A couple of days ago, I lost ALL Contacts from my iPhone. When I tried to retrieve them from the Cloud, they were ALL GONE! Only then did I realize that my Contacts had been linked to an old work account that is now deleted. Just like that…they were gone for good! I went about my day and began working on restoring contacts. But as I lay in bed at night, anger welled up and I felt a sense of deep betrayal. You see, I didn’t just lose former work contacts. I lost contact information for my family in Germany, my child in the Grand Canyon, my master naturalist gang, and my dear friends. And it felt like the old workplace had sucker punched me one last time. They had stolen my personal contacts…just like they had stolen my voice at the very end. Here I am, approaching my fifth month of freedom from the workplace, and it’s time to tell my story.
To grasp the entire picture, a bit of context is necessary. So let me share some details of my former career and the challenges of working in an area that is in desperate need of reform.
I had a great 16-1/2 year career in which I created an entire area of expertise for the organization in which I worked – elders and the courts. In recent years, I had focused my efforts on reforming the adult guardianship system. It’s a complicated process that varies from court to court and is fraught with abuse and exploitation. Here’s the short version. Imagine you are in a car accident that results in a brain injury that leaves you unable to handle your finances and live independently. But you kept putting off visiting that attorney to get your durable powers of attorney and health care directives drawn up. Who is going to help you make decisions? In all probability, a judge will appoint a guardian to look after your medical, personal, and/or financial affairs. Hopefully, that person will be a trustworthy advocate. If not, the court has the power to remove a guardian and appoint someone else.
Sounds like a clear-cut process, right? Well, it’s not! Not only might the appointed guardian (most likely a family member) be after your money or provide insufficient care, most courts exercise little oversight. Generally, statutes call for the guardian to submit annual well-being reports and accountings to the court. But that doesn’t mean anyone at the court is examining or auditing those reports. And all too often, vulnerable adults are abused, neglected, and exploited by the very persons appointed to look after them. To make matters worse, it occurs under the court’s watch. It’s a national scandal – check out this episode of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” That’s the area in which I worked – advocating for court reform to improve the lives of vulnerable adults placed under guardianship. Yes, it was important to me and I was passionate about it.
Throughout my career, I had spent considerable time on the road, traveling to make presentations and work with courts and judges on reform efforts. Early in the year, a pair of back-to-back site visits had left me incredibly discouraged. In one state, a judge told me that it wasn’t the court’s responsibility to take action when they learned that a guardian (whom they appointed) was exploiting a vulnerable adult. In another state, I learned that judges were actually waiving annual hearings AND accountings. That’s right – the person in charge of the money didn’t have to report to the court or document fiduciary activities. Talk about the lack of accountability! What was I doing working in this byzantine area of the law in which people could be so blatantly exploited? Why am I spending a good chunk of my life pushing so hard for reform when so few people care? What’s the point? Yes, I had hit “burn out” status.
From my perspective, the upper management of the organization in which I worked was dysfunctional – there were many aspects of the workplace that could be considered toxic. But I had great support from my immediate supervisors. They understood the complexity of the issues and bolstered the modernization efforts I was trying to get funded. Despite their support, I did the work of three people and never had the staff necessary to build the guardianship program. It was a “show me the money” mentality – bring in more grant money and maybe we can help you with staffing. It was an uphill battle. I’m not sure what the turning point was – it could have been the retirement of my supervisor, which meant we lost our “shield” against upper management. With his absence, and the upcoming retirement of our VP, I had begun to feel even more isolated in an organization in which my area of expertise was not a “core function.”
Now you know the context. So why did I get fired? I threw an empty tea cup against the wall and it broke! Of course, it didn’t help that the head of the organization was sitting in my office at the time! Just for the record, I have NEVER done such a thing in my life. It was totally out of character. And no, the tea cup was not directed at anyone’s head.
But why throw a tea cup against the wall? Has your subconscience ever taken over your body? Say for instance, you witness someone bullying or hitting your child. You might act out of instinct and protection. Well, that tea cup had a mind of its own! One second it was in my hand. The next it was on the floor in large chunks. And darn it – I liked that tea cup.
Every action has a precipitating event. So remember, I had recently returned from a pair of site visits that had left me discouraged. And I was preparing for a two-week road trip that included presentations and a site visit on the west coast. There I was getting organized for the trip when the head of the organization sat down in my office. I won’t get into details of the conversation, which was about securing funding for guardianship projects.
Since this is my story, I will share the way conversation made me FEEL. Belittled. Disregarded. Put down. Demeaned. Bullied. Now I doubt that was the intent of the individual. The fact is, some people have a style of conversation that is argumentative and confrontational. But on this day, at this time, it was too much. Just like that, I hit the breaking point. The job no longer outweighed the personal sacrifices. The tea cup flew out of my hand. The head of the organization bolted out of my office and I immediately told my VP I was going to be fired. He insisted it wouldn’t happen.
The day after the “tea cup incident,” I flew to San Francisco to begin my two-week jaunt. During this time, I had anticipated a call from HR asking what had happened. I knew management would be discussing my fate. I arrived home late on a Monday evening. The next day I stopped at the doctor’s office and checked my email while I waited. And there was my invitation to speak to the HR Director the moment I arrived in the office.
I was certain I’d finally get to tell my story, which would be taken into account before any punishment were doled out. Instead, I was fired on the spot! Yes, I was shocked. But if it’s possible to feel shocked but yet not surprised, that sums it up well. And as I said goodbye to the few people in the office that morning and hauled away my stuff, I felt a sense of relief. I was going to be okay! You know, I’m really not bitter about being fired. But I am bothered that no one had the decency or humanity to talk to me about what happened. I own my tea cup shards. They own their consciences. And now that I’ve written my story, my catharsis is complete – although The Great Tea Cup Incident has a nice ring to it as a book title!
Somehow, my subconscious mind checked my net worth before the tea cup left my hand! I don’t think it would have happened had I not paid off my mortgage and accumulated a fair amount of assets. Money DOES buy freedom! And while I have some regrets over abandoning guardianship reform efforts, I gave it my all for as long as I could. It’s time for others to step up to the plate.
What excites me is the opportunity to start over. It’s a little bit scary, and a whole lot more fun. I’ve switched rails – jumping to my other passion of helping people become financially independent and change their lives for the better. I’m working longer hours than ever, but I’m my own boss. I’m confident that my engaging online courses at the Early Exit Academy will make financial freedom accessible to so many more people. In the end, this is what I was meant to be doing at this time in my life. Onward and upward!