Since my job elimination in the great headcount chop of 2009, I’ve kept a low profile related to my former employer. Sometimes I speak to a vendor who, over the 23 years of our association, morphed into something resembling a friend. I’ve lunched with my old staff and taken a couple of walks with similarly affected individuals. Besides that though, I cut the ties. Not that the few remaining people I know who still work there don’t matter to me, but seeing folks from that old world threatens to dredge up an uncomfortable “Why me?” outlook that doesn’t offer any benefit. It’s difficult to move forward if you are still regurgitating the past.
In the same way I relegated those relationships to the closet, I ignored the one remaining box that traveled home from my office on that fateful last day. It’s been sitting in the corner of our guest room for almost a year. Other than consolidating a second box into it and sliding this remaining container from the living room to the guest room before Thanksgiving last year, I haven’t opened it. The surface became a convenient resting place for the camera bag and accessories during occasional house “clean sweeps.” Other than that, it’s been the proverbial “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Basically, all things relating to “That Place” as we jokingly call my former employer at my house these days, remained packed in hidden corners, until the end of August when I accepted my position at the cheese/gourmet food shop. Then, it occurred to me that in my new role, chance meetings with current and former personnel from the old joint were going to be likely. My new job is located in a downtown section of the same small metropolis in which I worked for almost half my life. The store is two miles away from the corporate headquarters that I drove to daily and less than 100 yards from the company’s oldest retail branch. Still, I kept a lid on thoughts of who I might bump into for as long as I could—which is to say until my first day selling cheese, when a long retired associate of the old place ended up being one of my earliest customers.
Since that day, I’ve waited on quite a few former employees from “That Place.” I won’t deny that blood rushed to my face when I greeted a still-employed vice president whose job offer I negotiated in my role as recruitment manager. After bumping into her though, it got easier. As customers I know from that time in my life have appeared, I've just squared my shoulders, lifted my chin and offered them a sample of some yummy food along with my biggest smile, no matter how much quivering was happening inside. Then, I encountered one woman from my former department, who got her walking papers three months after me. She is one of the most positive, upbeat people I know. No word of a lie, the first time she came in; I squealed and clapped my hands.
It turns out this woman works part-time, in a shop a few doors down. She stops in for a quick bite before work or during a break and always, always, greets me with a big-ass smile. I look forward to her quick visits to the shop, not only because she is a sincere and engaging person, but because meeting her in this new context has allowed me to recognize how her life, as well as mine is moving on. Talking to her every week, hearing her positive outlook makes me feel more grounded in the "leaving the past behind" process. Thanks to her optimistic example, the shakes are almost gone. So much so that the other day, when yet another old acquaintance from “That Place” stopped to purchase cheese on Monday, I greeted her before she noticed me, with a smile that felt honest and real. No angst— it was simply nice to see her.
I kept that in mind yesterday, which made it a breeze to open the flaps and purge the useless papers from that dusty box in the guest room. I stored the few remaining things I could conceive of ever needing again, downstairs in the basement.