“Refuse to fight small battles with petty people. Your life is bigger and better than that.”
~ Author Unknown
I saw the above gut punch this morning and was reminded that this is exactly what I did. I walked away rather than do exactly what my former boss wanted: to engage in a fight. I could see it on her face, read it in her red, puffy eyes. That alone told me enough. I was the strong one.
One morning early, I’d been sitting at my station, sharpening instruments, preparing for my day. She entered the building and went to her office, just the other side of the hall. Soon after, I heard her telling a joke, loudly enough for my ears. No one else was nearby; it was meant for me.
I said nothing. I did not laugh. I uttered no response, kept sharpening. I completely ignored it and her. It pissed her off like nobody’s business.
In that moment I knew I was done. I could not pretend any longer. It was in this moment that I knew that she knew I did not need her for validation. Worse, she knew she’d lost my respect.
By this time, I’d been in dental hygiene for 20 plus years and I knew my stuff, knew what I was doing. Think about that. How does confidence and ability fly in the face of a fragile person who lives for praise? What does this do when the boss realizes you can see through them? I’d had enough and she knew it, right then.
This is when I knew it was the beginning of the end. I only knew it would happen, not how or when. I was far more ready than I knew.
She’d come in early. There were only two cars, hers and mine, and when I saw hers, I knew. My neck stiffened further. I walked in and there she sat at the lunch table. The first thing I noticed was her eyes. Her eyelids were swollen and red. She’d been crying.
Before I pulled into the parking lot, I knew. I felt it in my neck. It cramped like a son of a bitch and wouldn’t let go. The back of my neck, the right side, was near spasm. In its clenches, I could not turn my head. I went to work anyway. It was a Friday.
The second thing I noticed was the envelope on the table. She’d done the paperwork. I figured there was a check inside.
I knew her weaknesses, knew she wanted nothing more than to go to court, start a battle, to prove she was “right.” I have no doubt she’d contacted her lawyer(s). She had an incessant fear of “missing something” while on the job, one of her frequent assertions. Those lawyers knew her well; so did I.
As soon as I walked in, she said, “You can speak but nothing you say will matter.” I looked at her and simply stared. I said nothing. She continued by saying she thought it was time she and I parted ways. Part of me wanted to yell, “YA THINK?!!?” I simply stared.
I’d seen her look the other way far too often, ignore the harassment, bullying, and tolerating unprofessional behavior. She was, perhaps, the biggest bully of all; I’d been threatened with my job unless I lowered my standards. I refused. The workplace had become hostile. I watched others protect her and themselves. It made me sick.
There was other chatter, after which I stated, “I have never been fired.” Her response was to stare. She said nothing.
My father used to ask me, “Have you told her to go to hell yet?”
I repeated my assertion, “I have NEVER been fired.” It was my assertion that my record blows her argument out of the water. I have an impeccable record. She’d once said to my face, “You are an outstanding hygienist.” Something was going on; it wasn’t my work.
In that moment I realized what I am made of. As soon as she belittled me with her you can speak but it won’t matter line, she affirmed she wasn’t worth working for.
I knew I would not fight; it was beneath me to fight for that job. I was done; I’d been done. I was miserable working for her and those who do not behave professionally. I decided I would not give her what she most wanted: a fight.
It’s a difficult lesson, this one, but often it isn’t about performance. Which is why that top quote resonated today. It’s about being petty. Indeed.
I stood tall. I held my head high and did not stoop to lower standards. I did not cuss, I did not talk back, I did not argue. I listened. I remained calm. I did not cry or show any emotion. I showed no interest in remaining in her employ. I simply walked away. I am absolutely certain that infuriated her.
I’d seen her pick fights. On one such occasion, when a patient gave me a hard time while trying to do my job–nothing I hadn’t seen or handled before–she came unhinged, later asking me if I wanted her to dismiss him from the practice. The severity of her response was a concern.
I never forgot what that taught me: it took very little to ruffle her feathers, and, she will get rid of people in a heart beat.
She offered to write a letter of recommendation. I said nothing. I grabbed a box and cleaned out my locker. She stood there and watched. I then told her I was going down the hall to get my glasses and a few personal items. I did so. She handed me the envelop on the table, I gave her my key, and I left the building.
What took me a very long time to realize is just how strong I was in those moments, and how this woman, my former boss, a highly educated doctor, is quite fragile.
What she hadn’t counted on was my strength, and that I knew her. She had no idea that I wasn’t going to give her a fight.
A former employee, by law, has the legal right to request an employment record if requested within 60 days of the date of termination, sent at the employer’s expense. I found the legal description of the law and wrote a letter, requesting my record.
My sole intent was to make her think this was war (when all I wanted was the record). It worked.
What happened next was beyond anything I expected, but I wasn’t surprised (she loves a fight and wants to bring people into her comfort zone: the courts). The boss cornered a former co-worker to pry information from her to use against me to “pad” my employment record with false information before it was sent. Attempting to add information after termination?
One must ask why, and what exactly is behind this type of behavior. Why would someone stoop that low, corner an existing employee, for information? What is she afraid of?
And, there is it. She knew it was wrong and that she had NOTHING on me that wasn’t her own created fluff. Why was she crying? You don’t cry if it’s the right thing to do.
Six years later my husband received a call on his cell phone. He did not recognize the number, but because it’s his business number, he answered. It was my former boss. Acting normal, as if she hadn’t treated his wife like dirt, she proceeded to tell him she could not find our house number.
This is a tad hard to believe. At that time, we lived across the street from her daughter.
She also told him she didn’t have my cell number.
Also hard to believe. I have the same cell number as when I worked for her. At that time, hers was not a number I’d blocked. She didn’t even try.
She then told him that since she could not reach me, she had to look him up on-line to get his number. The reason for the call, she said, was that she’d been “doing some cleaning” and “found an item she thought I’d want” back; it was a gift I’d made for her years before for her new office.
And, all I could do was shake my head. There are so many things wrong with this behavior. First, why would she think I would want the reminder in my home? Second, she could easily throw it away and I would never be the wiser (so, why tell me? My guess is it’s another dig, a way of getting rid of me). Third, she wants it to appear she is trying to do something good, or nice (Really?! Well, well. Maybe it’s to make up for something?) because, fourth, this screams of guilt.
I won’t say the years after being fired weren’t difficult; they were. How does one reconcile that behavior? How does one not take something like this personally? How does one not begin to question yourself? It took a while to gain back my confidence, but gain I did.
I was better than the way I’d been treated. My life was better than how I’d been living in that environment. Sometimes, it’s extremely difficult not to take it personally when there is a disagreement, or when someone exerts power over you of which you have little or no control. It was a tough call, but I can live with my behavior.
I will never regret standing up for what is right. I will carry to my grave that I worked and behaved professionally, with honesty, and as a team player. I will never regret refusing to be a doormat.
Sometimes when we take a stand, we stand alone. Sometimes we fail, but….
“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask ‘What if I fall?’ Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”
~ Erin Hanson