Mourning

So, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, I lost my job a few months back.  I’d been there for five years, and while it had it’s rough patches and downsides, for the most part I was happy there.  I’d met heaps of wonderful people (some who are now my closest friends), learnt a lot, found myself and honestly thought I’d be there for a long while to come.

The last year I’d spent there had been the best yet.  We had a great team, I was 50% of the management and the other manager was a close friend, we called the shots and everything was running as smoothly as can be expected.  I loved going to work every day.  About three months before the end, things started to go downhill.   The manager told me he’d found another job, which was devastating for me on a personal level as he was a lot of the reason work was so enjoyable.  It was also devastating for the whole team as he really was the glue that held us together.  After he left, things fell apart.  The new manager tried to change things that shouldn’t have been changed, I felt unheard, the part-timers got their shifts cut back, the roster was full of gaps and mistakes.  I dreaded going to work as I felt like I’d gone from co-store manager back to just one-of-the-team.  Alongside that, I was also copping it from my Area Manager, who told me brutally and in no uncertain terms that she didn’t believe I was ready to be Assistant Store Manager (she’d only been in charge of my store for about a month at that point, prior to her we’d had a different Area Manager who was really laid back and whom we barely saw).  I was furious.  Firstly because she’d been there for so little time so how would she even know?  And secondly because I’d been acting-ASM for nearing two years.  Her main issue was I wasn’t focused on sales coaching (I was very admin-focused at the time) and she believed that was what was required of an ASM.  It didn’t matter I’d done it previously, or that the old Area Manager never once had a problem with me doing admin, or that both the old AM and herself had looked me in the eye and told me the paperwork for my promotion was coming through.

As you can see, I was having a miserable time.  I applied for another job and hoped like hell I’d get it.  I didn’t hear back from them at all for almost two months.  Every single day I’d wake up and think about quitting.  I’d written out two different resignation letters, ready to hand in when I finally broke.  I guess there were a couple of reasons why I didn’t quit.  Looking back, I wish I had of.  The first one was that, despite being taken for granted, lied to, overlooked and basically treated like shit, I was comfortable.  I knew the team very well, I knew the systems backwards, I knew the products we sold, I knew where everything in the store was located, I knew the processes involved with everything.  It was easy.  That’s what it came down to.  Five years experience gave me a confidence in the place that I knew I wouldn’t have in another job.  The second was I couldn’t afford to be unemployed.  I was renting, in the midst of building a house, had bills to pay and a dog to feed.  If I still lived at my parents, it probably would have been a different story, but I was trying to be grown up about it.  Grown ups can’t just quit their job, even if it sucks.

The day started out like all the others.  I woke up, hated the thought of going into work, went in anyway.  Started doing my admin stuff, because that’s basically all I did.  I found comfort in it when I couldn’t in anything else there.  Out of the blue, I was told by the new manager that HR were here to talk to people about “stocktake results”.  I’d been on leave when stocktake was done, and I wasn’t even aware there were any issues.  I assumed that it must have just had a bad month or something and shrugged it off.  I kept going with my day, resenting every minute of it.  I remember texting my friend that morning saying that I should just hand in my resignation then and there.  I honestly felt like I was at breaking point.  I don’t even remember what exactly made me feel that way…I think it had just finally caught up with me.  Oh how I wish I’d actually handed in my resignation then.  Though I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, it was probably too late by then.

Anyway, for most of the morning I’d forgotten all about the HR thing.  I hadn’t seen them and I didn’t notice anyone leaving the store for extended periods of time (though it had been happening, I’d just assumed they’d gone on break or I’d just overlooked them).  One of the girls came back in shaken up, and it was only then I realized HR had been in the centre the whole time, quietly pulling people out of the store to speak with them.  That’s when I started freaking out.  I’d been through meetings with HR about six months prior and I knew it was bad news, especially because I had an overwhelming feeling it had something to do with me.  It wasn’t a huge leap to make – the new manager had only been there a couple of months, and the old manager wasn’t there any more, and I was the acting ASM.  I messaged the old manager and he said not to worry, it can’t be anything too bad as HR didn’t give notice about the meetings like they were supposed to.  He has a way of calming people (especially me) down, and I did feel a little better.

I remember the next part clear as day too.  I was on the floor, chatting to one of my closest workmates who’d just randomly cracked the screen on her phone, out of the blue.  She was really upset about it and we were trying to work out how it happened when the new manager interrupted and told me to go to my HR meeting.  I was a little nervous but I kept telling myself it was nothing.  I’d have known about it if something bad was happening, surely.

