Termination for Cause (Part 3)

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The main purpose of middle managers, in my opinion, is to lead, guide, motivate and coach their direct reports. Vision casting is the job of senior management, and doing the day-to-day operational work is the role of individual contributors. Middle managers so focused on becoming visionary leaders that they don’t invest in their staff are a bane to organizations, as are micromanaging middle managers who who create a disconnect from their staff with their meddling.

My team at work has recurring meetings with our primary vendor every Tuesday from 7:00AM until 9:00AM. Every week, we spent two hours talking through status updates for each of the various projects on which we collaborate. If an employee were to resign and this was her last Tuesday team meeting (hypothetically speaking, of course), this would be a great time for her manager to give a small speech or simple public farewell thanking said employee for her eight years of service.

Did this hypothetical manager publicly thank this hypothetical employee during her final group meeting? No. Has she privately wished me well? No. Did she even take the opportunity to let everyone know it was my last meeting? Yes. But all she said was, “This is Aurora’s last time to join this meeting, so if you have any questions, now is the time to ask them for purposes of transition. No? Okay. Then we can go ahead and end the meeting. The rest of us will talk next week.”

Thankfully, one of the vendor representatives inadvertently shamed my boss by interjecting and saying how very nice it’s been to work with me for the past two years and that he wishes me all the best. The vendor initiated this comment. Not my boss. Not even one of my teammates. A vendor who lives in Germany and just dials in to the meeting, who had no responsibility to step into this leadership role and bid me a fond farewell – he was the one who did what my own boss could not. I wasn’t expecting my boss to take me out to a goodbye lunch or goodbye coffee (in fact, I preferred that she didn’t), but I did think my boss would at least give lip service to her managerial responsibilities.

On Wednesday mornings, we have another team call, but this one is purely internal with no vendors admitted. Thinking she may have learned from the way the vendor shamed her in the Tuesday call, I figured my boss may at least thank me for my service during this gathering of just our four immediate teammates. No. She didn’t. And I realized that, in order to be shamed by the vendor’s behavior, she would have had to be socially adept enough to realize that there was shame to be had.

Fortunately, some of my other coworkers are thoughtful and clued in to the social niceties of fond farewells. However, though most of my coworkers are friendlier and more attentive than my boss, several of them struggled a bit with the whole social intelligence thing, too.

A surprising number of my colleagues who normally have no trouble booking meetings and conference calls seemed to suddenly forget that we have visibility to each other’s Outlook calendars. Conversations like this one happened an unfathomable number of times:

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I appreciated that my colleagues wanted to meet up for one last coffee, and I know they were probably just being informal and talking out the scheduling rather than looking at my Outlook calendar to book a formal meeting, but the number of times I had this same kind of conversation made me wish people would just check my calendar so I didn’t have to tell eight different people per day that I was out of office Wednesday, already had lunch plans Monday, was in back-to-back meetings Tuesday morning but was free at time X, Y or Z.

But the catch up coffees and lunches were nice. And in just a few days now, I’m about to be really free – with no Outlook calendar or vendor meetings or team meetings or anything. I can’t wait!

Authentically Aurora

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Grating Expectations

Distance in Relationships

My daddy has gently told me, over and over again for years, that it’s a whole lot easier not to be disappointed in people when you stop having expectations for how they should behave.

But for the life of me, I just can’t seem to stop hoping for better for people. It’s a blessing and a curse. I always want to see the possibilities for redemption and the potential for greatness, which is a beautiful part of the way God made my heart, but it also leads to a seemingly perpetual string of woundings and disappointments. It’s part of the paradox of the INTJ personality – we can be both the most hopeful of idealists and the bitterest of cynics. It’s a delicate balance to walk and an often frustrating way to live.

Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while knows that I love personality types. I’m an Enneagram Type One, and I subscribe to weekly emails that give me encouragement for personal growth specific to the way I’m wired. Earlier this week, I got this email: “Today, notice if you are playing the role of the ‘Educator’ or the ‘Teacher,’ the superior person whose place it is to instill wisdom in the ignorant, uplift the fallen, and show others how to do something useful and productive with their lives.”

