I loved my career with the deepest parts of my being. I worked with college students, developing them into leaders and experts and world changers. I mentored them, I supervised them, I advised them, I sat with them on my couch and let them cry with me, I made them dinner and chocolate chip banana bread and gave them hand written notes when life was hard. My job used every single one of my skills and smoothed over the roughest parts of me. I loved it with my whole heart; I often told people that I had found my happy little corner of the world and I was never going to leave. It goes without saying, then, that when I lost this job unexpectedly after a malicious and egregious serious of events, my heart split in half.
I have never felt more rejected, more desperate, and more alone in my entire life. Emotions washed over me like tsunami waves: anger, sadness, shock, disbelief – over and over again each day until numbness allowed me to sleep a few hours each night.
I will spare you all the details, but it provides good background to tell you that I was marginalized for a long time in my workplace due to a toxic work environment and a manipulative, fear-mongering boss. I was fighting the good fight and in it for the students, so I often compartmentalized the hurt and pain and channeled that energy into producing excellent work. I was successful for a long time; gave blood, sweat, and tears to it because of the students who became family to me. I never took it too personally that my boss disliked me so much; he was passive aggressive enough that I could brush most of it off. But when false allegations arose and he chose not to fight for me – I took that very personally. He kept quiet and washed his hands of me; no regard for my emotions, no empathy for my situation, no remorse or communication after the fact.
Cut off and rejected, I was thrust into a season of personal depression and professional embarrassment. Every day I filled out a dozen job applications that ranged from jobs I was under-qualified for to jobs that I did back in high school. I spent hours at coffee shops and cafés, searching without end. The job hunt made me feel small, unworthy, and like a failure.
I found hope and identity in the work that I did; I had no idea who I was now that it had been ripped from me. I lost friendships I treasured and relationships that gave me purpose. People called at first, but stopped calling and checking in when they realized I was not exactly sharing the gossip. The pain of these severed relationships still feels so tender and raw; social anxiety still sets in deep when I am around them. That pain coupled with purposelessness in my work life has been enough to almost destroy me. Almost.
I always knew this season wouldn’t last forever, but I did not know what it would take to come out the other end. Per my therapist’s suggestion, I picked up new hobbies like gardening. And, while I’ve never really considered myself a green thumb, I started weeping when I saw my first tomato make an appearance. Something changed that day and I feel more hopeful now, more alive. It took the tilling of broken soil, the discipline of daily watering, and the promise of new, green life to remind me that I am only as small as I let myself feel – and I don’t want to feel small anymore. I am claiming a new refrain, a fight song, a reprise.
So, the lie I have been believing is this: I have failed so badly and embarrassed myself so much that I will never do meaningful work again. My professional dignity and personal drive ended when my last paycheck was cashed and I will never fully recover.
The truth I am here to tell? Life absolutely goes on. It is fueled, not by professional accomplishments or job titles, but by the love and grace of relationships, the power of family and the wild force of community. The sweet is better because of the bitter. The healing of any wound happens out in the open, where it can breathe for a little while; everything grows as a result of sunshine and rain.
This is just as true with professional bruises. While I may never fully recover, I have seen how that isn’t always a bad thing. These bruises and wounds teach us boundaries. They force us to stand a little taller, walk a little lighter, think a little clearer.
Like Henry Rollins said, “Scar tissue is stronger than regular tissue. Realize the strength, and move on.”