Let Go & Letting Go

Words by Taylor (she/her), 24 NSW

 

When my last employer let me go, it felt like being dumped by a toxic ex.

We clearly weren’t working out, but I had more to give. I was determined to do better, and still hoping he’d change. Hoping he’d walk the walk promised in meetings, not just talk the talk. Hoping that all my improvements, even if incremental, would be enough to prevent my departure.

I’d spent six months in a love-hate relationship with work that made me feel trapped.

A four-day week and work-from-home Friday’s seemed like a dream for my first “real job,” and the mission of the company was one I had my heart in.

But the expectations were high, and the company procedures were in shambles. I was swamped with too much work and too little time to complete it. Personal boundaries were pushed. Work-life balance? Forget it! And that’s only the tip of the toxic iceberg.

As the six-month mark drew nearer, I set the goal of leaving before new year. But he beat me to it. I was robbed of the ability to leave on my own terms.

When I saw the phone call flash across my phone at 7pm, I was still walking home from the train station.

With a feeling in my gut about its purpose, I quickly searched the web for my rights upon arriving home. As my first permanent role, I thought I had more protection compared to being a casual.

The internet backed me up, declaring that I would need a warning first.

I’d been trying to set and maintain boundaries around my time. I wanted to keep work and life hours separate as much as possible but would feel manipulated into caving on many occasions. On this particular night I compromised this boundary for him again. May as well rip off the band aid. Called him back. Stood up for the rights I believed I had.

Apparently small businesses do not have to adhere to these laws.

Yet, in all the pain there was a flicker of relief. Whilst I was blindsided, I somehow knew deep down that it was coming. At least there was light at the end of the tunnel in leaving.

It’s been about a month since my last day now, and I still grieve. Cycles of emotions repeat themselves in an ad hoc manner. I still think about the past, traumatised by the things that happened.

Thinking about the potential I had that was short lived, the fact that I compromised my wellbeing in order to keep my job, and lost it anyway.

I thought about leaving feedback. But it would be too much emotional labour, and then likely fall on deaf ears. He will never know how much the experience has traumatised me.

Besides the small waves of depression, anger and bargaining, I am happier and healthier now in my underemployment. My confetti-sized casual gigs are not enough to pay the rent, but at least I’m no longer selling my soul and my youth.

Without the office life, I have more energy and can pay attention to neglected parts of my life. I get to focus on my writing now too, even if part of that practice is through writing tailored resumes and cover letters.

What makes letting go easier is the new freedom and possibilities.

Having learnt that red flag companies are not worth my time and optimism, I have a fresh start in finding something that will actually work for me and the life I want to live.

Finding such openings, and landing one, is challenging. The market ebbs and flows with potential futures. Many opportunities turn out to be closed doors that won’t let me peek inside. Few are left ajar, giving me a crack at the position. It might be a while before the right door swings open and pulls me in with open arms, but if I succeed in finding such a door, the reward of a healthy and fulfilling life will be worth much more than any income lost in the hunt.

I hope that one day, as the blank pages of the future are filled, I will be able to look back and understand this period of my life as part of a grander narrative. As the Soren Kierkegaard quote goes, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

This is a chance to reorientate my path towards a personal utopia. This new knowledge, and the freedom of underemployment gives me new choices to make. I owe it to my past and future, to show up every day and work on myself, to turn down red flag opportunities, and to find employment that is genuinely ethical, healthy and energising.

 

Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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