It’s true. I do try to be the mentor type, speaking wisdom into the lives of people I sense need direction, often because they overtly ask for it, but sometimes simply because my intuition (in truth, the Holy Spirit) prompts me to speak. It’s usually well received (largely because I know all too well how annoying it can be to receive unsolicited advice, so I am careful with how I phrase my encouragements). Just this morning, I got a text from a younger colleague who sought out my advice the day prior:

“hey, just want you to know that your comment about focusing on what my current role gives me the ability to do really helped a lot… greatly appreciate you aurora!”

He’d been frustrated with his job and needed some perspective, which I was all too happy to provide. But it doesn’t always work out so well. In fact, one of the last times I ever saw Cory, he, Noelle and I went out to coffee together. He was preparing to drive to go see his ex-fiance Mary over Christmas break, and we were sending him off as he embarked on his quest to win her back.

Near the end of our time together, I offered him some insight based on my own experiences with a broken engagement. “Cory, she is the one who broke off the engagement, so I can tell you from experience what she is going to do. She doesn’t want to let you go, but she also doesn’t want to commit to you, so she is going to try to convince you to start dating again but not get re-engaged or set a wedding date. This is the best possible scenario for her and the worst possible scenario for you because it keeps you from moving on but also doesn’t lock her in to commitment.”

I continued, my voice adamant. “If I were a betting woman, I’d put a thousand bucks on the fact that she’s going to want to start dating again long distance but not put that ring back on her finger.”

Noelle agreed with me, and Cory made us both pinky promise we wouldn’t let him do such a thing to himself. “I deserve better than that,” he acknowledged. “I need to stand strong and either win her back as my fiance or start moving on with my life. She’s already put me on hold for six months.”

That conversation was in early December. I knew I needed to take a step back from our interactions for all the reasons I’d written about before, so I didn’t make an effort to reach out to Cory at all over Christmas. Conversely, he had no reason not to reach out to me, so I suppose he was too busy winning back Mary to bother even sending a Merry Christmas text. Either that, or he sensed my desire for space. But if the latter were the case, he probably wouldn’t have sent me this Facebook message one Thursday in mid-January, about a month since our last interaction.

“Staying dry in this crazy weather?” he wrote.

Seriously? A month with no communication whatsoever – while he’s off trying to win back his fiance – and his first comment back to me is about the weather?

I simply replied, “Yep, sure am!”

He tried again the next day. “How was your winter holiday?” A much more acceptable opener.

“It was great! I spent a lot of quality time with family,which was nice. How was yours?”

As expected, he rattled off all the things he’d done: time with family, reading, studying, and… oh yeah… “Mary and I started dating again.”

Of course that was the whole reason he reached out to me. Could we do away with the facade and the games? He just wanted me to know he was back with Mary.

Cory continued, “We’re just dating for now – no engagement yet; we’re taking it slow.”

I was incensed. Wasn’t that exactly what I’d warned him against? I’d had feelings for him but shared my wisdom with him anyway, because I cared about him and wanted what was best for him. “Congrats on winning her back,” I wrote, typing furiously into the Facebook message box. “I know that must make you feel great, even though she’s not ready to commit to being engaged again.”

I paused; then continued, “You may recall this outcome is exactly what I predicted at Starbucks.”

He was ready for my comment. “And you recall I promised you that I wouldn’t settle for less than what I deserve,” he shot back, already defensive.

“Yep. So this is what you believe you deserve.”

He replied with a novel. “We are taking things slowly. We have both grown and changed for the better these last 6 months, but we still have some work to do individually and as a couple before we are entirely ready for marriage. While I am ready to commit and then do the work as young married people, Mary is more cautious and wants to get everything squared away first and make sure our foundation is strong. She says she is still in love with me and can see herself spending the rest of her life with me, but that she’s not ready for that concept YET, especially with 4-5 years of long distance staring us down. I am ready for commitment, but given my medical schooling, I am also not in a rush to run down the aisle.”

I was furious. Furious that he used me the way that he did – no one ever made me feel like a piece of meat the way Cory did; I was just the in-between girl; meaningless makeout partner while he got himself in shape and played hard-to-get games with his ex-fiance to try to get her back.

