Today was one of those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.
I’ve been laying in bed with my sweet girl to my left and my other cuddle bug on my right. Both have been asleep for hours. I just finished watching Free Solo telling myself it’s too late at night to write this post. I don’t want to wake my kids so I should just do this tomorrow. I’m tired and want this day to freaking end, but I can’t shake the urge to get this out. I feel like it’s going to be helpful to someone if not merely an outlet for me. Allow me to set the stage.
I’ve been with the same company for fifteen years now. Literally 15 years this week. In today’s corporate currency that’s more than a lifetime. An employee’s average tour of duty with an employer today is something like 4.5 years. Over the past 9 years I’ve been managing the same contract which ended this spring. I started out as the project manager and over the years took on more responsibilities and leadership to where now I’m leading this business unit. This contract, the work at it’s core, and the patients it served drove me to do my best for my team, my family, your family, our country every day for the past 9 years. Over the past 9 years I’ve had both of my babies too. After my son was born I actually requested to come back from maternity leave early because I missed “my” work. I was good at it. I was validated by it. I was passionate about it. That baby never told me what a good job I was doing and how thankful they were for my efforts. I kid (kind of). You get the picture. I’ve been fortunate enough to genuinely love my job.
About three years ago my company decided to pivot on its direction with contracts like the one I managed and my team became a political chessboard. Conflicts within upper levels of leadership bled down to the staff. Bitterness, disorganization, lack of communication and distrust permeated our entire unit. I started seeking counseling and for the first time in my life and was taking anti-anxiety medication. I never knew from one day to the next how to act around anyone. I feared for my job. Co-workers I had been friends with had chosen sides and that created strife. It was a mess. I was a mess.
The year prior I had lost about 50 lbs. My project was exceeding all performance goals. We were celebrated in press releases and at in-person national meetings. Now it was all seemingly in shambles. At this same low low point two other things had also happened:
1. I turned 40
2. I found Rachel Hollis and her book Girl, Wash Your Face
I had seen the writing on the wall the previous fall. All levels of my immediate leadership were in conflict. Meetings were tense. From all levels varying degrees of protection were being kept on certain information. Transparency was out the window. If you wanted to be in the know you had to pick a side and earn their trust in hopes they’d give you some inkling of what in the actual hell was going on. That November (2018) I bought myself a ticket to Rise Minneapolis (June 2019). Rise is a 3-day in-person women’s conference focused on personal development hosted by Rachel Hollis. I was so excited because I had never been to a personal development conference before and her book lit me on fire. I am all about women empowering women so the fact that this was women only really intrigued me, and I had never been to Minneapolis, MN before. Winning! In the 8 months between when I bought my ticket and when I flew to the conference, I dove into the world of personal and professional development head first. Ed Mylett, Jenna Kutcher, Tony Robins, John Maxwell. I read as many books as I could get my hands on. Taking in all of the information. I even started a book club for my team.
Finally, the day arrived when I was heading to Minneapolis, MN. I was a little nervous because I was traveling by myself for the first time in my life for something other than work. Heading to a new city to spend 3 days with more than 2,000 women I had never met. I knew no one. Day 1 focused on your present. Day 2 focused on your past. Day 3 we focused on our future. On Rise day 1 we went through an exercise in the day’s guided booklet that had us identifying our habits. Keep in mind I was mentally and emotionally fatigued from work. Work was the largest, heaviest piece of baggage I was lugging around everywhere back then. I’ll share the exercise and my answers with you.
What are the positive habits you do every day? (Habit being things you do that you don’t have to think about.) We had one song that Ashon the DJ played to get that done. We only needed three things. It took me the entire song to come up with brush my teeth and tell my kids I love them. I struggled even thinking of those two things. I felt sad. Next we needed to list 3 limiting believes that we tell ourselves. I wrote: 1. I don’t have time to do anything else because I work so much. 2. I don’t have the energy to do anything else because I’m so emotionally drained by work at the end of the day. 3. What will people think if I do something different? Keeping in mind I had been with my company for more than 13 years at that point – work was a large part of my identity. Next question was what are negative habits I’ve created that support my limiting beliefs. I ran out of paper to write on in the 3-minute song. 1. I don’t do anything. [I’ll add – I literally felt paralyzed by all of the emotions I was feeling at the time. I wouldn’t pay bills or get mail out of the mailbox. Anything “extra” was too much. I was clinically depressed.] 2. I work all the time. It’s what I’m good at. [I would work and take on big projects by myself because I knew that people would praise the effort and work, and for a brief moment there was a positive distraction from the negative.] 3. I’m a prisoner at home. [Yes, that seems a little dramatic. I’ve worked from home for years and I had two small kids who had a nanny at the time and they were always home too. There would be times pretty regularly that because of my workload and/or my kids I wouldn’t leave the house for days. A constant cycle of wake-up, breakfast, work, lunch, work, dinner, laundry, dishes, bath time, bed time, work, sleep.] 4. I spend money that I don’t have necessitating the need for my job to pay my debts. [Ugh.] 5. I’m a people pleaser. [And the funny part was that at this time in my life no people in my life seemed happy. My coworkers and bosses weren’t. My husband wasn’t. I was just coasting on autopilot. I guess my kids were, but I felt disconnected from them.]
