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After 17 Years Of Blood, Sweat And Tears, My Career Was Over — Just Like That

Once I dried my tears, I fled the building in a cloak of numb humiliation.

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illustration of woman in a meeting with her boss blowing fire in her face
Delphine Lee
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A year ago today I was fired from the job I had — and loved — for 17 years.

The setback came as a shock. I was headed to my weekly 3 p.m. meeting with my boss. She was new, and I really liked her. My boss wasn’t in her office, so I lingered outside of her doorway. Then her assistant informed me that the location of our meeting had been changed, which was odd, since our offices were side by side.

That should have been the first tip-off, but I missed it. The sudden relocation wasn’t to one of our usual conference rooms, but to the floor below, which I also found odd. I had to consult a map by the elevator bank and ask two people where it was.

As I headed down the remote hallway, to a weird little room I never knew existed, the dread kicked in. I opened the door to discover the HR director sitting next to my boss, and I knew.

“This can’t be good,” I said, trying to make light of it.
With pained smiles, they told me to take a seat.

In kindergarten, my daughter, Mackenzie, drew a picture of a knight facing off with a fire-breathing dragon. I asked her what was happening in the scene, and she told me point-blank, “He’s being fired.”

That was exactly how I felt when I learned that my position was being eliminated — instantly torched. Once I dried my tears, I fled the building in a cloak of numb humiliation.

After nearly two decades of blood, sweat and tears, my career there was over — just like that. In many ways, I felt like I grew up there. I started as a newlywed, working alongside my husband, and over the years became a mother and then a single mother, and finally a divorced widow. No matter what I was going through personally, work was my constant. I loved what I did, creating enriching editorial products for children. I appreciated having a place to go to each day and working hard with a devoted team, and learned something new every day. The bonus was I rose through the ranks easily, until I didn’t. This marked the end of an era.

Over the next few days I experienced many of the classic stages of grief: shock, denial, bargaining and anger.

Never did I imagine that on the one-year anniversary I would feel not only acceptance, but also relief.

The truth was, I had been ready for a change. But as a single mother of two kids who recently lost their dad, I would never have left the security to live the dream of becoming a freelance writer. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that my employer did me a favor by shoving me off the deep end. Destiny was waiting there to catch me.

I owe this attitude adjustment not just to the passage of time, but to committing to a gratitude practice for the last several months. “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for the future,” says author Melody Beattie, and she’s right.

Gratitude’s power comes from shifting the perspective of hungering for more to feeling satisfied with what I already have. As simple and obvious as that sounds, desire is human nature, and to keep it in check requires effort until it’s a habit. It reminds me of when I was growing up and my mother would take her pointer finger and firmly poke the bottom of my spine to correct my posture.

“Sit up straight,” she’d gently remind me, time and time again.

Feeling grateful is like sitting up straight on the inside. But it takes practice, vigilance and, in my case, a Deepak Chopra app to bake it into my routine. Right after I drop my kids at their schools, I put in my ear buds and listen to the guided 20-minute meditation. Each segment starts with a 10-minute instruction. Then for the next 10 minutes I silently repeat the mantra I’ve just learned over and over in my head until Deepak chimes the gong and tells me to “release the mantra.”

I’ve never had an epiphany while meditating, and sometimes my monkey mind is downright frustrating the way it fixates on breakfast and the morning’s chores. Thanks to this daily 20-minute investment, however, the rest of my day has become easier, more fun and more meaningful. I’ve come to realize that all of the answers, joys and surprises are always right here, right now. But it’s hard to catch them when I’m preoccupied with something else. I’ve spent so much time worrying about the future (“Am I ever going to find a job?”) or lamenting the past (“Why did I eat that?”) that I was missing the one thing I did have — the present moment.

Gratitude is like The Secret, except that it’s the real deal. Science has found a powerful mind-body connection.

Grateful thoughts and meditative states transmit to the body’s 100 trillion cells, creating new brain patterns. This expanded awareness makes me feel more connected to the world around me. It’s a two-way flow. I’ve noticed that the universe gives me more of what I’m thankful for. It’s like getting a second helping for complimenting the chef.

For example, I emit a silent “thank you” for my plethora of unbelievable girlfriends and a few hours later open my front door to find a bottle of rosé and a handwritten note from one of them — congratulating me for a small but meaningful success. I emit another silent “thank you” for getting the opportunity to attend a Pilates class, and lo and behold the parking spot right in front of the studio opens up, just for me.

I’m even learning to be grateful for the things that don’t turn out the way I’d hoped, like my babysitter who took my credit card to New York on vacation with her boyfriend because “she thought I wouldn’t mind.” Since firing her, I’ve had the opportunity to be truly in the trenches with my two middle schoolers. Yes, I often feel like an Uber driver and short-order cook, but I also know their likes and dislikes in a way I never have before. There’s less yelling in the morning and more laughter in the evenings when we watch Glee and eat popcorn together.

I’m also grateful that my house, which I put on the market the month after I lost my job, didn’t sell. I’ve been desperate for the right buyer to materialize. But after two price reductions, 10 months, 20 open houses and 50 second showings, I finally found the perfect family for it: mine!

We love our home, and the location can’t be beat. Not only is it a friendly neighborhood with a weekly farmers market and a July 4th parade, but my son can walk to school, freeing me up to drive my daughter across town.

That’s when I came up with a Plan B: renting out my basement on Airbnb. I applied for a basic business license, and my first two guests materialized instantly. Now I have a revenue stream to help eat away at the mortgage. Gratitude is a practice that empowers me to see the opportunities and make choices in my life with fresh eyes.

And yes, I’m grateful that I lost my job. It will be a challenge to support myself with my writing, but the freedom also gives me the opportunity to write — and rewrite — my own silver-lining playbook on a daily basis. “Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings,” said writer William Arthur Ward.

It’s just a matter of sitting up straight on the inside.