I was furious that he ignored my advice. Even if he didn’t respect my body or emotions, couldn’t he at least respect my mind? My wisdom and insight, shared lovingly for his good? He and Mary are both first-year med students. They are at separate universities on opposite sides of the country, and neither one will transfer schools. They have – as Cory himself admitted – 4 to 5 years of long distance ahead of them, not to mention a broken engagement behind them. There is no scenario under which this is going to end well.

And  to top it all off, Cory had the audacity to reach out to me with no purpose other than to let me know he was back with his ex! After a month of no communication whatsoever, while he bedded (but not wedded) his ex-fiance-turned-girlfriend, he wrote to let me know he’d gone against my advice –  advice based on painful personal experience with dating an ex-fiance in the wake of a broken engagement. What was I supposed to say? What response was appropriate? Couldn’t you just let me be? Haven’t you done enough damage in my life?

I gave some trite “I’m excited for you” answer, logged off and closed my laptop. Two weeks later, when I couldn’t handle the combination of mushy I-love-Mary Facebook posts and nauseating videos praising Bernie Sanders, I removed Cory as a friend on Facebook. This week, I got the following text:

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I really wanted to type back, “Perpendicular lines 4ever!” …but I refrained. Some jokes are better left unsaid. Especially when the joke is you.

Authentically Aurora

Sweetly Broken – Part II

GoodbyeMy ex-fiance and I kept running into each other all day long – at the crawfish boil, the volleyball courts, in the cafeteria… It was like something out of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel where all of the characters are trapped in a secluded set, snowed in at a log cabin or marooned on a private island.

My ex and I would inevitably pretend to ignore one another, avoiding eye contact but all the while keenly aware of the other’s presence. It was awful. Just when I reached another valley of desperation, mind spiraling to dark places, I spotted a familiar face: Patricia. Flynn’s ex-girlfriend. Oh, the irony. 

Patricia and I smiled and waved at each other across the meadow and walked toward one another. Still smiling, aware that my ex was watching me, I said to Patricia, “Will you walk and pray with me? I’m having kind of a rough day.”

“Of course!” She looked surprised at my vulnerability but genuinely happy to be there for me. We walked and talked; then found a bench in the warm sun. I told her about my ex; she told me about the pain of watching Flynn with his new girlfriend. We encouraged one another, laughed together, cried together, and prayed over one another, just as I’d done with Grace earlier. I’d known Patricia was beautiful. But before that afternoon, I hadn’t realized what a wise, godly woman she is as well. God truly works in mysterious ways.

As the sun was setting just before the final session of the day, I saw my ex yet again. Patricia had called me over to her table and started to introduce me around to her group. I shook hands with one person after another until I came to my ex, who was sitting in the circle. I played it cool, sticking my hand out to him and saying, “And you are…?”

He looked tired; emotionally drained. He didn’t complete my sentence but said simply, “Hi, Rory.” He reached out and took my hand, shaking it as the others had done.

I moved on to the next person in the circle, smiling broadly and playing the social butterfly I can be when I decide to be. After laughing and cutting up with a few new friends, I walked around the table and put my hand on my ex’s shoulder. “Can we talk for a minute?”

I hadn’t planned on talking to him; in fact, I’d been intentionally avoiding him all day. I had no idea what I was going to say, but after hours of unrest and internal turmoil, I just wanted to face the issue head-on and address the unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach.

He looked pained and wary about talking with me, but he agreed. “Uhh… we can if you really want to.”

In response, I gestured for him to follow me, and we made our way to the tree line, along the edge of a wooded pathway away from everyone else. Once there, I turned to face him.

“I thought we should just acknowledge that this is awkward,” I began. “I’m uncomfortable, I’m sure you’re uncomfortable… this is just an awkward situation.”

“Yes,” he stated with emphasis, nodding.

“And we’ve been dancing around each other all day,” I added, “So I thought we should just acknowledge that, yes, this is uncomfortable. But I also want you to know that I’m okay. I’m really glad I’m not married to you.”

His change in expression was immediate. “There’s no reason to be mean,” he spat at me.

My eyes widened in surprise. “I wasn’t trying to be mean!” I defended myself as gently as I could. “I was trying to affirm you in your decision not to marry me!”

