On day 89 of my 90-day probationary period at a large company, I was terminated. Not downsized, displaced, out-placed, or given severance. FIRED. I was told that I was not "conservative enough for the organization." I have no idea what that means. I had reported to work on time, properly dressed, and sober. I had worked very hard on my projects and avoided any political conversations. My hair wasn't purple, and I don't have a giant eagle tattoo on my arm with all the lyrics to "Freebird" underneath it.
During the farewell to me meeting, I asked four questions:
1-Has my work been at an acceptable level?
2-Was anything wrong with my attitude or demeanor?
3-Is there anything we can do to solve the problems that seem to exist?
4-What could I have done differently to avoid arriving at this point?
I did not receive any answers to my questions from the two leaders who explained that I needed to pack my belongings, turn in my badge, and exit. I wanted to be accountable for the mistakes I had made and to learn from the experience, but it is rather difficult make sense of a situation without feedback. My 30-day review and my 60-day review had been positive. Something unnamed had gone horribly wrong, although on day 88 both women who fired me on day 89 had behaved as if they were my best friends during an off-site, lovey-dovey team retreat.
I went home, put my box of belongings on my table, and called my father. He stayed with me all weekend while I cried. I have never been fired before. I felt like a failure, but I didn't know how or why I had failed. Finally I realized that no matter how long I spend rehashing meetings, imagining scenarios, and developing theories, I will never know why I was fired. North Carolina is an "at will" employment state, so I have no legal recourse.
I've since returned to school for a second graduate degree and have earned an academic fellowship to the McColl School of Business at Queens University in Charlotte. Luckily, our Washington & Lee experiences don't disappear after we leave Lexington. At 42, I'm still relying on skills I learned from the W&L English department as I work towards an MS in Organization Development degree. When my B-school classmates complain about our reading load, I know they have never taken a class from Professor Duvall or Professor Evans. Anyone who struggles with difficult research papers clearly missed Professor Coulling's Romantic Poetry course. Those with poor writing skills could have benefited from the wise counsel Professor Stuart offered me.
1) Pay attention to any negative feelings you have before accepting a job offer. Something about the team and the situation at this company seemed a little off, even though the opportunity looked great on paper. From now on, I won't hesitate to turn down a position that doesn't feel right.
2) Learn what you can from a professional setback then figure out what's next. The negative feelings will linger, but get started on something new as soon as you can.
E. Cullins Carriker '92 earned an MA in English from Southern Methodist University in '94. She taught high school English for 10 years before joining the Learning and Development department at Time Warner Cable. Currently she is a full-time graduate student (again) who resides in her native Charlotte, NC with her loving Pomeranian, Luka.
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