A couple months ago, I wrote a post about following my dreams and how amazing I felt about doing something that would make me feel more fulfilled in my life and potentially make a difference in the world. I had just recently left my New York City-based consulting job (and my friends and my relatively high-paying salary and, you know, basically everything and everyone I hold dear) to move to Arlington, Virginia, for a job with a well-known news program, which I will call “Unnamed News Program.”
I was so so so extremely excited about this new opportunity, and actually the post got a lot of positive responses. I even heard from a couple people with whom I hadn’t spoken in ages who felt inspired by my post. I was firstly honored that I could inspire others and secondly proud of myself that I had made this big transition and was, you know, following my dream. Or something.
Today, less than three months after I wrote that post and just over three months after I left New York, I find myself…well, not where I thought I would be, to say the least. See, my plan was essentially to work at this new job for six months, get some good material for my reel/portfolio, then, you know, launch myself into extreme success as an amazing, intelligent, funny, beautiful television/multi-media personality. Or, you know, something…
But on May 17th, I hit a speed bump when I got fired from my new job. No, not laid off. Fired. And I can’t help but wonder: is this what happens when we take risks? Should I, going forward, expect to be punished for moving outside my comfort zone and trying to do what’s “in my heart?”
Besides the obvious annoyances and frustrations of having being fired—like being unemployed, not having a paycheck, being stuck in Arlington even though my whole life is still in New York—these questions are gnawing at me.
The on-paper reason I got fired was that I sent an unauthorized email to the Royal Press Secretary of Great Britain (yes, basically I got fired for trying to email my soul mate Prince Harry—please, laugh, it’s pretty amusing). The actual reason, however, was that my boss was a mean-spirited woman who didn’t like me because I told her she needed to stop being condescending and rude to me. Here’s the long and the short of it:
My boss—let’s call her “Becky”—seemed as though she was not on my side from the moment I got to Unnamed News Program. She wasn’t the person that hired me; the guy who hired me actually had left before I started my job, and Becky had taken his place. While the guy who hired me seemed pretty excited to have me on board, Becky seemed not as thrilled. Becky publicly chastised me, threw things at me when no one was looking, and made fun of me behind my back.
I’m not really sure why she acted that way…I was mostly just interested in being Becky’s friend, especially since I didn’t really have any friends in the DC metro area, you know? I was looking for people to hang out with, and of course I thought work would be a great place to start. But Becky made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested in being my friend.
There are some nuances to this situation, of course, but my main concern was protecting myself against abuse from Becky in the workplace. You know, this is just one of those things where I have to draw the line! So one day, I approached Becky about her behavior towards me. Her main message to me was, “I’m your boss. No matter how I treat you, you have to do what I say.”
Needless to say, I was astonished. After three years in consulting, I was used to a kind of…how shall we say…professional courtesy. But hey, as my oh-so-wise mom likes to say, “Them the brakes.” And so they were. Clearly this wasn’t going to be a battle I was going to win, so I resolved to try to build a better relationship with Becky—from the bottom up, pun intended.
Becky and my conversation happened on a Monday. Thursday of that week was my birthday—in an effort to show there was no ill-will between us, I invited Becky to join me and some colleagues for drinks. Becky declined; the following morning (Friday) Becky called me into the Deputy Executive Producer’s office. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but it didn’t feel good.
As it turned out, Becky had rapidly escalated her loathing of me to, well, the top, and the top was now yelling at me. I got berated for everything from “insubordination” to “lack of dedication to my job” to “inappropriate behavior in the workplace.” These were all, as the Deputy EP pointed out, grounds for termination. But the ever-generous Deputy EP explained that she has two daughters my age and, while she hopes they comport themselves well (which I was to understand as “better than you have been behaving”) in the workplace, she would hope that, if they made a mistake, they would be given a second chance. And so, out of the deep, warm, gooey goodness of her loving heart, she was giving me a second chance.
