Dear Former Employer,
It’s me, Phoebe.
The girl who worked for you for nearly two years. The girl who got one small raise but never dared to ask for more, who took three sick days and 1 week of paid vacation in her entire employment period, and who did everything in her power to part on good terms with you. The girl you’ve tried and failed twice to bring back since then. (I didn’t miss the compliment in those attempts, by the way, especially knowing how much you struggle to compliment your employees.)
I’ve drafted multiple letters to you before now. One of them I even wrote before I left my old job with you. They were all rife with bitterness and, while writing them was somewhat cathartic, I’m glad I had the good sense to never share them.
Now I think I have a better view of things. I think I’m finally capable of writing a letter I feel safe sharing. This time, instead of being snarky and bitter, I feel I should thank you.
You taught me a lot. That job taught me a lot, though when I left I didn’t fully appreciate just how much knowledge I had gained and how valuable it would turn out to be. By juggling the work of two or three people for the price of one fast food worker, I developed my work ethic and ability to multitask; I strengthened my brain and added relevant experience to my professional repertoire; I gained a great reputation among the people I came in contact with every day (which I’m proud to say helped me to get this new job); and I made strides on the road to learning about myself.
I didn’t like everything I learned. I found that I am a thermometer, prone to adapting to the moods of those around me, chiefly you. There was a reason I preferred to work alone, even if it meant I went near-crazy for want of someone to talk to: whenever you were around, I could sense my mood drop.
You repeatedly told me we were a lot alike and that was why we got along so well. In that regard, you would be wrong. The truth is that I was just really good at mimicking you. Turns out it’s my survival instinct: I pick up on the cues others put out and behave in the manner I sense will result in the least amount of friction. (And that instinct often suggested, considering our vastly differing opinions on motorcycles and country music, that it was best to keep quiet.)
I did not like the person who walked to her car at the end of that two-year employment. In fact, the sight of her made me a little sick to my stomach. She was irritable, short-tempered, self-defensive to a fault, and worn down to a hard, cynical shell.
But I’ve grown since then.
Though it has taken a while, I’ve come around to the fact that not everything that came out of that job was bad. It often hurt, but I needed toughening up. I have since accepted the value of my sensitivity and empathy, but thanks to my time with you that sensitivity is now tempered with good judgement.
With a little determination and a lot of prayer and tears, I was able to discard the parts of myself I didn’t like – the sarcastic comments I spewed as soon as I hung up the phone, the eye-rolling, and the habit of assuming the worst of people before they had a chance to prove themselves – and keep the aspects which would shape me into a better person – like not taking everything personally, being better attuned to peoples’ moods, knowing how to handle phone conversations of every kind, and realizing that everyone has a story which is influencing their actions in ways they may not realize.
As I’ve said here before, however, the best thing you taught me is to never underestimate myself. Before working for you, I did not realize my value, my resilience, and my capabilities; but in those two years I proved myself to myself. When I took up my job search this year I was able to walk into interviews and say with all honesty and only a little pride just how much I was capable of. I have confidence in myself now.
(I have also refined my knack for understanding people who do not speak English as their first ((or even second)) language. A Southern U.S. accent is another story.)
I no longer think of myself as weak, but indomitable. I no longer think of myself as ignorant and incapable, but resourceful. I no longer think of myself as a girl, but a woman. I no longer allow people to walk all over me, but demand the respect and trust I know I deserve.
I know how to admit when I’m wrong and how to ask for help. I’m no longer afraid to own up to my mistakes. I know how to judge a situation and work out solutions without someone standing over my shoulder walking me through it. I found a balance to my hereditary stubborn streak, and I’m learning how to apply it properly.
And I have you to thank for that. My parents spent years training me to be the confident young woman I’m becoming, but you forced me to be self-reliant. You told me to trust my instincts. You proved I was someone to rely on.
I’m still learning how to be content and how to trust and rely on other people. With this new job, I feel more than a little spoiled.
My new supervisors value my opinion and actively seek my input. They never write me off as ignorant, nor my ideas as a waste of time. They are patient, helpful, open, and excellent teachers. They encourage me when I succeed and don’t beat me down when I make a mistake (or hold past mistakes over my head). More than once this past week alone, I’ve had people – not even supervisors, but coworkers – stop by my desk to smile, share an encouraging word, and check in on me.
I used to perform under the fear of criticism and disciplinary action, but now my motivation is to please the people I work for and with because I respect them. My supervisors are careful to affirm the good work others do. (As Words of Affirmation is my pet Love Language, I respond particularly well to this style of management.)
Around here, empathy is not only encouraged but very useful. I walk in every morning excited to do something productive (instead of getting sick to my stomach at the thought of coming in to work) and leave every day feeling fulfilled and satisfied. I feel like I am actually having an impact on something bigger than the state of a soccer mom’s nails when she’s forced to hand-wash dishes for a weekend.
Only real crises are treated as such here. If a true crisis arises, it actually is closer to life-and-death than what I typically faced with you. If something can in fact wait at least ten minutes before being addressed, I am allowed to set it aside. I have the freedom to work at my own speed (which, thanks to you, is still too fast for me to keep busy every hour of the workday) and to focus on a single project at a time. I am locked into real office hours, meaning I actually leave at 5:00 whether or not there’s still paperwork on my desk.
This job has other perks, too, like a bathroom significantly nearer than a 1/4 mile, and the requirement that I wear something nicer than jeans and tee shirts most days.
I believe I will really thrive here, instead of just surviving to the weekend. I’m finding a balance in taking care of myself. I’m already excited to see where this path takes me, and I will always believe that I have you to partly thank for that. This job far surpasses the standard which you made me think I could expect from the world.
There is one thing I will miss from my time with you
(besides a few of my coworkers and the UPS man): I used to have the freedom to sing at the top of my lungs to any music I chose. That rule does not apply to front-desk work, so thank you for allowing me to do that while I could.
There are other things I once wished to say to you. At the urging of my wise parents, I kept those to myself, which meant you and I were able to part on good terms with no burned bridges. There are things I wanted to say while I still worked with you, but I know now they wouldn’t have had any positive effect. You were unaware of pretty much every problem I had with my old job.
So though you’ll never read this, I want you to know I’ve pushed past any lingering bitterness, thrown back my shoulders, and moved on.
So, with gratitude,