Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace, and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.
This time we’re re-visiting a show I first put out about 4 years ago now. But the topic feels as relevant as ever – what it feels like to leave a job in less than ideal circumstances, and how to recover from that.
You might be fired, you might be pressured to leave, you might choose to leave because of a personality clash…
“I don’t understand the psychology of it, what was happening between her and me. But there was undermining and erosion of my spirit. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
And losing a job can leave you reeling.
“Whereas I think the first time I was fired I’d had this series of transgressions, this time I absolutely didn’t see it coming at all. And there was a physical reaction to it. I felt completely sick.”
Coming up – two women, two stories, and some advice on how to get your mojo back after a bad breakup with work.
I’m actually planning on upcoming show in 2019 about forgiveness at work, and this seems like a good precursor to that. Because for many of us work is not just business – it’s personal. If we feel slighted or insulted or ignored…it can be really hard to get over that. As Marion Kane can attest.
Marion is a food writer who lives in Toronto. Actually she calls herself a food sleuth. For years she wrote for Canada’s daily newspapers. She spent 18 of those at one of the big Toronto dailies. First she was the food editor. And she had quite a career during that time. She became friends with the legendary food writer Julia Child, she says she was the first person in Canada to interview a young Jamie Oliver back in the ‘90s…she interviewed a member of the mob – he’d brought out a Mafia cookbook.
She and I spoke on Skype.
AM-T: So you had a really exciting time, it sounds like.
“Yes, I loved it! And the ‘90s were the heyday of newspapers. There was money around to send me to conferences, to have breakfast with Julia Child, to go to the Napa Valley to be wined and dined by chefs in a vineyard on Thanksgiving - it was amazing. But meanwhile I don’t want to ignore the fact newsrooms are grinders. They are very hectic places, you have deadlines, and I was producing the whole food section every week.”
It was a lot of work for one person. Ultimately she ended up getting run down, getting sick and taking some time off. When she came back she said she didn’t want to be the food editor any more – the pace was too relentless. The paper asked what she did want to do and she said, I’d love to write a column. They said yes. So Marion was able to leave that hectic pace behind. She had less responsibility overall. She should have been happy. But she had this editor…
“And this person was already gunning for me, I could tell. I didn’t know why and I don’t know why to this day. I’m guessing she felt threatened that I had a fiefdom of my own. The food section was very successful, it was very popular. So I don’t understand the psychology of it, what was happening between her and me. But there was undermining and erosion of my spirit, that’s the only way I can describe it.”
She says to take one example, the editor would consult much younger members of the newsroom about Marion’s beat – right in front of Marion.
“She would call me in and with a copy editor person who was handling the copy – and say, what do you think we should do with the food section, turning her back to me. I was one of the many people in that newsroom who spent a fair amount of time weeping in the toilet. You know newsrooms are brutal places, there’s a lot of addiction, a lot of alcoholism in newsrooms. I’m not going to badmouth them because they’re one of the most exciting places. I mean you’re in the thick of it. And I love that.”
But she hated feeling this editor didn’t support her or her work. Now maybe some of you are thinking she was being overly sensitive. And that’s always possible. But if you’ve been in a similar situation you know how hard it is to put your finger on some of this inter-personal stuff that goes on at work. It’s a lot of tiny things that add up over time.
One day Marion found her food column had been moved from a prominent spot – buried, she says, right next to the religion page.
AM-T: Now I’m just curious, did you ever consider confronting her and saying look, why are you doing these things?
“That’s a good point. I don’t know if I ever did. You didn’t do that in the newspaper business. I tried leaving – oh, I know what I did. I used to leave her phone messages before work. And I used to write columns, I guess this was passive/aggressive of me. But I’d learned the hard way it wouldn’t work to confront her. So I wrote a couple of columns about how miserable I was. And she called me in and said you know, that’s enough with those columns about how miserable you are. I did go to the union, I consulted doctors because my anxiety level was very high. And I couldn’t sleep and I was taking sleeping pills. And I’ve written about how that story ended.”
AM-T: Right. And before we get onto that just tell me what ultimately…how did you make your exit?
“In 2007, the spring, I got an email from the powers that be or actually the person they’d hired at the newspaper to downsize. And I’d heard people were getting emails to offer buyouts and I thought oh God, that’s terrible for them. And then I got one. I got an email saying we’re happy to offer you this and that, and it was a lot of money actually. And I was so outraged by this because I felt I was a marquee writer and I think I was, I had a following, I’d never missed a deadline, and I answered in a huff: ‘thank you for thinking of me but I don’t want to accept the offer.’”
AM-T: Hmm, wounded pride.
“Yeah, in a huff, you know? It was illogical and wrong and I didn’t seek advice; I should have legal advice actually. Other colleagues of mine did.”
She says the paper was sending out these notices to everyone around her age – she had turned 60 recently. But at the time she was so offended she reacted emotionally rather than rationally. She had second thoughts later. She wrote back to the paper saying she’d had a re-think and she’d like to take the buyout. They said no. So Marion decided to resign. She felt it was time. And her tenure ended on a high note. The paper gave her a good sendoff and she wrote a farewell column.
