Outward, Not Upward

It’s been difficult to make sense of the fact that 2020 was one of the best years of my life. While the world fell apart and there was plenty to hate about those 12 months, I personally experienced a record of personal and professional highs. From getting married to being offered my dream job. 2020 was pretty excellent in so many ways.

But there was a lot going on under the surface. These are things I tried not to suppress or go out of my way to hide. (Shame is a poison and life is too short.) But they are things people may not know about me. I promise I will get to the why-I-quit-working-at-WP-Buff- and-what’s-next-for-me part… but bear with me through the content first.

The Voices in My Head

2020 was the first time I was able to receive genuine and meaningful professional help for the depression that had been squashing me for years. I begin experimenting with (under professional guidance and supervision) anti-depressants. I experienced some of the worst side effects – including worsening depression and suicidal thoughts – more than once during this time.

What I realized in 2020 was that a lot of that depression came from my brain chemistry. That was great, because it meant I could find meds that actually helped. But a decent amount if it came from my actions, my thoughts, my past, my decisions, and my fears.

I spent a lot of my life being the girl with potential. This narrative is nothing new to most millennials. My parents grew up in strict, overbearing and border-line abusive households. So they raised me with all the love, support, and self-confidence building language they could muster. And that was great; I loved my childhood for so many reasons. But hearing the “you’re so gifted, you have so much potential, your life will be easy because you are smart and wonderful,” rhetoric over and over is immensely damaging.

If my reality is built on the solid foundation of believing I was exceptional, what do I do when I fail? What do I do when I feel lost? What do I do when external forces prevent me from living up to my potential? What do I do when my life isn’t easy and my natural intelligence is not the key to success?

One of the things my psychiatrist asked me to do every day was to write down the best part of my day, the worst part of my day, and the thing I was looking forward to most.

After doing this for a few weeks, I noticed some patterns. A) It took me a long time to think of the best part of my day and it usually had something to do with receiving external affirmation. B) I never had to think hard about the worst part of my day: it was always that I didn’t feel like I worked long or hard enough that day. C) 90% of the time, I didn’t feel like I had anything to look forward to.

(I highly recommend this exercise, by the way. I didn’t think much of it at first but it was incredibly helpful.)

While my job, on paper, was full of things I was good at and felt proud of… I was not happy. This seemed so terribly confusing. Why can’t I be happy when I spend my day at a company that supports me, with people I like, doing things I’m good at, that help other people? Even now, I don’t full know. But whatever light gets lit inside people who find their calling – or even something mildly fulfilling – would not light inside me. So I struggled to focus, to give my all, to focus for more than a few hours without crying.

This frustration led to a lot of self-hatred; this feeling like I just wanted to beat this sadness out of myself. To shake myself and scream, “Why can’t you appreciate what you have and work harder?!”

The desire to be ambitious in my head sounded a lot like my parents and my teachers. Which meant it was not coming from me.

I sat down one day and made a list of things I felt like I genuinely wanted to do. The things that, when I do them, time seems to fly by. Things I think about when I wake up and before I go to sleep.

There are really only 4 things I could confidently write down: voice acting, writing, gardening, and knitting. Obviously, none of those things had much to do with WordPress.

Going to Austin

I began to feel more and more like I needed to make a change. I needed shift from career ambition to being ambitious about being happy and healthy. A large, scary factor in that meant leaving my job as the Community Manager at WP Buffs.

This was scary not just because it meant financial insecurity and no health insurance. It was scary because it made me feel almost inconsolably guilty. WP Buffs created the Community Manager role for me from scratch. I was given everything I wanted out of my dream job – the opportunity to the launch projects I wanted to, the budget to support the people and causes I felt passionately about, the grace to find the schedule and timing that worked for me day to day. I knew that leaving such a perfect environment would be difficult to do and harder still to explain.

Before making the decision, I gave some deep thought to my environment. We have been in a global pandemic for a year, after all. One fun thing about being mentally ill is not being able to trust your own thoughts and emotions a lot of the time. What if I was feeling all this strictly as a result from pandemic sadness and cabin fever? What if I left, quarantine was lifted, and then I suddenly had a ton of regrets?

So I decided to do something I’d railed against and judged people for for 11 months – I got on a plane and traveled to another place.

I have 2 unbelievably supportive friends in Austin, Texas. They agreed to let me stay with them for two weeks. My goal for this trip was to get out of my tiny Florida apartment and go somewhere different. Someplace where I could see some different faces and hear some different voices, even if it’s just my immediate friends and even if those faces are behind masks. Would changing my environment affect, even in small part, how I felt?

The short answer was no.

I’ve loved being in Austin. (In fact I plan to move here soon.) But the way I felt about my work and my happiness did not change in the slightest.

So I called my boss and over-explained how I was feeling and gave him my two weeks notice. My goal was to make as clean and positive break as possible. I wasn’t sure what was coming next. But my priority was to preserve the relationships I built at WP Buffs and work harder than I had ever worked to make sure my last bit of time at the company was as effective as possible. If my life felt out of control, I could at least control this last piece of my professional journey.

