An Open Letter to All My Former Employers
(Obviously, Greg, I am aware this had nothing to do with you. There are few entities with less power than a middle manager. But if it’s alright with you, I’m going to use your name as a stand-in).
You took care of me for a while. You made it easy. You gave me a comfortable chair and a computer and a desk phone. The desk phone! I forgot about that. I literally laughed out loud. Did you know that I would never, ever use it? Looking back, it feels like some sort of generational prank.
You gave me business-speed internet. God. I miss that. When I worked for you, my wife and I never had to discuss whether one of us should be watching Gilmore Girls while the other of us was uploading a 2GB video.
You gave me free coffee too. It tasted like butt, but I knew you were trying. And the occasional catered lunches. Do you remember the first week I worked for you, Greg? You said, “there’s free food upstairs.” The next day, lunch was available again! Pasta and pizza and sandwiches for four consecutive days. Were you fattening me up?
You delivered me built-in friends. I’ll cherish those relationships. Water cooler conversations seem pointless, but they aren’t. When the small talk fades away, the world gets pretty quiet. I talk to my dog a lot now. But if I don’t use the word “chicken” or walk, he stops caring.
You did it all. You stripped me of the need to understand tax law or find my own health care. You spared me the agony of selling. You gave me room to explore and learn. You made it possible for me to work on a craft and get good at things.
Here’s what I didn’t understand until recently, though. The reason you made it so easy was so I would have no distractions. No worries. No thoughts. Come in here, shut out the world, and work on this thing, you said.
So I did.
I was pleasant.
I was kind.
I was a good little worker bee.
I worked on the priorities you set. I built the courses. I made the videos. I came home, exhausted but satisfied with a hard day’s work. I didn’t see my wife or my family much because I was busy working. Working at what? Whatever it was that you gave me.
Show up. Do work. We will take care of you. We will clothe you, feed you, and put a roof over your head. You can stay here forever. That’s what you said.
Except that’s not what happened, was it?
What happened was — when things got rough, you had to let us go. Not all of us, but hundreds. Hundreds of people who didn’t see it coming.
It’s cool. I mean it wasn’t then, but it is now. We won’t talk about the white-hot rage spilling through my veins and up into my throat in that weird scream. We won’t discuss the 7 miles I paced around town that one day with no cell phone so I would call anyone and say stupid things. We won’t talk about the tears, the humiliation, the looks of pity from everyone I told.
I know it wasn’t your fault, Greg. I know it wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. Recessions happen. Executives make choices. If you didn’t reduce your financial burden, the business doesn’t exist in the future. I get it.
Here’s the thing, though. I can never let that happen again.
I can’t allow you the authority to lull me to sleep. I can’t go back to that life. No magical direct deposit is worth that. I take full responsibility and control.
After you let me go, something odd happened: I remembered I was a human being, not a drone. I looked within. Do you know what I learned? There is good stuff in here, stuff that no manager or executive could take away from me. Stuff that no inequality or unfairness can erode. Stuff that matters. Love. Faith. Fight. Grit. Intelligence. Hope. Loyalty. It’s all there. It was waiting.
I will take the late night and the early mornings. I will accept waking up from a dead sleep at 4:23 A.M., wondering what I forgot to do the day before. I will take the nerves, the jitters, the fear, the doubt, the hesitation. I will take the calls with my tax guy. I will accept the challenges that come with entrepreneurship. I will stare down the monster of uncertainty.
There are millions of reasons I’m making this choice. Here’s an embarrassing but honest one — I want you to regret losing me. I want you to see my face in a bookstore. I want your colleagues to forward you my article. I want your managers to be handed a copy of my book and told “read this. There’s good stuff in here.”
In a way, I should be apologizing to you. I’m sorry I didn’t bring this energy to work every day. I tried. But you knew I’d go a little soft, didn’t you? You knew that if you set up the proper structure, I would be tamed. You could rely on me for safe, predictable effort, and some accountant would be able to measure me on a spreadsheet.
You knew it then, and you’ll know it when the economy picks up and you hire your next set of recruits. They’ll come in, relieved to get a job, and you’ll stroke them to sleep with NDAs and noncompetes, with rules and regulations and policies.
You will make them forget everything they dreamed of. They will trade it for a slow, mild, comfortable life. But when that day comes, you won’t see me.
I can’t be an employee. Not anymore.
Life is too short.