“I don’t have many regrets. My bank account would be far larger. That’s the advice I would give to people: Don’t stay in a toxic situation, however. Don’t let a boss bully you. Stand up for yourself. And I think if it’s impossible to stand up…oh, here’s a good irony…my boss was demoted shortly after I resigned.”
AM-T: That must have felt very satisfying.
“I have to say it did. I’d like to think it was because she had mistreated me, which was known in the newsroom, but I don’t know if that’s the case.”
It’s been about 8 years now, but all the feelings she had about that editor – they haven’t entirely left her.
“I still see her on occasion on the street. And I’ve had a fantasy of confronting her now about this. And I was in a grocery store recently and she was there and I said to another friend that I came across in that store, ‘I have to the urge to tell her what I think of her and what she did to me.’ And my friend said no, those things never work out the way you think.”
AM-T: Very wise advice.
Marion says whatever went wrong with that personal relationship, it was time to leave the paper.
AM-T: Because that was 2007, I was going to ask has it worked out and have you been happy in what you’ve been doing since then?
“Well I had a period of dealing with a cross addiction to sleeping pills, Lorazopam, and alcohol, that was partly brought on by stress, but I’d say it was a childhood thing that may have happened anyway. But I hit bottom in 2008 and have been in recovery for 6 and a half years. And you know the gift of an addiction and having to face your demons is that you can re-build your life in a healthier, healing way.”
Marion wrote to me after the interview and said if there’s one thing she wants to get across it’s that if you’re in a toxic situation it is better to leave before you get burned out and make some bad decisions. Now of course she was lucky that she could quit without anything to go to. She was close to retirement age anyway, and she had a nest egg. Most people will need to search for another job while they’re grinning and bearing it at work.
You can hear Marion on her podcast, it’s called Sittin’ in the Kitchen. You can find it on all the usual podcast apps. A show she did at the end of 2018 about a Toronto drop-in shelter for homeless women is a finalist for the Association of Food Journalist awards.
Next, a guest some of you will know from past shows. I interviewed her several times during the early years of the podcast. Today, Heather McGregor is executive dean of Edinburgh Business School in Scotland. When I met her for this interview she was still running a headhunting firm in London – Taylor Bennett. She’s still non-executive chairman of the firm. For many years she also write for the Financial Times under the pen name Mrs. Moneypenny.
Heather is no stranger to job loss.
“I was fired from my first ever job actually, my first proper job, which I was placed into by the company I now own. It was slightly unfortunate. I seemed to enter into a whole series of disastrous decisions at that company, and the final straw in their view was when I made an error of judgment in wearing an inappropriate dress to a client dinner.”
Her bosses at the ad agency deemed the dress too revealing. She says she’s learned a lot since that time – it was the mid-‘80s. Still, it was a dinner, not the office. And what really got to her was her boss’s comment that someone like Heather should not reveal too much skin because he said, ‘we have secretaries for that.’
“I was more furious about the comment that we have secretaries for that kind of thing. I thought to tell me that we employed secretaries I the office for the purposes of looking decorative was very insulting to the women that worked there.”
Heather and I had emailed a bit about all this before we met and I thought she’d been fired twice in all.
AM-T: “And what about the next time, or the final time you got laid off?”
“No, there was one in between. So when I went part-time to do my MBA I also took some contracts on.”
Just to jump in here – in her late 20s Heather decided she really wanted to do an MBA. She was working for a biotech company and her boss at the time wouldn’t pay for it, but he did let her go part-time so she could manage the MBA work a bit better. But as as soon as the MBA work scaled down at certain times of year she sought extra work.
“And I took on a 6-month part-time contract….which interestingly my current company also found for me. And I did it for 6 months and literally the night before the final day I was working late and the boss called me in and she said I’m sorry to tell you we’re not renewing your contract. We think you’re too big a personality to work here.”
AM-T: What does that mean?
“I think it means that I can be very divisive. I think that’s probably true of me even at 53. Some people enjoy working with me and other people find that I’m too outspoken. And I was much younger, I was 29 at the time. But I was absolutely devastated. I had not seen it coming. Whereas I think in my, the first time I’d had this series of transgressions, which culminated in the dress but there had been other transgressions…so you could see the pattern emerging, the dress was just the final straw really. But this time I absolutely didn’t see it coming at all. First of all there was a physical reaction to it – I felt completely sick. And I didn’t even want to go out of the front door of the building. I went back to my desk and I cried. And then I phoned my husband and asked him to meet me at the goods lift. And I took my things out via the goods lift because I didn’t want to go out by the main reception, I was so upset.”
She couldn’t bear to bump into anyone she’d been working with. She was much more of a mess than she’d been that first time.