I headed into the meeting.  There was a guy I’d never seen before on one side of the table and a girl from my previous HR meetings on the other.  She was lovely; he was not.  The first thing he asked was if I was okay with the meeting being recorded.  The previous meetings I’d had with HR hadn’t been recorded…what was going on? The meeting turned out to be one of the single most traumatic experiences of my life.  He fired question after question at me, trying to catch me off guard, accusing me of lying, demanding things of me that my brain couldn’t keep up with.  I don’t do well in situations where I don’t have time to think.  I’m an introvert.  I like to think things through before I speak, otherwise who knows what will come out of my mouth?  The meeting seemed to never end.  He had so many questions, and the more he had, the more incriminating my answers became.  Some of the questions were so absurd or random that all I could do was gape at him.  He was a terrifying presence.  He enjoyed making me squirm, I could see it in his eyes.  After an hour and a half, he then finished the interview by asking if I’d felt intimidated by him.  What was I going to say?  If you’re intimidated by someone, you aren’t going to admit it to them.  Especially someone who would get enjoyment out of it.  Then the HR lady (who’d been quite almost the whole time) told me I had another meeting the following morning which “may result in suspension or termination”.  I knew what that meant.  We’d previously gone through it with another employee and my manager had to give him that line (word-for-word) over the phone.  I knew I wasn’t going back to work.  At the very end, the guy told me he’d be forwarding everything onto the police.  Well, if I wasn’t already shaking (and I was), that really got me.

I raced out of there and called my old manager, as he was just as involved in everything as I was.  He tried to calm me down but it wasn’t going to happen, not this time.  He hadn’t been there, sitting opposite a guy who spat questions at you, who wanted to make you upset.  As I couldn’t be consoled over the phone, he agreed to meet up at our other friend C’s house.  We talked for a couple of hours about everything, and although I was still reeling and shaken up, I felt a little better knowing I wasn’t alone in this, and that they thought I’d been treated poorly in the interview as well.

The next day came and I headed into the second meeting, with C coming as my witness.  I was terrified.  I could barely hold back the tears.  How could this be happening?  After five years of loyal service and hard work, were they were really going to give me the boot?  We wound up going to the wrong building and having to race down to the proper one, which didn’t help my frazzled nerves.  We were ushered into a tiny room where my area manager (the one who’d told me I wasn’t good enough to be ASM) and the HR girl from the previous day were sitting.  I was absolutely shitting myself – I didn’t realize my area manager was going to be there.  Looking back I guess I probably should have, and I was grateful it wasn’t the asshole guy from yesterday, but this wasn’t much better.  I actually went okay though, considering.  The area manager read off a piece of paper, she asked a few questions, talked about the findings and outcomes from the day before, they took a break, came back in and told me I was terminated effective immediately.  I handed in my keys and left.  It was all over within half an hour.  Considering the horrors of the previous meeting, this was actually quite good.

I was a mess for about a week afterwards.  I couldn’t believe I’d been fired.  I had so many emotions running through me.  Firstly, I was embarrassed.  I knew how everyone was there – I’d be hot gossip for sure.  Everyone would be talking.  I hated knowing that people would see me as a bad person…I hated knowing I was forever going to be the “manager that got fired”.  I was ashamed.  I didn’t like being caught out for something dumb I’d done a year before.  I didn’t like that I no longer had a way to support myself.  I was hurt.  So many people I’d trusted and thought were my friends had caused this to happen.  They’d ratted me out for no reason other than self-gratification or because they were bored.  They had no need to do it, but they did it anyway.  I was lost.  My whole world for the past five years had been that job.  I’d put in long hours, I’d do extra work, I’d treated staff like family, I’d spent my own money on things to help the store.  Now all that was gone, just like that.  I’d never use the systems I’d come to know so well again, I’d never get to say goodbye to the people I’d gotten to know so well over the years.  I’d sit and cry for hours.  What if I couldn’t get another job?  Who’d want to hire someone like me?

After about a week, my despair turned to anger.  I was furious that people had done this to me.  How could they?  Granted, sometimes I’m not the easiest person to be around, but they were supposed to be my friends.  I’d never done anything to them.  Nothing intentional anyway.  I was angry at the company.  Okay, I’d fucked up, but did they need to fire me over it?  After all the loyalty and long hours?  Where was my recognition for all that?  I felt like the last five years had been a giant waste of time.  I’d worked my ass off and this was all the thanks I got?  I was angry that my old manager had gotten out of it all scott-free.  Even as I was feeling it, I knew it wasn’t fair.  He was one of my closest friends and part of me was happy he’d quit before this all went down, but another part hated him for it.  He was just as responsible for it happening as I was, but he’s got a great job now and I’ve got nothing.  I had to go through that tortuous interview alone.  They couldn’t point the finger at him so I copped it twice as bad.  I guess mostly though I was angry at myself.  I’d had a moment of weakness, and instead of stopping myself, I let it happen.  I knew it was wrong but I did it anyway.  Coupled with that, I was angry at the people around me who knew what I was doing but didn’t stop me.  It was fine for them to tell me now that it was dumb, but they certainly weren’t saying that at the time.

After the anger passed, I just felt hopeless.  By this stage I’d been knocked back for the job I’d applied for a couple of months prior (you can read about that here), as well as a slew of other jobs.  I felt like that’s all I did all day every day.  Search for jobs, change my cover letter, apply for it, wait to hear.  When I heard, I’d go to the interview, and inevitably get knocked back within the week.  This happened time and time again.  It was made worse by the fact that the asshole interview guy had said he was going to the police with everything, and I had no idea if he was just being a dick or whether he was actually going to.  I hadn’t heard from the police at all, but I wasn’t sure what that meant.  A lot of jobs these days run background checks and I didn’t know what would come up on mine.

