Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse, wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.
-Frank Abagnale, Sr. – Catch Me If You Can
Two years ago, I was in a peculiar situation. One that I’d never been during this lifetime. I was embarking on year 2 of having been laid off from a position that I held for 6 years which I’d come to from a position that I held for 10. 16 straight years of employment and for reasons that I’ll assume had to do with how much I was making and how little I was being allowed to contribute, I was laid off. In that time I’d received a substantial severance (as they were kind enough not to recognize my “break in service” from when I left the original company which ultimately bought out the company I fled to) based on 15 years of service. I took a year intentionally to rest. Detox from the negativity that I experienced when our company was bought out and we were dragged back to hell after all the fighting I did to leave. Within those 15 years, there were 4 solid years when I was properly seated in that new job that I’d fought to get. 4 years where I experienced the best work years of my life to date. I was empowered. I was trusted. I was creative and productive. I was HAPPY to go to work every day. I loved the team I’d put together and we did amazing things. But having to go back to the workplace of origin sucked all that positivity out. A break was needed. Starting off on year 2 of the break, I began to see that the money was running out. Time was running out – I wanted to have another child and at that request, Earl said we needed 2 incomes.
I prayed to God. I’m not sure how specific my prayer was but he put an opportunity in my path and gave me access to reach it. But I knew from my previous interactions through the industry that this opportunity… the company with which it was situated was every bit as toxic and draining as the place I’d just left. If not more. I had a cache of all sorts of horror stories that I could call to mind and never did I ever hear someone say, “I work at ____ and I LOVE it!” But I needed the money and honestly – I needed to feel integral and useful again. So I prayed. After about 5 interviews, they made me an offer. It was, from my point a view, a generous offer for someone who had been sitting on the sidelines for 2 years. It was actually more than I was making before I got laid off. But the toxic. And this would give me a chance to maybe work on our next baby. But the toxic. I accepted. The office was just across the street from my brother’s workplace so I went to see him right after I accepted. I got off the elevator and he met me there and I fell apart in his arms. I melted into a puddle of tears and sobbing. “What happened???” he said completely confused, “Did someone do something to you?” I shook my head and wiped the tears to make way for my words, “I got the job. I accepted.” I could barely get the words out before the sobs overcame my breath again. He tried to talk me through it – bewildered because he knew that I was looking for something. Shouldn’t this be good news? At that moment, though, I knew I had handed my soul over to this place and it would be bad. The position only vaguely sounded like what I could do or what I’ve been good at doing. The title sounded prestigious but I knew it was fluff. And I was right. The position was seated in a department that I can properly describe as the sales department’s bitch. And all my career – I have abhorred sales. It’s the arch-nemesis of creative production. The two departments are pitted against each other constantly. One in the pursuit of money and the other in the pursuit of creating something wonderful and meaningful. I’ve never minced words about how I feel about most salespeople. They have a way about that that grates against my own. I can never find myself in a wholly trusting place when it comes to them. They will say and do anything to get more dollars to the bottom line – even if that means compromising you and everyone else around them. And here I was… sales’ bitch.
I immediately started looking for something else.
I hadn’t been in too long, I couldn’t imagine that it would take a heap of time to transition to something else. Forgetting that the whole year I was off, I was still applying. Looking for the next thing with little to no success. I realized I had some whammies against me. More than the original two I’d always had – being black and being a woman. Now I was older. Now I had more experience. Four whammies. And if you let me tell it – it’s hard for an experienced seasoned Black Boss lady to be easily placed. But I was trying everything. With every day in the new office solidifying that this was a bad move. This was going to be detrimental to me if I didn’t get away. And so I started kicking my feet and moving my arms. Applying at anything that remotely looked like I might be able to get at it. Calling on “resources” through LinkedIn that might know someone who knows the hiring manager to see if I could get my resume into human hands for human consumption and not rely on these bots that don’t see me. Called on headhunters and recruitment firms to get my name out there. And I prayed. Yes Lord. I know you JUST answered this last prayer… I need you again… I need you now and soon. I can see where this is going. Please help me. One of the recruitment firms found me a great position and got me in on an interview. Then a follow-up. Then a third panel interview. Leading me along with words like “shoe-in” “in the bag” “undeniable” making me think that after only 5 months at the hellhole, I may have found my way out. And I prayed. And I put my best foot forward and I could feel myself being brought to the precipice. I seeing the horizon. I could see the chasm that I’d soar over with the wind to lift me all the way through. I was out. I thought.
