Two weeks ago I was fired from my position as Managing Director for The Seagull Project.
I had only been back in the job for less than 3 months and came back in early October to a very stressed staff on the verge of quitting. I spent most of the first few weeks back just having conversations trying to convince people to stay. I had a killer team and didn’t want to lose an ounce of the talent I had procured. After I patched those holes, convincing people of the potential we had ahead and how we just had to power through to February when we could rebuild, I had to cancel our major fundraiser. Attention had been paid to another fundraising effort against the strategy I had created before I left. Then, my first board meeting was canceled because most of the board was suddenly unavailable 48 hours before the meeting, so we had no container to discuss the implications and plans for what to do next with this fundraising hole.
The first meeting I finally had with the board was in early December and it involved giving some hard news about the state of our finances. In that meeting, we did some serious reconnoitering of the budget, readjusted revenue goals, and walked out with a plan for how to fundraise with major donors and secure loans for our revenue shortfall.
The rest of December passed with a lot of other fires to put out. Prior to my coming on board, decisions were made that turned out to have serious ramifications for us. No one had adequately researched how to actually carry out some of these things, so when time came to implement them, we were lacking in some major pieces. These pieces affected our negotiations with the actors’ union and how we dealt with payroll. I had to talk another staff member off a ledge after delivering some hard news because without them we would have come to a complete standstill. We started rehearsals behind the eight ball, but everyone was getting paid and we had patched yet more holes. I was so proud of my team for continuing to plod forward solve all the crazy problems we were encountering.
Next we had some problems with our fiscal sponsor around instructions that they admit were unclear. It resulted in a delay in a funds transfer and we ended up having some bounced checks. Calling someone to tell them not to deposit a check is about the least fun thing to do. It’s even worse when they say the already have and we all hang out in limbo to see what happens next.
All of this came to a head the weekend of Christmas when no one was available and everything was delayed because of office closures and holiday gatherings.
I came to the January board meeting and outlined all the problems we had experienced and how we had solved them and what we needed next to move forward. It was a chaotic meeting where we were missing a board member for the whole meeting (who no one had spoken to in a while) and another for half the meeting. The meeting was contentious. We didn’t have board meeting minutes to reference previous decisions, we were all stressed with all the operational things that landed, plus we had the usual chaos of the holidays. I left feeling tense but like we had tangible steps to try and solve some problems.
The next evening I was fired. The exact details of the day are not important. The bottom line is I was fired without warning and without an opportunity to correct behavior, behavior that I don’t even know about since no specifics were given to me about what I did wrong. This was counter to the culture I had created among the staff where everyone was given many chances to find the job that worked for them. We were all learning and volunteers, so what good would it have done to berate someone and maybe lose a willing team member in the process?
I was sad about being fired, but also relieved. I told my staff and the conversations over the next 4 days went something like this:
Staff: What the fuck?
Staff: I am so angry I don’t have words.
Me: I understand.
Staff: I’m leaving.
Two staff members resigned immediately, one resigned effective the end of January, and as of this writing six are not planning to continue after this production. Of the 14 person staff, that leaves five people.
The exodus, overt or covert, was gratifying to parts of me. I spent a week just being numb, enjoying my new time with my baby. Before I was fired, my day would largely consist of having to figure out how to feed Ronan and keep him entertained so I could get on the phone or answer emails or respond to texts all day. Did I mention this job was unpaid? Yeah. I was missing valuable time with my baby for an unpaid position.
Now I could spend time just making faces at him. The day after I was fired, we got home from an outing and after I changed his diaper, we just laid in bed together, talking to each other and snuggling.
I posted about it on Facebook the Friday after it happened. I received 5 job offers within 2 days. All were paid. It boosted my confidence that I had desirable skills and was a worthwhile person to work with. Because I don’t know why I was fired, I couldn’t do any productive self-reflection or even if the decision was justified.
Then about a week later I hit a major slump. My postpartum depression had been relatively well managed, but this pushed it from “mild and managed” to “major episode.” I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was addressing Ronan’s needs but would start crying for no discernible reason.
I scheduled an emergency session with my therapist. We sorted some things out, largely that if this position had been paid I would have an easily winnable wrongful termination lawsuit on my hands.
Now all I’m left with is unanswered questions AND a sense of relief. This job was hard to do even before I was a new mom dealing with PPD. I was contacted multiple times while on maternity leave to return because of how things were falling apart. Given the outcry to my firing, I can see that decisions made by the board are largely based in emotion, not logic or what is actually best for the company or the people who work within it. Now my days are more loose and I can focus on things I enjoy, like my sweet, sweet baby boy.
But open loops are tough for the human brain. It’s like having an itch you can’t quite scratch, but isn’t so awful you seek out a corner to wiggle against. The catalytic action of the firing and the subsequent depression episode just suck. I get indignant and wonder if this kind of suffering is what my boss wanted when he fired me.
For now, I work to keep my health on track. I’ve started and joined lots of online communities, I get out of the house every day, I’m back to working out almost every day, and I do my best to focus on what brings me joy and reduces my suffering. I’m lucky that this is the worst I have to deal with. The pending quality of all that is happening with our political system gives me a huge sense of unease, but at least, for now, I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a happy, healthy family that offers me home and hope when I need it.