Earlier this year I was asked to resign from a job in my preferred niche area of my profession, which was a devastating experience. About a month ago I started a new, different position for a new agency, but in the same area as the old job, both geographically and professionally.
So far the new job is working out well, which is great, because I’m proving to myself that I failed at the old job because it wasn’t a good fit, not because I’m a bad person. However, there’s a lot of interaction between agencies in my field, so I have to communicate with people from my former company on occasion. Usually it’s by phone/fax/email to people I didn’t work with directly, but there are pending meetings where I will be in the same room as former colleagues I did collaborate with. My former coworkers are friendly enough, but I was working solo most of the time in my old job and didn’t socialize with them. I was very withdrawn and depressed for the last several weeks of my term there, and didn’t really give anyone notice that I was leaving until my last week.
I’m still feeling a lot of shame over being fired. I’ve avoided places and events where there were chances of running into old coworkers, plus I generally tend to avoid people and situations that didn’t work out for me, such as not keeping in contact with exes. But now, these interactions are inevitable, I’m not sure how to navigate them, and thinking about it makes me pretty anxious. Any advice/scripts you could offer would be incredibly welcome.
License to Fret
I’m keeping your email subject-line as the title because it was funny and illustrative of your state of mind.
Sometimes there is a delayed reaction when you leave a toxic or ill-fitting job situation and start something new, and I think that’s what’s going on here. Treat your anxiety and depression, if you’re not doing that already. That’s part of the delayed reaction. How much of your bad feelings were work struggles, and how much of them were your jerkbrain? Sort out the jerkbrain things: Call your new employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you’ve got one, make an appointment for a physical, seek out a counselor if you can. Employ all the self-care measures of regular sleep, regular food, routine maintenance like haircuts and moving your body in some way that feels good and reaching out to people who make you feel good. It’s normal to feel some shame after a big upset like getting fired, so I’m not going to go all “turn that frown upside down” on you. But if the shame is having a lasting effect, sort that stuff out, ok?
Your former colleagues harbor feelings about you that most likely range from “who again?” to neutral to vaguely sort of liking you and being happy you landed somewhere new, or, at worst, relief that you are no longer in your ill-fitting job and glad for you that you found something else. They aren’t thinking about you, your failure, your shame, your creeping sense of dread, etc. When you left, they thought about it for approximately 1 business day, like, “Oh, was that License’s last day? Should we have had a cake or something?” and “Is License’s stapler up for grabs, I wonder” and then they mostly stopped thinking about you unless they had to specifically dig into your desk or take over a project from you. The only thing they want from you now is timely communication when you are sharing projects and basic work levels of friendly interactions when your paths happen to cross. They don’t want to talk about feelings, or resurrect old zombies of dread and failure. This “Eli Roth-level badness” thing is something you are doing to yourself. They don’t want this for you.
So, go to work, be good at your job, go to meetings where you will see your former colleagues, say “Hi!” and stick mostly to work topics. If anything related to your former employment vs. your new employment comes up, here are some scripts;
- “Hi, so nice to see you. I’m glad we get to work together again.”
- “How am I enjoying the new job? Very much so. I’m happy to be able to keep working in (subject matter) but in a position that’s a much better fit for my skills.”
- If you get an awkward “You didn’t even say goodbye!” response from someone you used to work with, it’s going to land on your depressed ears like “You did everything wrong, including leaving!” but really it means “I missed you when you left.” Try to rephrase it in your head that way, as an expression from someone who likes you, and then answer in kind. “I was so very busy and not really feeling my best at work during that time. But I’m very glad to see you now!” Don’t apologize, just acknowledge the nice sentiment from a nice (if overly enthusiastic/familiar) person.
If they harbor any awkwardness about the past, they will gratefully take any and all cues from you about how to act. The more relaxed and confident you can be (or fake being), the more relieved they will be, and the easier everything will become. It will be weird the first time you see people. Then it will be fine as things resolve to a new normal.