lunches and an event hosted by The Fun Committee, which I think all companies ought to have. Employees smile and seem appreciated. I feel appreciated. And I’m only just beginning.
Yeah, this is where I’m going to learn and grow and be happy for a long time to come. And for the first time in a long time, I’m learning to believe ME. She is, after all, the only one who deserves to hold my trust. Believe in her.