“I was upset for lots of reasons. I’d got the job through a referral from people I liked, trusted and wanted to be proud of me. So to get sacked from it was really hard. I put everything into it. I was actually to help this company start a new business stream, so I’d been the architect of new business stream, I’d brought in lots of revenue. On an economic basis there was no justification. It was a personality thing. And I thought if I’d failed for a technical reason or a financial reason I could understand. But just to be told just my face didn’t fit was really hard.”
AM-T: How did you recover from that?
“I have to say that was very tough. As I anticipated the recruiter who had put me in gave me the most enormous bollocking as well. Which I was expecting. They were very disappointed in me. They had put me into a short-term contract hoping there would be a renewal. They couldn’t believe I’d managed to get myself fired, again in their eyes through being too outspoken, having too big a personality. It was a big learning lesson for me about the importance of managing how you come across. I’ve talked before about all the visual signals but it also includes how you come across in what you say – if you’ve got a point to make it’s important to make it, but think about how you make it.”
Losing that job that way really dented her confidence. And she probably she hardly strikes you as lacking in that department, but she says she has plenty of self-doubt at times. She believes lack of confidence is one of the biggest things that holds women back. And when you leave in challenging circumstances, it’s often hard to market yourself effectively because you feel so low…
“I spoke to a friend recently who came to me for careers advice. She is leaving her job under very difficult circumstances, but she hasn’t been fired. She has 2 children and one of them very sadly died of meningitis last year. And this was a wonderful teenage boy, incredibly gifted. And she feels she needs a slightly different life, she needs to move house, she needs to move job, she needs start life again in a different form. She doesn’t feel at the moment she’s on 100 percent form. So my suggestion to her was do something with a friend, something that isn’t necessarily at the top of your intellectual capabilities, doing something where you can contribute where you know that what you are doing is appreciated.”
Something she says that will build your confidence again. And that goes for everyone, not just people who have gone through a tragedy.
AM-T: “Yeah, because I think that’s the worst thing, is that you may have felt extremely confident previously and then this happens and it just puts you on the ground. Everything you thought you knew about yourself you start to question even though there is a sensible voice in your head telling you look, you’ve had this career. Just that rejection is so – I mean we were talking about this on email, it can feel like being dumped. It can feel like a relationship ending.”
“Yes, so for lots of people their work is much more to them than they sometimes realize. So your work is your affirmation, your work is your social life in many cases, a lot of your friends will be at work, it’s a means to pay the bills so it’s keeping the show on the road. So your job is so many things to you and to be told that you are not wanted any more, it’s hard enough in a relationship but in a job it can be devastating.”
AM-T: And it’s funny I mean when I left a job…hmm, it was my doing but it was because I didn’t feel – it was a contract job that had gone on for years and I didn’t really feel appreciated enough and I remember – I’ll never forget this, being told I wasn’t ‘distinctive enough’. That was my stab to the heart. And it honestly, it felt like a loss. In the same year my dad died, and all these things happened in the same year. But it felt like another loss along with the other actual losses of people that were happening.”
“And all of the grief cycle that you go through in a loss is the same grief cycle you go through with the loss of a job – the shock, the denial, and then the recovery. But just as there are things you can do when you are bereaved or you have a relationship breakup so there are things you can do when you have a breakup with an employer. As I said I would definitely find the thing you know you are good at and where you can make a contribution and where someone is going to say thank you. The important thing is to start to believe in yourself again.”
Sometimes that breakup can get legally messy. How you handle a perceived unfair dismissal will depend on where you live in the world and what the law is. Heather says if you feel you’re being edged out, suddenly getting bad reviews after a perfect record, have a conversation with your boss about what’s going on…
“…because sometimes it’s best to walk away with your head held high and say if you want me to go, I’ll go. And just as when people in divorces are so bitter that they drag the whole thing through the courts, it costs everyone a lot of money, it costs a lot of time and energy and you have to say sometimes what is the point? So I would say with people being dismissed from jobs. Yes, people shouldn’t get away with dismissing you unfairly, of course they shouldn’t. So there’s a place for tribunals. But if you think you’ve only got half a chance of wining and frankly your time, effort and energy would be better spent doing something else, I would encourage you to do that.”
AM-T: Mmm, right…
“And I think the important thing about anger and bitterness, these are emotions, and emotions take energy. I would always encourage people to channel that energy into someone else. I prefer not to get mad but to get even. And every time I’ve been dumped by a man I’ve made sure I’ve upgraded the next time I’ve gone out with one, and every time I’ve been sacked I’ve made sure I’ve gone out and got a better job next.”
Something to aspire to – no matter who dumped you or who you’re working for.
Heather McGregor is the author of Mrs. Moneypenny’s Financial Advice for Independent Women and Mrs. Moneypenny’s Career Advice for Women.
That’s The Broad Experience for this time.
I’ll post some show notes about my guests under this episode at The Broad Experience.com.
As usual I’d love to hear from you – you can reach me at ashley at thebroadexperience.com or on Twitter or Facebook. If you are able to support this show with a 50 dollar donation I will send you the official Broad Experience T-shirt – ladies cut – you can see a picture of that on the website at the ‘support’ tab.
I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.