After three long months, I finally landed a casual job, and then within a week, a better, full time job.  I was relieved as I’d had to rely on my parents again up until then, which I hated.  I hadn’t had to do that for years.  I was still nervous though, as although I’d accepted my contract, they still hadn’t gotten the results back from my background check, and the contract would be voided if anything was found.  My old manager said that the police would have contacted me months ago if they’d been involved but I still wasn’t confident about it.  I went to my induction, each day expecting to be pulled out and told to go home.  It was stressful and it sucked because all I really wanted to do was celebrate my newfound employment but I couldn’t.

I finally knew I was in the clear when I tried to login to the background check website a week later and couldn’t.  That must mean it’s done and came back clear.  Phew!  The asshole interviewer really was just a sadistic bastard.  You’d think after all that I’d be celebrating my new job, but nothing in my life is ever that simple.  I was told I was going to be training two stores down from my old work.  I was terrified.  All it would take was one person from there saying something to someone and it was all over.  I didn’t know what had been said about me, or who knew what happened, or who was on my side.  All weekend I was stressing out, thinking that now that I’d finally landed a job, I was going to lose it and have to start all over again.  I didn’t think I’d be able to deal with that.

On the morning of my first shift back at my old shopping centre, I finally decided to stop worrying.  I’d come this far – I’d landed the job, passed the background check and reference checks, survived induction.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep stressing about losing the job again.  I also refused to let the people who dragged me down at my old job, drag me down at my new one.  It was out of my hands where I was told to train at and out of my hands what was said, but it was completely in my hands as to whether I let them win or not.  If I was going to stress the whole time, and avoid them, and let them ruin my time there, that was letting them win.  I’d been working in that centre a hell of a lot longer than them and they had no right to make me think I wasn’t welcome there.

I’ve been at the centre over a week now and it’s been fantastic.  I’ve run into one of the people I don’t like (which was awkward), but I’ve also caught up with quite a few of the people I do and they’re supportive and it was great to see them again.  The people I don’t like haven’t said a word to me and are unlikely to say something to anyone else, so my fears were unfounded.  I feel like I’m back at home again in the centre.

That being said, I still really miss parts of my old job.  I still have dreams where I’m working there, and wake up sad.  I miss the old team and the way we used to get on so well.  I miss being confident in my role.  It’s tough being the new kid again when at my old job, I was the person everyone would run to with their random, difficult questions.  I miss doing admin and rosters.  I miss feeling like I belonged there.  I know with time I’ll get that feeling back with my new job, but right now I just feel out of place – partly because I’m training at a store I’m not based at, partly because it’s a different company with different systems and policies.

It wasn’t until I read an article that I realized this was normal.  People do mourn for their jobs.  It seems like a weird thing, particularly when you hated it towards the end anyway, but it’s legitimately a thing and it’s exactly what I’m going through.  The article said even when you get a new job, the grieving doesn’t stop, and it’s true.  I guess it’s like anything really…you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.  I took for granted my job security, my knowledge-base, my passion for the job.  When it was pulled out from under me so abruptly, I didn’t know what to do.  I think if I had of quit and had two weeks lead up to the end, it might have been different.  I could have mentally prepared myself.  Instead, just like that, it was gone.  I didn’t know waking up that morning, it would be my last shift.  I didn’t get that luxury.

I guess the most important part in all this is to learn from it.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been somewhere, or how hard you work, or how loved you are, companies don’t show mercy for mistakes.  If it’s big enough, you’re out of there.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t do it intentionally or if you didn’t benefit directly from it or if you were trying to do the right thing…if they don’t agree, you’re gone.  I’ve also learnt how tough job hunting is.  Oh sure, I’d heard about it enough, but until you go through it and get knock back after knock back (even for jobs that are basically identical to what you’ve been doing previously) it’s really hard to deal with.  You have to have a thick skin or you’ll sink into depression, or give up and go on benefits and never get off.  I have a new appreciation for how easy that would be.  Luckily I never had to go that far thanks to my family’s support.  Even on my low days, even on the sleep deprived days, I’ll never take having a job and an income for granted again.

As for moving on, I’m trying.  It’s tough having to walk past my old work five times a week, knowing that I used to spend so much of my time there and now I no longer do.  Everything is so familiar there, it’s like looking into my home.  I could tell you stories about every inch of that place.  They still have my hand-created posters up on the walls.  So much of myself is still locked in there and it hurts to know I was evicted.  That being said, I feel myself getting stronger each day.  I have my good days and my bad ones, but I think it’s really helping that I’m enjoying my new job.  Once I start feeling comfortable in it, I think that’s when the mourning will truely end.  Until then, I’ve always got my wonderful memories and amazing friends to be thankful for.  I now know it wasn’t a waste of time…if I hadn’t of worked there, my life wouldn’t be as rich and amazing as it is now.

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-JD

3 thoughts on “Mourning

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