One year ago today, I traveled to Kenya and Rwanda on a work-related trip and had the most amazing and life-altering experience. I met incredible people in both countries where we talked about our lives, shared our experiences of race around the world, dreamed together, created together, and all and all, I created some of the most meaningful relationships in my life.
I shared a lot about those experiences through my Facebook posts; I shared some reflections of what was unfolding before me as I learned about international relations, how race is viewed, and how humans interact on a macro level. I appreciated all the feedback so much and the support I was given by those at home who were learning a lot about Africa through my experiences. Some wonderful people responded when I held a fundraiser for one some of the organizations who worked with the street children in Rwanda, and by golly, to be able to give a donation to two organizations who were seriously hurting financially was one of the best things I have ever done in my heart.
I felt so good leaving Africa knowing that I had made some of the most beautiful connections, not only personally, but professionally, as I was excited to continue on these international partnerships when I returned to work, and they depended on me to continue my work with them as I had promised. I was a different person having been to Africa, having understood things on a different way, a life-altering way. Those reflections never made it onto my Facebook page.
When I got back to Western, I didn’t have the warmest welcome back. In fact, it was incredibly cold. My boss came into my office and told me that “several” people around the university and in my own department had made official “complaints” about my (non-public) Facebook posts and that every level of leadership at Western was watching me, and that I better not feel too secure about my employment.
They made me wait 5 days until they would find time to discuss their beefs with me. As someone with Anxiety Disorder (that my employer knew about), I thought this to be a pretty big error in judgement on how someone’s “termination” was going to be handled. When I got my time, it was an interrogation of every single aspect of my trip, as they armed themselves with printouts of my personal Facebook page. I told it like it was, answered every question from my heart, and still couldn’t bring it upon myself to apologize for whatever “crime” I had so harshly committed. I was pretty blunt in telling them that their interpretations of my experience were vastly different than my experiences and my own interpretations of my experience, and that they assigning their own meanings to my experiences. Knowing what had just happened so beautifully over the last month, there was nothing that I did wrong in Africa or in my interactions with Africans, or those I was talking to at home about my experience.
No matter how much I tried to defend myself, told them that I couldn’t possibly understand why I was being come down on so hard, they let me know that I was being reviewed in HR and there was a likelihood that I would be fired due to the fundraising I did personally with a university partner and sharing some of my reflections about my trip on Facebook that didn’t fit the “academic standard” of international learning. I posed whether I would be punished so harshly if the reflections were placed in an public forum where I applied academic viewpoints. They didn’t have much to say, but made it blunt that I had done a pretty bad thing, according to them, and that I had the possibility of losing my job as a result. This was after almost a decade of glowing performance reviews year after year.
After taking time to take care of my mental health, as I was put through a bit of a spin, I quit a few days later (before they could fire me) due to recognizing that I was living one of the biggest values clashes of my life and knowing that it meant more for me to be able to think and speak/write freely than to be chastised because I didn’t fit some ridiculous “mould” of what I was supposed to be abroad. For me, being able to live and go about the world as myself, and to be able to share my voice how I wanted to, meant more to me than having a hefty salary and benefits package.
At that point, I realised how heartless corporate life can be. All because 2 or 3 people didn’t like what I wrote on my personal (again, non-public) Facebook, and didn’t see enough “academic interpretation” in my experiences, I lost all my “professional credibility”, people who had my back for 6+ years never spoke to me again, and I was given one of the most heartless “exits” of my employment ever (seriously heartless) when I went to pack up my office. The connections I made in Africa were never continued and through this, I abandoned all the incredible professional connections I had started while away just because I was no longer allowed to speak to my African connections. I was treated like a criminal, someone who had committed a heinous act of some sort (cos fundraising is terrible!), and as a result of the way my “case” was handled, I lost a great deal of respect for people I had previously looked up to in pretty tremendous ways.
Do I regret any of this? Not a thing. Not a word. Not a moment. Not a reflection. Not a post. Not a photo. Not a thought. NOTHING.
365 days later, and I still don’t have the hefty salary, nor do I have a benefits package, but what I have is my freedom. I’ve bought back my own time; no one else owns it. I’ve bought back my ability to be an individual, and think like an individual, and act like an individual, with my own opinions. I’ve shed expectations of acting or thinking in a certain way. I’ve fully come into myself now that I am no longer trying to balance the scatterbrained, tattooed, freak I am with the image I was trying to portray as a stuffy professional when I knew all along I couldn’t be limited to narrow viewpoints.
All this is to say, that even the most darkest, livelihood-threatening moments of life truly have the most personal growth contained in them. I am so thankful that I almost got fired, and had the opportunity to seriously consider who I was versus the person I was trying to be through corporate life.
So, this is a giant thank you to all those people who thought differently than I did a year ago, because without that discordance, I wouldn’t have found my way out of such persistent dissatisfaction with life that I was feeling and living, and without that I wouldn’t have found my bliss, or my voice. So thank you, thank you, thank you!