Career
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On the Event of My “Canniversary”

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(Photo Credit: Kat Borosky)

My boss slid two manila folders across her desk.

“Well, you’re probably not shocked about what I’m going to say.”

I had an inkling about what she was going to say, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t shocked.

One week after returning from
 my 10-day honeymoon, I was getting the axe.

*

As we celebrate (ok,
 we don’t celebrate) the 5th anniversary of the 
2008 economic collapse, I celebrate (and yes, I celebrate) the 
moment I was laid off from my last full-time job — my 
”Canniversary.”

Credit for that term goes solely to my friend Maura
 Johnston, who announced, on Twitter, her one-year Canniversary of being 
”shit-canned.”  (However if
 you look up canniversary in urban dictionary, it 
has a whole different meaning)

For me, it was first time I’d
 ever been let go from a job. Ever. I’d always been that
 sit-in-the-front-row, hardworking, sleeves rolled, do whatever it
 takes kind of worker. I’d been promoted at every job I’d ever had. 
But in this particular digital editor gig, I had a b personality conflict with my boss and some other members of the team, and it was a job that 
just never gelled. They say your first time is a 
badge of honor. But at the time, it was devastating.

[pullquote]Lesson #1: There are some things people 
say in the corporate world that they definitely
 do not mean.[/pullquote]

A week before I was dismissed (there are
 many, many words for 
this), I knew something was up. My boss started having meetings without me. The Special Projects
 Editor kept his door shut. The Executive Director left her door
 open but was never there. The Managing Editor teetered past me 
quickly in her red Louboutins. “Hi, hi, hi!” she chirped and
 shuttled along.

I 
held the manila folders in my hands. The custard-yellow walls of my 
boss’s office were decorated with pictures of her four-year-old son 
in various settings; huge, torn manila paper crayon scribblings; a
 photograph of the company offsite, people piled on top of each
other, egging to the camera.

My boss pointed a finger at me,
 as if she was trying to give me good advice, “I know this is
 upsetting but you need to pay attention. You’ll find everything you 
need in there, your…”

To tell you now what she said, well, I’d be 
making it up. I didn’t even open the folders.

I’d been on the other
 side of this situation many times as a manager, and I was impressed at 
how closely my boss followed the script. Look the person in the eye. 
Be compassionate, but never say you’re sorry. Stick to the facts.

It’s the hardest thing in the world to tell someone they’re being 
let go, you just want to hold their hand and tell them it will be 
ok.

I knew I was supposed to listen but it was the last thing I 
could do.

When I first started the job, my boss emailed me a list of
 my job responsibilities. She sent me a reading list of leadership books to jump start me into the job.

She asked me 
to take the popular StrengthsFinder test to identify my work personality traits (this turned
 out to include “achiever”, “includer,” “positivity,” and “woo,”
which, ironically stands for “winning others over”) to see how I
 compared with her other direct reports. A handful of us were all hired at the same time.

She diagrammed the
 entire company hierarchy on a white board and explained who did
 what, who was nice and who wasn’t, who was a difficult personality
 and who was useful. It was mildly alarming but I chocked it up to 
her personality trait of “Arranger.” I figured she had good intentions.

One coworker, however, was so upset by her “people diagram,” that we, collectively, planned to bring it up to our boss. After all, my boss told us
 she wanted to have an open office where we could discuss anything.
“Anything, I mean, don’t be afraid ladies!”

Lesson #1: There are 
some things people just say in the corporate
 world that they definitely do not mean.

During one of our small
 meetings, I spoke up on my coworker’s behalf and told her that we were
 disheartened by her map of people “pros and cons.” I reminded her
 that as an, (ahem) “includer,” it was in my nature to help out and 
ensure that everyone had a voice.

Lesson #2: Always let
 people speak up for themselves.

My boss’s eyes widened and she 
folded her hands tightly. After a few seconds, she turned on a
 smile, “Look. I’m only trying to protect you guys from political 
pitfalls. It’s like when I say to my son, ‘Stranger, Danger!
”

She described the company as if it was 
some giant Chutes and Ladders game with nefarious characters 
lurking at the bottom of every chute. She wasn’t far off, actually.

