Six months ago, I left the company I worked at for ten years. Some days, I still wonder if it mattered I was there. I recall the hard days, the politics, the highs and lows of daily work. I remember trying hard to build relationships and friendships. But impact can fly – along with relationships. I struggle to make sense of the negative experiences. And I start to ask existential questions about the point of it all.
One of my favorite movies is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.1” It’s about a couple who deeply love each other. But the relationship becomes painful and through a medical procedure, they decide to have the other person erased permanently from their memory. Though they no longer remembered each other, they somehow meet and find themselves connecting again. It’s fascinating to consider what the mind forgets but the heart remembers. People can’t be fully erased from our lives.
Leaving a long-time workplace is like leaving a long-term committed relationship. And just like relationships, I believe our experience in our workplace can’t be fully erased from our lives. This can be good, bad, or mixed, depending on the experience. But I also believe healing and renewal is possible; new experiences can replace the old.
The Box of Random Junk
When I left my old office, I somehow fit 10 years of random junk in one cardboard box. There’s the old Voice over IP phone – first generation – that only works with Skype for Business. A couple of cherished awards and handwritten notes. And the oldest swag I’ve kept from a job almost 20 years ago – a brain stress ball that says, “Smart is Beautiful. AltaVista.” Yes, I hail from the original internet. Some things are worth keeping, others – like the phone – need to be recycled.
This box of random junk still sits in my garage, occupying space. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the random emotions I still have to sort through, that continue to take up space. Maybe it’s a gentle invitation from God to hit pause, before I move on like nothing’s happened. So I hit pause and ask myself the hard questions:
What was great about the experience? What caused pain?
Losing my Tribe
My tribe was the people I worked with. We shared a common language, identity and purpose. From Southern California to Washington, I had moved seven times in 10 years but through it all, I belonged to the same tribe. We spent a lot of time together at work and after work, and talked about career, work and the stuff of life. They had invited me into their homes. We shared in our struggles to be good parents. We celebrated when someone got a new job, and mourned with each other when someone got slighted.
Leaving my tribe was a hard decision, but it was the right decision for me. It was time to leave.
After I left, some people I thought would reach out never did; others surprised me by their desire to connect and stay in touch. I had to come to terms with the reality that some relationships run deep, while others are shallow. But the harder thing to accept was I may never again belong to another tribe like this one.
All that I’ve Left Behind
Ironically, because I left while my role was in transition, I didn’t really leave much work undone. But there’s work of a different kind I was doing. In my last two years there, I started to have conversations with different people about racial justice and gender equity in the workplace, and the systems in place that stifled the flourishing of women of color. Even though it was very costly for me to have these conversations, I felt like God was the one opening doors for me to have them.
I often wonder about this important work – unfinished, undone. I can’t see the impact of my work, if any. But I know just as the Spirit started the work through me, the Spirit will continue the work through others.
Hitting pause has helped me sort through some things in my box of random emotions. In the process, I have found things I want to keep, things I want to shed. Great experiences and pain seem to come hand in hand.
When I hit pause again, I will sort through the remaining junk. For now, I know I am keeping the brain stress ball.
1Bermann, Georges (Producer), Gondy, Michel (Director), (2004) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. United States: Universal Studios.