I paused; then sighed heavily. “This is one of the reasons it’s good we’re not married. I’m a direct communicator, and you’re sensitive. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I was just letting you know that I’m okay, and this doesn’t have to be so awkward. But I’m really doing okay. I’ve been dating someone the past six months –”

He interjected enthusiastically, “Rory, that’s great! That’s what I’ve been praying for!” What? His whole face had lit up with genuine excitement.

“I’ve prayed for you every day since we broke up,” he told me, “I’ve prayed that you would find a man who will love you well and that you’ll get married and have kids…”

“You’ve thought about me every day? You’ve prayed for me every day?” I was shocked. Even as heartbroken as I’ve been, I have not thought about him every day for the past year. And I stopped praying for him a long time ago. It engaged my heart too deeply, and I didn’t think it was healthy to keep that kind of emotional connection to him.

“Yeah,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’ve been kind of a wreck. I know I treated you horribly. I’ve been in a deep depression for the past year. I haven’t dated anyone, and I’m still seeing our old counselor every week.”

Wow. That shouldn’t make me feel better, but it definitely did. The last few prayers I prayed over my ex were for his ruin – financial, emotional, relational, etc. I know that’s not God-honoring at all, but I rationalized to myself that only through his utter brokenness could God truly reach my ex and make him into the man he was created to be. So it was really a loving prayer, right?

I knew my prayers had at least been partially answered when IBM and NOV tanked. My ex is a value investor who doesn’t believe in diversification, so he was only invested in five stocks, two of which were IBM and NOV. He also invests tens of thousands on behalf of his closest friends and family. I’d wondered how that affected their relationships (and hoped for the worst. I know, I’m terrible).

“Why have you been depressed?” I asked as casually as I could. “Was it all guilt… or did you miss me?”

He shrugged and hung his head. “A lot of it was guilt. Honor and pride played into it. I did wrong by you, Rory. But I also missed you. I revisited that decision multiple times a day, every day for a long time. I would have to call my mom all the time to talk back through the decision not to marry you. But it was the right decision. I totally butchered the decision and dragged you through hell for months – I know – but it was the right decision.”

Although I agreed with him that it was the right decision, I only felt that way because of the way he’d treated me near the end. I would have married him. I loved him. And so hearing him say it was the right decision not to marry me caused my heart to twinge, even though I knew it to be true.

“Why did you propose to me?” I asked suddenly. It wasn’t a premeditated question. It just tumbled out in my moment of insecurity.

His looked at me sadly; gently. “Because I loved you. I was in love with you. And you were the first person who ever loved me back. That’s why I proposed to you.”

“Then what happened? I hadn’t planned to get into this, but since we’re talking about it… You said so many horrible things to me those last few months. That I’m so Type A that I would drive you to have an affair. That I’m domineering and no man could lead me. That I’m cold and emotionless. That I’m too much… Even though I’ve moved on from wanting to marry you, those words play on repeat in my head. Did you mean all of them? What was the real reason?”

“Rory, do you really want to get into this?” He sighed and looked away, exacerbated. “You take everything to heart and twist it to see it in a negative light. I don’t know if I should tell you.”

I just looked back at him, waiting.

He sighed again. “Okay, first of all, I was a crazy person. Ignore everything I said during that time. My own parents didn’t recognize me. But what it all came down to is, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m an emotional guy, and I need a woman who is absolutely dripping with empathy. It’s not a knock against you because everyone has empathy on a different scale, and all kinds of personalities end up together, but it was just an incompatibility. There’s nothing wrong with your personality – please hear that! – but we just weren’t compatible.”

I thought we were.

He continued, “I would have seen our incompatibility sooner if not for my issue with lust. I lusted for you, Rory. I’m so embarrassed by it. It’s humiliating. I had a deep-seated sin of lust, and I’m so ashamed by it. And how it blinded me.”

That was hurtful to hear. “So you proposed to me because you wanted to have sex with me?” Although he wasn’t a virgin, I am still waiting even now, and he had claimed to respect and admire that, although his actions didn’t always align with his words.

“No!” he looked hurt and horrified. “I asked you to marry me because I loved you. I just didn’t see our incompatibility until after we were engaged. I felt like you changed.”