So it was one year later that my boss sat across from me with her 
steely gaze. She stuck to the facts.

“Your position is being
 eliminated. Your last day will be today.”

And so it was, also, my 
first day.

**

Amazing things can happen when you escape. That’s 
how I see it now, an escape.

Lucky enough to have a supportive 
husband and a bit of severance pay, I joined a long-lost friend on a head-clearing road trip across the Midwest. (Think
 Thelma and Louise at the Iowa State Fair – butter sculptures, fried 
Twinkies and all.) Coffee meetings became frequent and I 
spent quality time with a few old friends and colleagues. I hired a
 career coach to help me navigate my next step (ironically her 
company is called The Escape Club as in “Escape from 
Corporate America”)

I let my mind relax more than it had in the 
last 15+ years and thought about what I really wanted to do next.
 Should I take another full-time gig? Or should I start something 
more meaningful of my own?

And yes, as trite as it is it’s true, 
that dastardly day turned out to be one of the best things to ever 
happen to me. It led me to start my own business, something I 
never thought I’d have the chutzpah or patience to pull off, but I
 did it — out of both necessity and passion.

One month after she got 
the boot, Maura started Maura Magazine, a groundbreaking 
subscription publication.

[pullquote]I let my mind relax more than 
it had in the last 15+ years and thought about what I really wanted
 to do next.[/pullquote]

“I’ve been fired publicly twice,” says
 Maura, “both times for not going along with my bosses’ desired plan 
to dominate their particular online verticals… To be fair, in 
both instances, I definitely had a bad attitude by the time I got 
let go — I was underperforming, traffic-wise, because resources
 (technological and personnel-wise) were spare, shrinking, or even
nonexistent. But these incidents also allowed me to view the
 problems of online content from the perspectives of sites that
 didn’t want to go along with the herd. It forced me to think about
 new solutions, and the support I got after I got fired also 
inspired me to keep going.”

The fire in your belly.

It’s been said that the most important
 catalyst for success is failure.

I wasn’t a total failure at that job. In fact, I’m proud of the work I did there.

Ultimately, it was 
just a bad fit…. Or they didn’t know what they had. … Or I did
 my job so well, they didn’t think they needed me. Yeah, that’s it.

Oh, how we spin our tales.

In fact, it doesn’t matter what
 happened. I’m just so glad that it did.

9 Comments

  1. Hi Margit…

    I know…it’s been awhile! I’m so glad you took the time to write – and publish this piece. Timing couldn’t have been more auspicious since I just got let go yesterday for some of the same reasons you were (I was clearly on a roll at AOL to make it through 10 years unscathed). I was at Rhapsody for 21 months and during most of that time recognized it wasn’t a good fit. I felt like I was in a bad relationship that I kept trying to make a go of, but ultimately should have broken off a long time ago. I’m also going to follow up with your coach because I am beyond done with the corporate world. Not that having my own business is easier, but I’m inspired by you and others to make a go of it. I see too many people, women especially, who let the fear keep them in jobs with tons of excuses. I feel like the universe has been kicking my ar$e the past week or so (I knew something was up too) and I got the message loud and clear yesterday. I’m ready for the next adventure – bring it! Thank you!

  2. Margit Detweiler

    Thanks Shannon! And thanks for sharing your story. So glad I helped give you a nudge to go it your own. It’s hard work but I actually think those of us from the “AOL days” are well-positioned for entrepreneurship (we had to know how to do *everything*) Another lesson in hindsight. BRING IT GIRL!

  3. Hi there!

    I found this article from a friend who follows Esther Schindler on Google+, who thought I’d get a kick out of it because I did the same thing and it DOES have to do with my “canniversary”. As a result of medical marijuana helping me break out of a years-long depression, I started a new career and blog dedicating myself to teaching people how to use cannabis safely and effectively for medical purposes. Best of luck to everyone else reinventing and recovering their true selves!

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