“I have heard men talk of the blessings of freedom,” he said to himself, “but I wish any wise man would teach me what use to make of it now that I have it.” -Wamba the Jester, Ivanhoe
Fate wielded its well-polished sword last week and left me, like Wamba, riding off into the sunset without a master, wondering how best to appreciate my long-sought freedom.
As readers know, I’ve been unhappy at my job for months. What you don’t know are the gory details, because I try to keep negative comments about other people to the barest minimum on my blog. Still, if you’ve made the occasional comment about “communication struggles” with your boss, and if you’ve listed her as a reason you’re so unhappy, and if your boss happens to find your blog, and if she reads all the way back to entries made in August, and if she’s already a little frustrated…
We’ll return to those not-so-hypotheticals in a second. My boss gave my coworkers and I the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and I spent most of it alternatively dreading or mentally avoiding the fact that, come Monday, I’d have to return to work. You know how new years are- we all like to pretend we’re starting them off auspiciously. Starting mine off in what I considered an unhealthy professional relationship hardly seemed auspicious. Yet, as I bawled on my brother’s shoulder Sunday night, I was still afraid to leave.
By Monday afternoon, however, I could tell that worrying about what to do next was this close to pushing me into an OCD brainfever. It was just time to go. I also recognized that I was terrified of telling her in person, so dorky as it was, I typed up a letter of resignation to leave in her inbox after she left that night.
My coworkers went home. The sun fell outside. My boss worked in her office, me in mine, and I kept an eye on the clock- when was she going to go home so I could give her this letter?
She emerged from the office carrying a folder, pulled a chair up to my desk, and said, “I got this email linking back to your new website…”
My head-scratching began with that sentence, and didn’t end for the rest of the conversation. She was referring to the web design portfolio site I’d spent the past couple weeks building. I haven’t let anyone know about this site yet. It’s still under construction and changing daily. The odds she’d find it on a day when the links were functional are slim, but even more puzzling is where this notification email came from. I think it was a Google Analytics mishap, but the detectives are still working on the case.
My boss continued on to say that she was sorry to learn, through the blog my design site linked to, how unhappy I’d been in Buffalo. Handing me two printed entries, she said, “Here are reasons I think it’s no longer appropriate for you to work at Young Audiences.” She handed me this entry, and this one.
Even though I disagree with my boss’s argument that the blogs are a fireable offense, I had no desire to work for someone that eager for me to leave. And, I knew better than to look a gift blog in the mouth. “I’m going to Seattle,” I said, “I’m not sure how you wanted to end this, but…”
We agreed that I would work through Friday and stick to the Seattle story as the official one. But isn’t it so ironic, or coincidental, or bizarre to find your boss approach you with reasons she thinks you should leave, on the day you’re preparing to put an “I’m leaving” letter in her inbox?
Yeah, I thought so too.
Later that week, I worked at my desk while my boss and coworker met with a potential new teaching artist in the other office. He was presenting his proposed program on the Underground Railroad. An actor, his voice carried easily from the next office, and I listened as I finished up instructions to my coworkers on how to carry out my responsibilities once I left. His conversation moved from the history of slavery, to an anecdote about a friend who had had a wonderful idea for how to improve a struggling neighborhood in Buffalo. He wasn’t able to carry it out, however, because the “powers that be” had threatened him- the idea would have lessened their own power over the neighborhood. I didn’t catch whether the friend had been threatened with losing his job, or worse, but it prevented him from carrying out an idea both just and helpful to others.
“Is he free?” the actor asked my boss. He compared this friend to Frederick Douglass, adding that the moment Douglass decided to seek liberation was his moment of liberation. Not the moment Douglass actually stepped on free ground, but before that, when he decided to disagree with the entire social structure of Southern slavery. His friend, the actor said, had not made that decision- he kept his idea to himself out of respect to or fear of the powers that be. He had not freed himself to do what he thought was right.
I dug this actor’s point. You don’t need to be shackled to someone to be his slave. I was a slave for months, to fear, doubt and anger. Anger that a woman I had considered a friend now treated me and my coworkers with such disrespect. Doubt that maybe I deserved a few of her snipes and jabs, or was being overly sensitive. And fear that if I left my job in this economy, I’d never find another one.
That Sunday night, before I wrote the letter of resignation, crying on my brother’s shoulder, he said, “Mom’s got money, I’ve got money, you’ve got money. We’ve got your back.” And I knew they did. As much as I’ve complained about sharing an apartment with them, I did walk into work Monday morning knowing that our living expenses were low enough, they were generous enough, they loved me enough, that I wasn’t going to wind up living in a cardboard box if I couldn’t find another job right away.
Love and faith can be big liberators.
So, I’m free. Like Wamba, I do wonder what to do with it. Plans still evade me. But unlike Wamba, I’m not worried. I was worried. For months. Fortunately, coincidences, fateful twists, acts of God, timing like that makes worrying seem so damn irrelevant. It’s time to go, and I’m grateful that everyone- even Google Analytics- stepped in to remind me of that.
The future will probably take care of itself, and meanwhile, I gotta admit, I’m kind of proud of my blog.