Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm Fired.

My name is Cara.

One month ago today, I fired myself.

It was a typical day lifted from any week in my agenda: a plain Tuesday. I’d faithfully attended my 6 am fitness class that morning. I’d had a balanced breakfast. I’d dressed kind of cute. I arrived with annoying punctuality at my impeccably furnished, naturally-lit office in a hoity-toity section of downtown Montreal. My usual non-fat latte was surgically attached to my hand as I poised myself behind my sparkling glass-topped desk and fired up my sleek laptop. Here I was: fabulously ready for another day of career purgatory.

Then it arrived like a bolt out of the blue. As that song about sunscreen goes, “The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” Except it was 11 am. But it really was Tuesday, I swear.

Looking back now, I should have seen it coming. I’d been acting strangely around myself for days (not giving myself full answers; going out of my way to avoid myself) and on the day of the actual event, I couldn’t even look myself in the eye. All the signs were there. I was just too scared to see them.

I was altogether professional about it, to my credit. I kept it short and to the point, and as the perhaps unwritten Golden Rule of Firing Someone suggests, I got it out within the first 2 sentences. It Just Isn’t Working Out. I’m Fired.

I didn’t cry. I packed my belongings in a file box, turned in my beloved Blackberry, and walked out the door.

For those of you who have bothered to read this far, no doubt you’ve already said it a couple of times: “Enough already. What’s she talking about. You can’t fire yourself. You can only quit.”

Here is where I beg to differ. Actually, I don’t even have to beg. I’m just going to differ.

A bunch of times in your professional career, someone you’ve known (or perhaps even you yourself) has said, “I wish they’d just fire me, already. Then I’d be FORCED to make some changes.” To which you might have replied, “Well, then, why don’t you quit?”, only to garner a response of, “I could never do that! I don’t have the guts.” And so said person toils away, year after year in mediocrity, or perhaps even all-out despair. Because whatever else, at least it pays the bills. It is what many of our parents and grandparents taught us is right.

I didn’t have the guts to do it either. I’d been a successful, executive-level professional for years. I made decent money. I have a mortgage. I have a car. I have expensive gym memberships and the outfits to match. I travel. I built a lifestyle that fit my income. 

But I wasn’t happy. 

It was like one of those romantic relationships most of us have had at one time where nothing’s really great, but nothing’s really wrong, either. Nobody wants to go through the icky phase after a breakup, and nobody wants to be alone. It’s just easier to stay.

Eventually I managed to scrounge up enough courage to leave a 15-year career at a great company for a new endeavour, just to scare myself a bit and shake things up (career rebound?) I even took a hefty salary cut in the process. And oh, the excitement of change! Leaving the old behind! Discovering new and fascinating things about myself; finding new strengths I never knew I had! Yay, me! Change is good!

It was not good.

It was so not good that three months into it, I needed to leave. I mean, I had to. And I couldn’t quit. No way. Quitting without another job to go to meant I’d be giving up, I’d be irresponsible, and more importantly, it meant risking having my friends (and worst of all, my parents) think I am reckless and insane. (It quite possibly also meant moving into a cardboard box.) At least, in my mind it meant all of these things.

So I fired myself and made all of those foolish notions vanish in an instant. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. Things are easier when you have no choice.

And here I am, one month on the edge. Thelma and Louise had it right all along.
I hope you’ll follow along on my adventure.