This morning I received a Facebook message. It was from my old boss. A boss who fired me.
The company I worked for built online applications that discovered and ranked the aptitude of software developers. I believed in that company. I did not believe in its leadership.
In accepting my offer to work for the company, I had turned down competing offers. I was told that neither salary nor equity were negotiable, but I was sold on the promise of the company. They were going to revolutionize the recruiting industry. And they wanted me to be a part of that revolution. And I believed them.
But what sold me above all is that they wanted me. “Everyone agrees you’re gonna be a great cultural fit here,” I was told. That was a crucial statement for me.
I’ve started two companies – both a tech startup and a non-profit theater company. I have a relentlessly entrepreneurial spirit. I am not a “keep your head low, don’t make waves kind of guy”. I am the guy who says “Hey look this thing is broken and I think I have some ideas on how to fix it”.
But despite articles I would read about how collaborative startup culture was, despite the “we innovate” mantras heard through the halls, my work experience has shown me that most companies want to keep things exactly how they are. Most companies do not want to hear about what’s broken with them, or how they could be doing better. Most companies want you to shut up and operate what they have built, run what they have designed, do what they have done.
I was the first Account Executive for this company, tasked with not only running, but developing their inside sales process. It was only five weeks before I was fired from this company. In those five weeks, I closed my first sale within eight days – faster than any sale had ever been made. I was able to bring on huge clients such as Quantcast and Yelp. I was doing great and everyone around the company, including my boss, was telling me so, patting me on the back, sending company-wide emails that lauded what a great addition I’d been to the company.
The day that I was fired our office happened to be under construction, so employees were told to work from home. My boss emailed me the night prior, asking if I could meet up with him for coffee to discuss some things. I wasn’t nervous about the meeting in the slightest: as I said, I was doing great and he was quite vocal about this.
I went in to the cafe and ordered a mocha. I’m not a coffee drinker, but you know, we were about to get some serious business done.
“I met with [the CEO] last night. Unfortunately he doesn’t feel like you have the right look for the company. He’s uncomfortable with what your look might convey to clients, and we’re letting you go. This isn’t a performance issue. This isn’t a behavioral issue. You didn’t fuck up or anything – which is what makes this so hard.”
I nearly dropped my coffee. I had to sit down as not to faint. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, and was about to throw up. If there was ever a TV-moment “reaction to getting bad news”, I was having it.
It made no sense to me. What was wrong with my look? And could I even be fired for how I looked?
Well it turns out I could, unless it could be reasonably inferred that I was being fired for being part of a protected class. So had my boss said “The CEO thinks you dress like a faggot” or “The CEO thinks that’s what a nigger would wear”, things would have been different. But as it stands, the fact that my boss told me I was being fired related to appearance at all was definitely a dicey, questionable move.
I was bitter. I am still bitter. I trusted my boss – I even told him “You’re the best boss I’ve ever had!” and I meant it. But none of that mattered now.
That was a year ago. And then something happened. Something that led my boss to send me the following message this morning:
Don’t have you email address so sorry to reach out on facebook but hope this message finds you well. I’m sure you have found a great new opportunity and hope the comedy career is progressing as well.
This message is long overdue and one that I couldn’t write for a long time while I was at [the Company]. I’m no longer at [the Company] and just getting back to the Bay Area after taking some time off.
I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed working with you and didn’t agree with some of the decisions made. My inability to influence leadership and stand firm for what I believed led to both of us no longer at [the Company] and I apologize for that. Your passion and work ethic are very admirable and will take you a long way. If I could do it all over again I would have done things different but can’t live in the past can only learn from it.
Anyway, if you want to get together and grab a coffee or better yet a beer, that’d be great. If not, I’ll understand.
Either way, hope all is well.
Whenever any hurtful, inexplicable thing happens to you, you start to feel a little crazy. You can’t reason within yourself why the events took place. You try explaining it to others, but that makes you feel even crazier. “You were fired because they didn’t like the way you looked? That doesn’t make any sense.” You start to wonder if other people think that you’re making it all up. Surely, you must have done something to have this happen to you.
The message I received this morning carried a great sadness with it. Sure, it was nice to get some reassurance that I wasn’t crazy. But unfortunately my boss was right. He couldn’t stand up to leadership. He couldn’t stand for what he believed in. And worst of all, he couldn’t even tell me that while he was working there.
His ethics meant nothing as long as he was having a paycheck lorded over him. And trust me, knowing the CEO and his history of abruptly letting people go and ousting management, I’m sure he let my boss know as much. My boss didn’t like what he was having to do, but better I than he. And now it’s both of us.
Unfortunately, there is little that is unique to my story. Corporations are about making money, plain and simple. Once they’re making money, they can talk about doing good, about not being evil. But as soon as the money comes into question, so too do the ethics. Everything in a company is ultimately about making money. Human Resources is not your advocate. Human Resources is a risk-assessment department. They don’t care that you were sexually harassed, they care that you might sue the company because of it.
We all need jobs. We need to be employed. But at the cost of what? Our ethics? Our passions? Those that trust us? I’ve lost my employment. I’ve lost my trust. But as I sit here, writing in my bedroom, wondering if I’ll have enough Food Stamps to last me through the month, I take a small amount of comfort in knowing that my ethics are beholden to no one but myself, my passions living or dying of my own accord.
UPDATE 8/23/2013: For anyone in the community that might be a in a position to help, I’m unfortunately scrambling desperately to pay rent for September 2013. It’s with a humble heart that I ask if anyone knows of any job opportunities or monetary assistance that they would please contact me. Much, much appreciated. - Eric