One year ago today it was Friday. That night I ran into an ex I’d been in love with, for the first time since he’d suddenly dumped me over a year earlier. He didn’t know I saw him, and it was a near-Perfect Running Into An Ex-Beloved Scenario (I looked hot, I was genuinely having fun, and he looked back at me when he left with his wilting date).
But even more importantly, it was the day that I resigned from my latest, and perhaps last, full-time job. Remember? The toxic one I told you all about last year starting with my first post, and continuing with the Breaking the Rules series?
A year later, the only thing I miss about leaving is the financial abundance and stability I left behind — temporarily (business is picking up!). The main thing I regret is not having stuck to my guns when I said I was planning to leave — before I was offered a title change that was later rescinded, before I was disciplined for taking a courageous stand, before my Beloved Boss (and others) got to put me in a box that made them feel justified in mistreating me and finally escorting me off the property 3 days after I resigned.
Sometimes I think about writing them to explain and try to mend things, since I’m pretty sure they feel as betrayed as I do. But then I realize I’m still angry and I have a right to be, and I’m done with always being the one to try to mend broken things and tie up loose ends. It’s not like I attempted multiple times to explain, dialogue, and reach clarity or understanding, if not agreement. It’s not like I gave ample opportunity for understanding to happen, even when it might have been in my best interest to selfishly fight instead.
But I’m learning life is messy, and even though I don’t like messes of any kind, sometimes the mess is perfect.
But if so, why were they honored for an achievement that was my doing, months after I left, based on data that is no longer accurate since I’ve been gone? Why did I have to be right — that what I created is a skeleton of its former self, and the person they finally hired to replace me (10 months later) is an internal employee with zero expertise in the necessary fields, but is a reliable yes-woman and company drone who toes the party line, takes no risks, and assumes no real leadership?
I guess they finally got what they really wanted.
I hate injustice. I hate unfairness. And I hate most of all being right about crappy things happening. I want to hold onto my faith in a happy ending. I blame myself in part for making the mess that no one can seem to clean up.
But…maybe I got what I really wanted too…?
Ironic and perfect in its timing, I had lunch just yesterday with a former colleague that had had a similar role to mine in another institution, and had also been manipulated, disrespected, betrayed and abused (worse than me), culminating in her being escorted off the premises of her institution six months before I was. She sued, won, and received a settlement…and yet over a year later, her eyes water when she tells the story.
I still wonder why we do the things we do, and why some of us stand and fight while others comply. Last year I read a book called Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times by the talented journalist Eyal Press, which explores this very question. He studies a Swiss police captain who refused to enforce a law barring Jewish refugees from entering his country. He interviews a Serb who defied leaders to help Croats during the war in Yugoslavia, and profiles a member of an elite unit of the Israeli army who refuses to serve in the occupied territories during the Second Intifada. He ends with the story of a corporate whistle blower — and a Latina immigrant — in the US securities industry of the early 2000s.
Not one of these people’s stories play out like a Hollywood movie — all of them suffer for their choices. And yet the normalcy of their personalities, lives and choices defies Hollywood hero/ine narratives. They weren’t rebels by nature, nor exceptional in their personality traits. In fact, they uncynically believed in the ideals or institutions they were charged to uphold and acted accordingly, or learned something new that challenged their ideas and assumptions. They were also in positions to experience the personal, tangible consequences of their choices firsthand. They felt empathetic emotions for other people and almost instinctively acted to help them, but also possessed an ability to tolerate the pain of acting alone and against the group.
Such individuals defy the notion that given certain situations, following orders or rules is a natural and normal defense for doing justice and violence, for not everyone chooses to do injustice or violence, or to stand silently by. Some unexceptional people simply exercise the “moral imagination” we all possess, and choose differently. Despite the morality and integrity of their actions, they are often punished for going against the group. Part of this is because they become symbols of what others should have done.
So heroes and heroines are just like us, which means each of us can be a hero or heroine. It’s our choices (not our superhero mutant genes) that define us and move justice. I don’t mean to equate my experience with a toxic job to the gravity of what was faced by a Swiss general during Nazism, a Serb during the Croatian War of Independence, an IDF solider or a corporate whistleblower. But I do identify with their almost naively believing in what could and should be and acting in alignment with those ideals, with their ability to tolerate going against the grain, and with the effect of being undetached from experiencing the consequences of my actions in a way my colleagues were not.
I just wish more could appreciate what I — and the colleague I was lunching with yesterday — have done, and follow suit. Change and justice would be so much swifter! But there I go again, thinking about fairness and how attainable alternate realities are. I want to rewrite the story with a different ending, like a painful breakup.
And the separation from my job — I may have mentioned before — is like a breakup. I still pass by the buildings, hear about the goings on (mostly bad and frustrating), and talk to people still there or who have also left. It still gives me a little knot in my stomach. I still feel resentment. I want to be free.
Here’s a blurb I wrote six weeks before I left, but never published. The first part is an email excerpt from a wise, older friend:
I, like you, believed that ‘letting go’ meant giving up. Once I figured out that it really meant ‘joining the flow of energy’, it began to make sense and certainly became much easier than struggling against myself and the current. What has become so delightfully astonishing is that once I let go, doors just fly open, ones which either I would never have been able to open myself or even thought of approaching. The sequencing of events just blows me away and I get so tickled at my self for doubting and being so slow to ‘wake up’. I gather you are making progress and letting the scales fall away and the sunlight come in. What a refreshing friend you are.
I feel angry because I feel betrayed and let down. My boundaries were violated, I was not treated, supported, or valued the way I wanted. Those I trusted didn’t come through all the way.
I feel sad because things didn’t turn out the way I hoped — because I can still see how wonderful and beautiful they could be, even though they aren’t. I feel sad to see how I am contributing to the problem now. I feel sad to be saying goodbye to a few pleasantries and sweetnesses.
It feels like another breakup.
Indeed, the themes persist. And yet, I now realize I can be free. The truth is the resentment is less than it was. The knot is looser. They got what they wanted, but ultimately so did I. I’m not ready or willing to give up my high hopes for the possibilities, my high expectations for humanity, or my belief in “true” love. But like a jilted lover, I want to be wanted, even by someone I don’t want. I want to be chased, yearned after, missed, spoken about in reverent whispers instead of tense silences. I want to have parted as friends.
I still want to have a “Perfect Running Into An Ex-Beloved Scenario” like I did the night of June 1, 2012. But I don’t think it’s coming.
Messy, yes. Not what I wanted or would have chosen, yes. Perfect…likely yes, in ways I may never even know.
I join the flow of energy…
In lak ech,