As we wrap up the holidays, are you wandering from room to room wondering how you have survived so long with your spouse? Do you catch yourself forcing a smile for so long that your jaw starts to clench? Sometimes we spend the holidays with family and friends, thinking we are shielding them from our own unhappy relationships, while with each passing day we grow more and more tired of the charade.
We think that we are protecting our spouse, our children, our parents from the unhappy truth that the relationship is no longer working. We tell ourselves that it is wrong to break up over the holidays and it can wait until next year. We do our best to swallow the feelings of annoyance, anger, and resentment, for the big picture of family togetherness.
But have you ever stopped to think that maybe the only other person in the room who feels the same way is your own spouse? Maybe every time you smile through gritted teeth at a story you have heard a million times before, the person sitting next to you is biting back the words, “stop gritting your teeth!” Maybe our desire to hide the truth is also a desire to hide *from* the truth.
The first time I ever had to fire anyone was my best friend at the time. I had just graduated from law school, and was working in my parents’ firm. The office clerk was a dear friend of mine from high school (we’ll call him Chris) who had started working there while I was away. Chris & I were both single at the time, both recently relocated back to our home town, and each other’s closest confidant and constant companion.
Chris is a smart guy. He is neat in his work habits and physical appearance. He gets along well with almost everyone. In total, a really great guy.
But, for some reason, he made dumb mistakes at work. The clerk job was pretty mindless, well below his intellectual capabilities. Yet, he would make silly mistakes, like putting papers in the copier upside down, so we got blanks instead of the intended information; putting documents into the wrong client’s file; forgetting to write down telephone messages, etc.
My parents gave me the task of letting him go, thinking it would be easier coming from a peer than from one of them. I dreaded the conversation. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. And selfishly, I didn’t want to jeopardize the friendship.
Each time I resolved to talk to Chris about looking for different work, something would interfere. I couldn’t fire him on his birthday. I didn’t want to ruin his planned vacation. I couldn’t tell him on his first day back from vacation. Etc., Etc.
Until, eventually, the day came when the excuses were gone. His work had continued to deteriorate, and I needed to face the music. I might lose him as a friend, but I needed to fire him as an office clerk. If he needed help finding a new job, I would do what I could to help him, but that was the best I could do for him.
We sat on either side of my desk, and I said the job was not working out. He clearly did not have his heart and mind in the game and it was effecting his performance. I said how much I valued him as a friend, but that it could not overrule what I needed to do for the law firm. It was honestly heart breaking for me. I felt like I was dumping a great boyfriend because someone else said I should.
When I finished speaking, Chris got up from his side of the desk, walked over, and gave me a big hug. He said, “I know this must be difficult for you.” Then he told me that he knew it was the wrong job for him. He confessed that he found it difficult to focus on the mundane tasks and that he really wanted to go back to school and get a master’s degree, but he felt it would be a mistake to leave a paying job. Now that the job was over, the sudden sense of freedom made him feel exhilarated, like he was finally free to pursue what he wanted to do with his life.
The truth is, he probably would have been happier, and better off, if I had not waited all those months to let him go. The whole time that I thought I was protecting him, I was actually keeping him in the wrong situation.
As I think about the New Year and the people who are grappling with difficult decisions, I am reminded of my dear friend Chris, and how his life turned in the right direction just as I thought I was doing the worst thing I would ever do to a friend. You never know what someone else is thinking.
As a post script, I should tell you that Chris wound up getting 3 more degrees and is happily working in publishing as an acquisitions editor, traveling the world.
WHAT WE LOVE: Sometimes the truth hurts, but sometimes it opens the door to infinite possibilities.