The Wisdom of Falling Apart
A job offer goes awry, and leads to a spiritual healing.
Originally published at www.laurafromtheheart.com on May 23, 2017.
Earlier in May, I was in Portland, Oregon, taking in the details of an eagerly-anticipated job offer.
This wasn’t just any job. I had been recruited to apply for it, having never heard of the company (a new start-up) or position before. And it was perfect: It brought together heart and profit, passion and ambition, talent and hard work. It was the biggest job I’d ever applied for, in scope, title, and pay, and my whole body resonated with it. I interviewed for six weeks: first, in meetings over Skype; then for four weeks as a contractor while we worked together to make sure it was a good fit.
It was. They flew me out to the home office, and then to another job site. I worked hard, and was commended for my contributions. My future employer went as far as to announce me company-wide before the offer was even made. That’s how sure we both were.
And then the offer came in at $10K less than the starting range promoted in their listing, and $20K less than my target, with no equity or bonus options.
I thanked them and said I needed to think about it. Surprised, the human resources manager asked if I had any questions. I hesitated, and then said that I wondered why the range was lower than we had been discussing. She denied there was a posted range, and asked me what I had been seeking. A wiser person would have closed the conversation and taken time to consider how to respond, but I was not that person, not in that moment.
I answered honestly: $20K higher than her offer.
The conversation grew notably tense and confusing then. It didn’t help that I was speaking with someone with whom I’d never had a salary conversation. I’d had those with different staffers in the first two interviews; when asked, the range I had named was the same as the recruiter’s posting. Neither of those interviewers were on the call, though, and the human resources person had no knowledge of these discussions. She said she would see if there was room to move, and sent me the offer in writing.
Before the end of the day, I had been scolded by the person who had brought me on as a contractor. My response about the salary had “raised red flags” and given her “cold feet.” I was characterized as bitter. (Previously, this woman had acknowledged my email following my first interview with her, saying that it was “one of the most perceptive thank you emails I have ever received.”) I apologized, and tried to explain that I was confused by the disparity in the ranges. She pointed out, correctly, that while I had stated my range to her, she had never actually said that was what they would pay. I couldn’t argue with that.
Despite this clear breakdown, I still wanted the job. Even at $20K lower than my target, it was a great opportunity to do something at which I excel and would learn. I made the case for accepting it to my husband. He supported me, even though it meant having to make up that income gap in other ways.
I finally met with the human resources manager two days later. I had written to her in the interim, thanking her for the offer and restating my interest. I was expecting this conversation to be one where I would accept the offer, and we would talk about on-boarding and a few other things.
Before I could say anything, she let me know that they needed to have someone in this role who really wanted to be there. Based on my questioning of the salary discrepancy, and pressing for equity and bonus options, it was clear that I did not. She thought it best that we part ways.
The offer was rescinded.
I was stunned. I had no choice but to accept their decision, and I did so as graciously as I could.
But in the days after, I grieved. The work was exciting, and I had made connections with this team after working with them for six weeks. The abrupt ending, with no closure, hurt. I wondered how this reversal was explained internally.
Even more than that, though, was the confusion about what went wrong. Did I misremember? I found the initial email from the recruiter. The salary was named in the first line. I wrote to him: Did he take a liberty? Was this the range? He checked the job order and confirmed that the range was accurate (“…and higher,” he said).
Inexplicably, I realized that I felt ashamed. Something that was given to me was swiftly taken away from me and I couldn’t understand why. From the darkest depths came the answer: “You are bad. And you must be really bad, girl, for them to turn you out like that.”
My shame wanted me to believe that I am not good enough. And really, that belief went very deep, a core wound that has defined my whole life. While I thought I had pulled it out by the roots years ago, it took this event to see that it’s been there still, underground, needing only the right conditions in which to spread invasively again.
Living with this shame and grief was debilitating in the days and weeks that followed. But it also gave me power. While I didn’t get this job, and I had to contend with the “What next?” question about work and income, I also had the chance now to confront an insidious and hidden belief that still governed me. The process of being with this was intense, but ultimately healing. And releasing this was like dropping a shackle I was wearing for a lifetime.
It took this finish-line upset, blind-siding and destructive, to shake loose the vestiges of decades-old shame that remained in my system.
But as falling apart so often is, this was an unexpected gift. Falling apart softens us, if we let it. It forces our hand. My hand now is open, and my heart is softer, and this piece of me — my youngest self, who first learned the shame of not being good enough when her father left, inexplicably, at age 4 — is now welcome to be with me here: completely vulnerable, completely safe, and completely loved. At age 48, it took the highest reach of my life to elicit the greatest sense of failure, and to finally bring this girl to the fore where she could be seen and integrated, rather than relegated to the shadows.
Working with this girl, rather than indifferent to her — or unconscious of her, as was more likely the case — gives me power that I didn’t have before. Brené Brown, noted researcher on shame and vulnerability, and author of Daring Greatly, writes, “If we want to be able to move through difficult disappointments, the hurt feelings, and the heartbreaks that are inevitable in a fully lived life, we can’t equate defeat with being unworthy of love, belonging, and joy. If we do, we’ll never show up and try again….Shame resilience is the ability to say, ‘This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage, and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.’”
With clear eyes, I can see that the company with whom I was enamored did not conduct themselves well; they revealed a character mismatch to me before I was committed to them, and for that I can be grateful.
It also revealed my own courage and resilience, and my willingness to stand in the darkest place within myself to meet what’s there. Knowing that about myself means that there is nothing I can’t risk.
The lesson I learned here is worth far more to me than the job I stood to land. I couldn’t have known that then, but the value of knowing my own courage and resilience — and of knowing myself — is worth the heartache and confusion that this company’s actions elicited.