Turns out the second chance wasn’t so warm and gooey after all: I had to go to HR to sign some forms agreeing that I was a 26-year-old insubordinate delinquent and acknowledging that I had three weeks to demonstrate immediate correction of my behavior. Obviously I signed my life away and immediately adopted the persona of a paranoid nutterbutter. I found myself looking over my shoulder every five seconds to make sure no one was spying on me, fully petrified that every word I uttered would cause me to lose my job. In a final ditch attempt at self-preservation, I became a doormat. I even asked Becky permission every time I had to go to the restroom, an action which seemed to please her immensely.
In the end, though, my efforts were for naught. The following Friday—just one week after I had been “formally warned”—the Deputy EP called me back into her office. It seems that, one night that week, while Becky had been going through my company emails to “ensure that I was accurately representing the Unnamed News Program,” she’d come across an email I’d sent to the Royal Household Press Secretary asking if Prince Harry would have time to come into the studio for a visit. Upon further research, it became apparent that I hadn’t asked for permission to send this email, which was, as the Deputy EP exclaimed, “a diplomatic nightmare!”
It didn’t matter that I’d sent the email prior to receiving my official warning the previous week, nor did it matter that I hadn’t meant any harm by it (frankly, I hadn’t thought twice about sending that message…for better or worse, it was just kind of like a silly thing) or that the Royal Press Secretary had written me back saying that he was so sorry, but Prince Harry just wouldn’t have time to come into the studio as he had to head straight to Denver after his visit in D.C. I was toast.
Having received my official dismissal, I packed up my stuff and went to HR to do whatever you have to do when you get fired. After attempting to listen to the HR Lady tell me yet again why I was getting fired—you know, because I’m so dumb I didn’t really understand it the first time—I’d had enough. I believe my exact words to her at that point were, “Lady, I know why I got fired. Now I’m gonna tell you something: you’re the kind of HR person that gives HR employees all over the world a bad name. So why don’t you just s-my-d, finish filling out my paper work, and let me move on with my life.” She was hardly thrilled, but I didn’t hear another word out of her. It’s the little victories in situations like these.
Anyway, so that’s what happened, and now here I am. It’s a month later. I haven’t found another job, and I just found out that my unemployment insurance claim was denied. As the government put it, “You should have known that your actions would jeopardize your job.” Thanks guys. Because getting fired wasn’t, you know, demeaning enough.
The thing is, though, that even in the face of this situation, I can’t quite bring myself to be really angry or upset. I mean, sure, I’m seriously annoyed at myself for not being smarter about the whole thing. For example, clearly I should never have tried to have a rational conversation with Becky in the first place. I also clearly wasn’t capable of adapting to that stringent of an environment. But I don’t think I was in the wrong for sending the email that got me fired, and I kind of think the whole situation is absurd. I mean, let’s be real: anyone who knows me knows I am never afraid to admit a mistake I’ve made. And I’ve made a lot of them.
In this situation, though, I ultimately think I just kind of hit an annoying bump in the road, and that happens to the best of us.
I also found a lot of solace and inspiration in this Harvard Business Review article, which I read recently. The author, Peter Bregman, writes about how, in surfing, no matter what happens, i.e., whether the surfer has a great ride or the surfer has a not-so-great ride, everyone falls of his board in the end. Bregman suggests that humans could live their lives more like surfers, understanding that, no matter what, we’ll all fall off our boards. We might fall in surprise, or we might gracefully dip off of it—but we end up in the water no matter what.
That’s how I feel about what happened with Unnamed News Program and Becky and all of that mess. I tried to catch what I thought looked like a good wave, but it tossed me off—and now I’m in the water. Luckily, though, if I think of “my ability to swim” and “my surfboard” as metaphors for my experiences, everything I’ve learned, my optimism, my health, my friends, my family, and basically everything else that’s good in my life besides my job at Unnamed News Program, I should be able to catch another wave pretty soon. I’m in the water, but that’s what happens when you take risks.
And so back to my original question of: should I expect to be punished or to otherwise fall flat on my face when I take risks? The answer isn’t “no”—after all, I took a risk, and I fell down. And lots of other people have taken risks and fallen down, too. But the answer isn’t “yes,” either. The answer is something like, “You can’t know how the story will end if it never begins.” And so I’m off to find my next beginning, and hopefully you’ll be off to find yours soon, too.