By Tamara Syed
This article is part of a series called, “The Many Faces of Grief.” As someone who has experienced various forms of grief, I hope to help others navigate through this difficult, but necessary emotion.
The alarm rang, I hit snooze – or so, I thought. I moved farther away from work, I spent late nights at comedy clubs doing open mics or working on a screenplay with my writing partner. In retrospect, I felt these were valid excuses to consistently be late to work. In reality, there was a deeper issue that I was not sure how to address.
To this day, I swear I can hear my mom’s voice, “Tamara, wake up!” even though I live alone. I was running late, but it was a Friday – everyone showed up late on Fridays! I got in at 9:30 a.m. on the dot and greeted my manager, who had walked beside me, up the stairs, without even saying a word to me. My slack APP dinged, it was a message from the HR director: she wanted to see me. My manager turned the corner as I approached; she kept her eyes on the ground. Inside HR, I said, “But it’s Friday. Everyone comes in late on Friday.”
I felt gutted when I walked back down the stairs, without my laptop this time. I later discovered that IT saw my personal messages. Lesson learned-keep work and personal computers separate.
Then, I broke the news to my teammates who had cheered me on at our holiday party karaoke. We even shared inside jokes through a private slack channel although nothing is really private in corporate hellscapes.
“I’m fired,” I uttered, still in disbelief.
I remembered how this was my first “big girl” job. I don’t know if anyone was keeping score, but having gotten a job on the same day of my college graduation must have been some kind of a record! Epic. I was especially stoked because the circumstances were unusual, I was 28. It took me eight years to finish my Bachelor’s degree. After a string of bad jobs and bad choices, I was relieved to be getting a job with health insurance, a 401k, you know, the “big girl” stuff.
My first day was a week later, I was eager to contribute, to make big waves in the music journalism space, to be the best employee I could be. I would show up early and I wouldn’t leave before 7:00 p.m. I took diligent notes at meetings, I asked coworkers if they needed help, I cracked jokes to make someone…anyone, laugh.
LinkedIn was popping off, I got messages and emails congratulating me on the new position. It was a runner’s high…that ran short. When you’re in a bad relationship, you don’t notice the subtle red flags until after the breakup. My so-called dream job was a textbook example of gaslighting, racial microaggressions and sexist power dynamics, all of the red flags I had missed.
I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment I sabotaged my reputation at work, but I’m sure it started around the time I felt invisible. My job was simple, mechanical almost, it never veered off into a creative tangent. I craved more and when I ventured off, I was shut down. There was the time I was told to bartend an event even though I’m Muslim and shouldn’t be handling alcohol. Or how that same night, the director of our department pointed at me from across the room, filled with our colleagues, and summoned me with his index finger.
Therefore, the shame of being fired was a tiny sliver compared to the weight of guilt I felt for not sticking up for myself. In this case, I wasn’t grieving the loss of a job, but more so…the loss of self. Every moment I chose to stay silent rather than speak up, piled on my conscience. I was suffocating under all the things left unsaid. Getting fired wasn’t the outcome I expected, but how long could I go on pretending everything was okay?
Overall, the sudden shock and sting of losing a job does hurt; it’s the type of grief that should be handled delicately. It’s the perfect time for reflection. I’m certain if you look back on your job, you will surprisingly find that it wasn’t a great fit for you all along. You are not your position, your LinkedIn headline, or your generous benefits package. The only certainty in life is death and we won’t be able to take our titles with us. Might as well have fun along the way in discovering who you are, beyond the titles. Losing this job taught me so many lessons, but most importantly, it brought me closer to myself.