“The change in me – the hardening, pulling away, being less empathetic —” I looked pointedly at him, “– was a response to how you were treating me. I sensed your anxiety and emotional withdrawal and was trying to protect myself.”

“I know I wounded you, but you wounded me, too – in a different way. I was afraid to talk to you today because you know me. You may say you don’t know me – that I’m a stranger to you – but you do. You wounded me because you saw deeply into me and spoke truth into my life. And I was afraid you’d speak more truth into me. And the truth is painful. But I’m thankful for it. I learned so much from you. You have no idea.”

That had been my initial prayer when we first broke up. That he would grow and learn and have eyes to see the truth. He had been so blind and walking in darkness. It was an unexpected blessing to learn that he finally heard the words I had been speaking for months. I only wish he had appreciated it sooner and more fully. That he’d had the maturity to recognize that being married to a truth-speaker is a blessing. That much of marriage is encouraging our spouse toward greater Christ-likeness, such that we present them before the Throne of Grace more sanctified than they would have been if not married to us.

We both just looked at each other. And sighed.

“Well, is there anything else? Anything you need to hear from me?” he asked.

I shrugged. “I don’t think there’s anything you could say that would be helpful and not damaging. Because of your rejection, sometimes I don’t believe I’m marriageable or desirable, but there’s not much you can do to change that.”

“Rory, you’re a great girl. You have so much to offer. And you will get married someday. And that man will be a very lucky man.” He looked thoughtful. “I actually say that to our counselor all the time. You have so much to offer a man.”

I smiled sadly; then asked, “Is there anything you need to hear from me? Have I said anything in this conversation to hurt your feelings that I need to retract?”

His brow furrowed. “No, but I need to hear that you forgive me. Will you forgive me, Rory? I know we’ve been over this, but I need to hear you say that you forgive me.” He looked at me with big eyes. Vulnerable. He needed this desperately.

“Of course I forgive you.” I smiled sadly again. I forgave you a long time ago. Many times over. Over and over again. It’s a process. I was glad to help him move toward peace… and I was glad that I was glad.

We stared at each other again. “I don’t know how to end this conversation…” I trailed off.

“Well, we’re going to hug in a minute here…” he began before he, too, trailed off.

“The last time we talked, you said that you wanted to be friends,” I reminded him. “That you’d call me in a year and try to be friends.”

“Yeah, that was ‘pie in the sky’,” he admitted. “It was my way of comforting myself. I didn’t want to lose you completely, so I told myself I was only losing you for a month or a year. But I knew deep down it wasn’t realistic.”

I know it’s best we’re not friends, and I honestly don’t want the angst of him in my life – I’d never wanted him to call a year later – but it still hurt my heart to come to the realization that we were about to say goodbye forever… again.

Two girls walked past us, ranting loudly about something that hadn’t gone the way they wanted. My ex made his classic “uh oh!” face and started making high-pitched “meep”-ing sounds like Beaker from The Muppets.

I burst into laughter, and he looked surprised before his face relaxed into an authentic grin. He chuckled softly. “Oh, Rory, I’ve missed your sense of humor.”

“I’ve missed yours, too.” We smiled at each other for a brief, shining moment where time stood still and we were transported back to another season when we were deeply in love. My eyes started to water unexpectedly, and I blinked back tears.

He saw my tears, and his expression softened as tears welled up in his eyes, too. “Rory…”

I started laughing, embarrassed. “I’m okay,” I waved him off with my hand. “I’m okay. I know you’re not used to seeing emotion from me.”

“No…” he agreed.

“It’s just… I feel like you’re dying to me all over again. I had to grieve the loss of you like the death of a loved one, and now I know I’m saying goodbye again. It’s just… very emotional.”

He took a step toward me and said, “Who knows? Maybe five years from now, you’ll be married – to that guy you’re seeing; maybe he’s ‘The One’ – and maybe I’ll be married, and we can be friends. You never know.”

“Okay,” I smiled at him through my tears.

He closed the distance between us and wrapped me in a hug. We stood for a moment before pulling away and walking in different directions. As we parted, he called softly, “See you later.”

“See you.” …Just maybe not this side of heaven.

Authentically Aurora