These days I celebrate 100 percent employee retention, and team members coming to tell me when they are offered jobs. But this trauma comes from the days when people were leaving the company almost everyday.
And because it was so often, I learned to be very sad when people left. I would think of all the plans I had with them at the center of it, all the capacity I had built for the future, all the teaching and training and patience – an ex explained to me what the concept is “emotional labour”.
I learned to be civil and supportive, to send them off with goodwill and good faith, but it hurt still. It sometimes felt like I had been cheated.
Then it hit me, on the day when an ex team member came to me in tears explaining the turmoil that led to her leaving, the pressure from family, and how miserable she was where she now was. That’s when it hit me: wait, I had been processing this selfishly all along. Every human being is on a peculiar journey with its own contours. I had been so consumed by the unfairness done me, by the wasted emotional labour.
But this was not about me. This should never have been about me.
This was about her. This was about each of them, and their journeys through the world. All trying to find their way, even if they were making a mistake.
I have an aunty who left her kids one day, left everything behind, and just went away. She didn’t re-marry. Wasn’t wealthy. She just upped an left For more than a decade. None of us understood it. No one knew where she was. No one knew why she left. But we all felt bitter towards her. Who leaves her kids and just goes away? We all judged her.
It just occurred to me the other day: No one ever thought to ask her, even once: “Why did you leave?” “What happened?” “What became too much for you to bear?”
A mentee asked his mother this same question last year, and he shared with me in a haunting personal narrative.
“Why did you leave us mummy?”
“I am sorry,” she told him. “I was completely, completely shattered. Your father destroyed me. I had nothing to give anyone. You were better off with him, than with me.”
I have found myself breaking up – very sadly – with people once or twice. And every once in a while, you find the person who just can’t handle it. The one who stops talking to you, who ignores you at a party. It doesn’t matter if the break up was civil and respectful, and you were not caught doing anything wrong. The pain is too much. The “rejection” is taken very close to heart. I understand it now. It’s emotional labour. If a person had imagined a life with you, the rupture can, as we say, break one’s heart.
When you fire a person, however well intentioned, often the person enters survival mode. Nothing you say breaks through. The person feels rejected, taken apart, all alone. And the person suddenly looks at everything you did to them, with them – with another eye.
The same thing happens when you break up. The person wonders if your words were true. If it truly mattered. If they mattered to you. How could you break up with them if you truly loved them? They enter survival mode, they build walls to protect themselves, they lock you out. I have done that too in the past.
It’s understand. It’s legitimate. And it’s valid.
But valid doesn’t mean right. And valid certainly doesn’t mean proper, does it?
Sometimes when a person breaks up with you. Sometimes when a person says no. Sometime when a person moved on… it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their journey. It’s about them finding their way in the world, same as you. Making mistakes, losing their way, picking up their own pieces.
It’s natural for you to make it about yourself. It’s easy to tell yourself a story of hurt, and pain, and betrayal and the wickedness of others.
But it’s wise to know when making it about you (alone) just isn’t the wise thing to do.