Unfortunately, that opportunity was taken away from me.

Change is Uncomfortable

I’m not entirely sure what happened in the end. The only reasons I’m even including this bit of the experience in this post is because I want my story told since I didn’t get to control my own narrative, and I want anyone else who ever deals with a parting employee to hopefully learn from this experience.

After my super positive conversation with my boss at WP Buffs, I was asked to present a list of current projects. I went a step beyond and provided a document of my projects, associated links, what was done and what wasn’t, and any necessary notes. Then I made a list for myself for the following week of all the things I wanted to dive into and work on.

I felt a lot of relief but also a lot of lingering guilt, sadness, and fear after giving my notice (which happened on a Tuesday.) The understanding was always for me to work as hard as I could, but take the time I needed to take care of me. So I provided the aforementioned document the Wednesday after I spoke with my boss and didn’t do much more than check email and Slack for fires on Thursday. In fact I spent most of that day in bed. I intended to start on my big list of tasks on Monday.

When I went to log on to Slack early on Friday afternoon, I couldn’t. I could not log in to my email either – the sign in page told me that my email address did not exist anymore. I texted my boss twice and called three times (practices that had previously been encouraged if Slack didn’t work out) I never got a call or text back.

What I did get was a Twitter DM. I won’t spell out the entirety of the conversation here. Basically, I was told that due to inactivity, I had been fired early and that was that.

This was jarring, confusing, disappointing, and overall upsetting to me for a number of reasons. Again, this is not be trying to slander this company or bad-mouth any individuals. But this is the only place where I can even mildly attempt to make sense of what happened.

  • There was zero communication. While I made every reasonable attempt to get in touch, the same was not done for me. While I over-communicated my intentions and goals, I was not given the courtesy of a phone call or even email to ask where I was or how I was. When I pointed out the miscommunication, I never got an apology or attempt to rectify or clarify the situation.
  • I was unable to paint my own narrative with my team. Most of our team is not active on Twitter and the only contacts I had would be through Slack or through their professional e-mail addresses. Despite my attempt to build a thorough and helpful transition, it now appears to them that I took off without a second thought or any real notice.
  • I was not given the opportunity to defend myself. I was told that my “inactivity” was what spurred this sudden decision to terminate me early. But since I can’t access an iota of my records or conversations, I have absolutely no ability to address this. It doesn’t make sense to me to be punished for something and then have all evidence wiped away.
  • I was not able to save any of my work, connections, or records. I had information in my email inbox that I wanted – like back and forth with colleagues or other WordPress folk – and things I needed – like info on my 401k. Now, either that is gone forever or I have to ask for that info to be delivered to me. I had templates and documents and systems that I worked hard to build – all of that was taken from me because I thought I would have time to save them and it turns out I don’t.
  • It felt like the year of work and all things I did accomplish went out the window. The worst was assumed of me as soon as I expressed my desire to leave. After making a huge life decision, and knowing that my mental health is poor overall, I thought that if I was suddenly unreachable, checking on me would be the first move, not firing me. But it was assumed that I just decided to take off without any further communication, and so all the locks were changed.

So again. I’m not telling this story to try to convince you that WP Buff is an awful company or that I hate anyone who works there. None of that is true. I wrote this and published it and shared it to attain clarity and closure, to explain my side of things and to tell anyone reading, if you are dealing with an employee who has given notice, please do not do this to them. Please don’t burn a bridge if someone has made an effort to keep it standing. Please don’t assume the worst of people when they’ve given you no reason to do so. Please give people the benefit of the doubt, especially in times like these. And please don’t send someone a Twitter DM if they call you 3 times in a row. That is what I want you to take away from this.

So what now?

Let’s end this on a positive note. What’s next for me? To be honest, I am not 100% sure. There are things I want to do and try and experiment with. I want to try on multiple hats and train myself to understand that not everything is upward momentum and not everything i need to do needs to build on the previous thing.

Some things I do plan on doing include:

And I also want to make time to do non-WordPress things. Things that are creative, that get me outside, that get me out from in front of my computer. I want to grow outward and expand my view of the world, rather than trying to grow upwards to climb some invisible ladder.

I want to continue to be ambitious about my mental health and happiness, rather than ambitious about making other people’s professional dreams come true.

6 comments on “Outward, Not Upward

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  1. Walking away from things that don’t bring you joy isn’t failure. Walking toward things that do is definitely the path toward success. I’m so proud of you for taking control of your own happiness and health. And I’m excited to work with you on UIT and any other projects you ask for help with!

  2. I felt chills reading every word of this post. Your vulnerability is always an inspiration to me, and I hope that your courage helps others feel a little less alone. :hug:

  3. Iā€™m sorry this was how things were left but know you are an inspiration to me and many others. Iā€™m looking forward to watching (reading) your journey.

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