- Prompt A: When did you realise you were a grown up? What did this mean for you? Shock to the system? Mourning of halcyon younger days? Or the embracing of the knowledge that you can do all the cool stuff adults do: drink wine, go on parent-free vacations, eat chocolate without reprimand?
Nothing makes you feel like a grown up more quickly than the first time you fire someone.
About a year and a half after I started with a national insurance company, I was promoted to management. Up until that point, I had felt like a perpetual kid in school. i had made the move to a completely new industry; yet, I had been promoted over people who had been in the industry for many years. They had much more experience in the field and several had management experience, as well.
The woman who promoted me is now my business partner and friend. She is my mentor, and her management style is to find her potential replacement and bring them along behind her. This trial by fire method was one that I was particularly suited to and I did well. She also despises any sort of unpleasant confrontation; so, more often than not, she would leave any messages of bad news or unpleasantness for me to deliver.
The first time that i had to fire someone, it was a very timid, sweet-tempered woman. She as good with paperwork, but she wouldn’t talk on the phone to clients and refused to go out to conduct enrollment meetings. As this was a big part of the job, it was unreasonable to think that she could stay.
Having never fired anyone before, the prospect of actually doing the deed weighed heavily on me all week long.
They say that you’re not supposed to fire someone on a Friday; but, that’s when the release was scheduled. More people would be out of the office that day, including our boss.
I came in that morning and got settled at my desk. I could hear whispered conversations from further down the row of cubicles. Standing up, I could see a cluster of heads in the woman’s cubicle.
I dawdled at my desk for as long as I could, dreading the thought of having to tell someone they were no longer welcome. Finally, realizing that I could no longer put it off, I gathered my paperwork and walked down to her cube.
She was sitting at her desk, surrounded by several of our coworkers. She looked upset and the coworkers all looked like thunderclouds.
“Can I see you for a minute, please?”
She stood up and followed me partway down the row, toward our manager’s office.
Suddenly, she asked, “How come Diane changed her voicemail?”
I stopped and turned around.
“What are you talking about?”
Diane was the sales person that she worked directly with, and a big part of the reason she was getting fired.
“Diane’s voicemail used to say to contact me if they need help right away. Now it says to call you.”
Her face crumpled and she started to cry.
“Am I getting fired?”
By this time, we had an audience around us. Several people from our department were circled, arms crossed, watching intently.
“Why don’t we go into Marla’s office?” I suggested.
“Just tell me. AM I getting fired?”
I was mortified. Everything about this was going sideways.
I liked this woman. Until I had been promoted, I had been friends with this woman and with all of the people now standing around us, watching me stutter and stammer.
I started to cry, too.
“Please. Let’s just go in here,” I begged.
She cried harder, but shuffled into the office ahead of me. I closed the door behind us and tried to regain my composure.
She just sat in the chair across from me, wiping her eyes, sniffling, and I tried to go through the bullet points that I had written down the night before. I’m not sure that she heard any of it, and eventually, I stopped talking.
“What am I going to do?” she asked.
I didn’t have an answer. I just kept saying, “I’m sorry.”
Finally, I said that I would have to go with her to box up her things. I stopped in my cubicle on the way back, and picked up the empty box that I had stashed there before leaving the night before.
As we walked past the row of cubicles, I could see each of our coworkers studiously typing away on their computers.
it took a while to gather her things; but, finally, she was finished.
We rode silently down the elevator, an occasional sniff punctuating the silence.
As she got into her car, I said again, “I’m sorry.”
Without another word, she closed the door, started the car and drove away.
Immediately, my head exploded in pain. I am prone to stress migraines and the minute her tail lights vanished around the corner, my vision was blocked by an enormous aura.
I rode the elevator back upstairs, picked up my purse and car keys, and left for the day. The whole way home, I sobbed and sobbed.
All I could think about was how awful the woman must feel and how she would have to tell her husband. Would she be able to find a new job? They had just moved into a new home…would they be able to stay in it? I understand that she was ultimately the master of her own fate. If she’d met expectations for the position, she wouldn’t have been let go; but, when it is your responsibility to derail someone’s career, and to effect someone’s life, you discover what real, adult life is all about. I was no longer a kid playing at a grown-up’s job. It was at that moment that the phrase, “Be careful what you wish for” came crashing down on me.
I am participating in The Scintilla Project.
1692, from fig. use of L. scintilla “particle of fire, spark, glittering speck, atom,” probably from PIE *ski-nto-, from base *skai- “to shine, to gleam” (cf. Goth. skeinan, O.E. scinan “to shine”).