Then Rachel asked us to list out what our lives would look like in 5 years down the road if we didn’t change those bad habits. I wrote “I’m bitter, resentful of what could have been. I’m not in control of my life. Everyone else dictates what I do today. I’m unhealthy. My husband won’t want me. I’m depressed. I’m bankrupt. My kids are ashamed of me.”
I started to cry. Like ugly cry in front of a bunch of ladies sitting around me that didn’t know me. I don’t want this life for myself. I don’t want to model that kind of life for my daughter (or my son for that matter). What am I doing?
I pulled out my phone and in that moment I quit my job. To be clear. I first took a picture of that page in the workbook and texted it to my husband who wrote back that he agreed with my assessment. Then I quit my job.
I wrote a very brief email to my leadership thanking them and the company for all of the opportunities to learn and grow over the past almost 14 years and noted my last day as 2 weeks later.
Immediately I felt the weight of a thousand worlds lifted off my shoulders. My focus on the conference was crystal clear. I was making this my time to push myself to new places. I was stepping into the unknown.
And then my phone started buzzing and ringing off the hook from my boss and her boss asking me to call them immediately. They knew, as I did, that big changes would be in the works for our team in the coming month or so and they both asked me to withdraw my resignation and stay on for 4 weeks. They both promised me that they would help me focus on getting my life back. Restructuring some of my duties at work to take some of the load off. “Things will get better,” they said. Why did I take their dang calls? I sat back down in the conference for the afternoon session more conflicted than ever. Was I really going to let the promise of balance and 4 weeks keep me from the feeling of clarity and relief I had just experienced 20 minutes ago when I sent my email?
I did. That fast I rested back into what I knew and the comfort of a paycheck for the 1 more month vs. leaning into the discomfort of the unknown. I finished the conference and returned home renewed, refreshed, and on fire for change.
And then at the end of those four weeks I got a severance package.
Why didn’t this make me happy? I at least worked another month and was being given a few paid weeks of time to seek alternate employment. I wanted change didn’t I? I was so unhappy before Rise Minneapolis wasn’t I? I had literally resigned and then rescinded my resignation weeks before. This should have been great jumping off point, but it wasn’t. I was devastated. I had never been let go from a job in my life. I had literally just quit my job 4 weeks ago but I stayed just to be let go on their terms??? Then I was mad. I was mad myself for placing trust where I knew no foundation of long-term prosperity lied. The writing had been on the wall for nearly a year at this point, but me? I’ve been loyal to the company for nearly 14 years and just like that you don’t need me any more? 14 years working nights and weekends. Years traveling Monday – Thursday every week until I was 36 weeks pregnant with my daughter. Never resenting it because I loved it. I had created a reputation in this space that I was proud of. Seven years on this project and the agency funding our contract recognizes me by name and for the reputation I had cultivated for this company. And they were letting me go? What? Does. Not. Compute.
Then our contract was extended and we were asked to stay on. Not the whole team, but some of us delivering on this one contract. Our team had been 27 people and now we were four. I had been clawing my way to the top for years now and overnight found myself driving the contract and our strategy, partnerships – everything. I loved it! The fog of politics and controversy seemed to vanish overnight. We were back to doing the job we all really enjoyed doing. A welcomed breath of fresh air after the war.
We finished our contract strong with many hospitals improving the quality of patient care and noting marked improvement in reducing opioid prescribing. Our contract ended March 31, and wouldn’t you know it April 1 brought with it another severance package. Again, I was gutted. We literally had not even had time to celebrate the accomplishments of our work that had just ended the day before. My new boss wasn’t even informed that I and my team would be getting severed. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. What in the hell?!?! Trying to save jobs for my team I convinced the business to keep us on to write proposals for the summer including a proposal for work that would continue our past contract. It was a busy summer but we felt good about the proposals put forth. Until today.
A text from a proposed partner on one of our proposals was asking if we had heard about contract award for the solicitation that would have been the next phase of our prior contract. This is the proposal we’ve been most excited to win – securing our jobs for the next 4 years. I noted that we had not and this sweet soul let me know that contract awards were going out today and work would start tomorrow. Wait. What? I call a few of our colleagues in the field and they too had not heard on their proposal but had heard awards were going out. The day progressed and about lunchtime my heart started to sink. 2:00pm. Then 3:30pm. Nothing. Then 4:00pm. 4:15pm. 4:17pm. Nothing. Needless to say it’s 3am on the day work is supposed to start and we still haven’t heard anything.
I’m, of course, still trying to process the potential of not having won this contract, but it feels very much like the end of an era. The work that my team has poured their lives into for the past 9 years has ended. The company that I’ve dedicated my professional life to for the past 15 years has let me go multiple times in the past 6 months, and I feel like that is once again looming. Perhaps this is as it should be. Now may be the time to close this book and start writing another. Even writing this blog post has been cathartic and therapeutic. It feels much like it did that day I decided to walk away last June. While I would have been walking away from the work, the visceral reaction was to escape the toxicity of my environment. For whatever reason, an underlying desire to see that contract through, continued loyalty to a company I’ve been working at for so long, comfort – I didn’t walk away last June. Now there’s literally no anchor holding me in this harbor.