In the blink of an eye, the landscape changed. The woman I was interviewing with, to who I’d report if I got the position announced to me that she was actually leaving to another company. And she had known all throughout my interview process. She’d have me do a call with HER boss who would take over her duties while she looked for a replacement. The call went… not well… but not horrible either. She seemed rather unimpressed even though everyone up to that point was quite dazzled with me. But I was over the phone. Maybe she didn’t get the whole breadth and width of my enormity because I wasn’t seated right there with her. The recruiter encouraged me to come to their holiday party (Thanksgiving) and that the woman I’d been interviewing with would be there so we could say our goodbyes etc. and that she would let me know the status of the position and my role in it. They essentially avoided me all night. Standing there, sparkling. They told me I was radiant. Ethereal. Amazing. And then she called me the next day to tell me that the woman I had the phoner with found me unmoving. Unimpressive. She’d rather start the search all the way over. I’d been yanked back from the precipice, dashed to the floor and a metal stake was driven into my shoulder to hold me there. Moving too much would bleed me out. I could only barely see the horizon. And since… I’ve said… “but why, God?” Why pull that opportunity from me? Why force me to stay here? Why let me watch my creativity and usefulness — no matter how I package it — get discounted and withered away? Is it because I asked for this job as a help to my situation at the time? I wallowed in self-pity throughout the holiday and sought out psychological therapy. I’d never been so low in my life – morally, emotionally, spiritually… the thoughts floating around my head were becoming stronger than just thoughts. I needed help.
I got myself a counselor through a trusted friend (who is also a counselor) and we started to unpack the years of dysfunction. Slowly. Carefully. I did apply to a number of jobs more. Watched a number of colleagues I’d come to trust in the hellhole either leave for better opportunities or be ousted from the hell hole. But I remained. What was that saying about me? Did I deserve this place? I ultimately resigned that I’d wait to become vested. One bright spot of the hellhole is that they are one of the few companies that match on 401K. but you only get what they matched after 2 years of consecutive service. So i stopped pulling against the stake and laid still. I did what was expected of me and tried the best I could to navigate the landscape.
I’ve recently started putting my resume out there again upon the “celebration” of my 2nd anniversary as a hellhole resident. And a dear friend called me and said “Are you ready to leave there yet?” “What do you mean am I ready,” I asked confuzzled – she knew I didn’t want to be there. “No, you’d said something about getting vested… are you vested yet?” she clarified. “OH!!! YES… yes, just this past June. I’m ready!” She set it up for me to come in and interview for a position that would shift my track back into the things I love. Creativity, audience building, brand voice molding… *hopeful sigh* Could this be it? Have I churned the cream enough to finally walk out?
Seems like there are some roadblocks coming up. The other candidate although more junior can be considered “hungrier” than me and the fact that he’s working at a publication that is going out of business might make him a more “needy” candidate than I who is seemingly “stable in my job”. And being a seasoned, experienced Black boss lady makes me expensive… and him cheaper. I want to be still and have full faith in God’s plan. But my fear… is that the last time I did that… The last time I came to the precipice and was sure freedom was within my grasp…
I know I’m not supposed to get all that I ask for. And the fact that I’ve had any prayers answered in life is a major blessing in comparison to what I’ve witnessed for others.
I don’t know what I’m saying here. I don’t know what to pray for. I’m scared to believe. I don’t have a choice but to believe.
Lord. Have mercy on me.