After three years in school, one painfully long year in co-op, countless hours in a lab, and many more hours spent interpreting and reporting experiment results, I finally graduated from Biotechnology. It was a considerable challenge, especially since I had never studied chemistry or even taken a science class in over 10 years. But I did it. It pushed me to lengths I didn’t foresee and I was so proud of myself for completing it.
Then came the search for the perfect job where I would utilize all my newfound knowledge and skills for the rest of my career. It took almost a year but I finally got it, Research & Development with a major food company, my dream job. Fascinating, challenging, technical, ever-changing; I thought I finally made it. I would go to work early, leave late, do everything I could to cement my place on the biotech career path.
It wasn’t long before I felt completely disconnected from life.
Initially, I thought the job was perfect but the novelty soon wore off. My ego was satisfied but my spirit waned. I couldn’t imagine working there until retirement. And not just that place, but in biotech altogether. As much as it engaged my head, there was something missing. I just didn’t care about it.
We created new sauces for Subway. So what. Tested natural colors for PC. Who cares? Made a ranch dressing that tastes like Hidden Valley but with half the fat for Costco. Big deal. Discovered ways to make cheaper food products but maintain taste. Gross.
I was locked in a box doing things that didn’t matter to me, spending the majority of my time and energy on projects that had no real impact. There was no way I could do that long-term, but there was also no way I could walk away from it either. Isn’t that crazy? I couldn’t quit. I worked too hard to get to there. I had a wife and a child on the way that needed my support. It would look bad on my resume. I would be criticized for changing careers again.
I was trapped, sentenced to a 40-year term.
I was emotionally disconnected from my work but still continued to go through the motions each day. I kept doing it even though it drained me because I felt as if there were no other options. Until one day, I was called to meet with HR. I had been climbing the ladder pretty quickly. The one-year contract I initially signed was replaced by a full-time role within 3 months and I figured this meeting was to offer me another raise.
But instead, I got fired.
The exact reason was unclear but I suspect the loud whooshing sound of my soul escaping my body was disrupting the work environment. I shook their hands, thanked them for the opportunity, and walked to my car in a daze.
How was I going to tell my wife? What would I do next? Wait, what just happened?
Someone delivered a box of my belongings from my desk and I drove through the front gates, never to return. All that I worked towards for the past 4 years, all that people told me to do, all that was expected of me, gone. And what was my response?
I sang and danced in the car on my way home!
Even though I was faced with uncertainty, defeat, and disappointment, deep inside I knew that I was finally free. I would never have chosen to leave, I couldn’t have brought myself to do it. It was too risky. Pride, obligation, fear and stubbornness all stood in the way. But not anymore.
I was free.
That event changed my life and its trajectory. Had I not been fired, I wouldn’t have reconnected with my love of helping children. My faith would have become stagnant. I wouldn’t have had the opportunity and freedom to explore myself in depth and better understand my gifts and passions. This adversity set many great things in motion.
I volunteered more at my church, spent more time with my family, I learned to listen to my heart instead of my head. If I hadn’t been fired I wouldn’t have gone back to work as a waiter and that’s where I met one of my greatest mentors in the non-profit sector (shout out Julie Conway at Living Rock). I wouldn’t have gotten the life-changing opportunity to work with street youth.
On the surface, it seemed negative but so many great things came of it.
Our family got to live in New Zealand, it brought me to London, it landed me at Compassion. Had I not been fired, I don’t want to picture the alternative. Because of that, I get to do work that actually matters. It brought me to this point of calling myself a writer and doing something I love.
Getting fired gave me permission to finally be myself and to pursue what I was made to do, not just a thing I could do to make money.
Sometimes the greatest gifts lay on the other side of tough times. That isn’t to overlook or minimize our difficulties because there are some incredibly difficult times where no good can be seen but sometimes we must endure in order to get to a better place. Sometimes we’re able to look back at those times and see its purpose. Sometimes, but certainly not always, we can be thankful for it afterward.