The World of “Lost” Jobs

A friend of mine lost his job a few days ago.  He’s not a close friend, more of an acquaintance, but my heart aches for him anyway.  I lost my job once, almost four years ago.  It still hurts to think about it, although not as much and I don’t think of it as often.

I was working as a teacher.  It was my very first classroom all to myself; I’d been working as an assistant teacher or support staff until then.  Three days before the first day of school, I was hired to teach first grade.  I was ecstatic, and terrified, and I dove in head first and began my “real” teaching career.

There were lots of factors involved in losing that job, and as I look back they swirl in my mind, like the snowflakes in a snow globe that’s just been shaken, and then set right side up.  I remember a poor evaluation by my principal that felt as if it came out of nowhere.  I remember talking with my union rep and deciding to fight the evaluation.  I remember a horrible meeting with the school principal and her accusations of excessive computer use during school hours.  I remember the Friday afternoon when I was called into the principal’s office and told that my contract was not being renewed for the next school year.  I remember coming to school every day after that, determined to finish the year.  I remember my last day, packing up my things and saying goodbye.

The feelings swirl as well, less like a snow globe and more like a hurricane.  Shame.  Fear.  Grief.  Regret.  Questions.  Why did I spend so much time on the computer instead of engaged with the students?  Why wasn’t I any good at the one career I’d chosen and trained for all my adult life?  I had brought my partner and her son to a school event several weeks earlier; was I fired because I was gay?  What was I going to do now?  Why? Why? Why?

I look back today and let everything swirl and rage, then settle again.  I could argue that the loss was the best thing that could have happened to me, because I was able to consider and pursue a career that is a much better fit for me.  I’m a librarian, and I still get to work with kids, but I’m focused on my passion for reading and literature.  All that computer time is now an asset, because I am a research machine.  I am out to my coworkers and work in an inclusive environment, which is more valuable than I could have fully understood or expressed four years ago.

But I also wonder: what would have happened if the principal had decided to renew my contract and give me another shot?  What would have happened if I had been mentored and guided and encouraged for another year?  How would it have impacted how I saw myself as a person, and as a professional, after making a mistake, after failing at something?

I’m sure my friend finds himself in a swirl of emotions and questions at times, and I’m sorry he has to go through that.  I find myself wishing that his employer had taken more time to focus on his strengths and abilities, and then encouraged him to bring even more of himself to his job.  I wish that we as employees were seen less like recyclable plastic water bottles and more like cut crystal, valuable and beautiful and worth the effort.  As someone who now manages other colleagues, I try to remember that a mistake does not mean someone is necessarily in the wrong job, or is “wrong” as a person.  People need encouragement and guidance and support in order to thrive.

But I also believe that a job is part of a path that unfurls slowly and with intention, although it may not be illuminated and clear every step of the way.  Jobs are not “lost,” like car keys or a favorite pen; they are opportunities, offering not just material wealth but also lessons for personal growth, if we choose to learn them.  Every job I’ve ever had has taught me something about myself and the world around me, and I believe that by trusting the path, I will continue to grow.

Welcome back to the world of “lost” jobs, my friend.  I believe in you, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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