Thank You, NEXT!
Updated: Jan 7, 2021
“I’m so f**king grateful for my ex”--Ariana Grande
If I can get the interview, I can get the job.
At least that’s the running joke among my friends. It’s true though. Not to toot my own horn, but once I start talking about medical speech language pathology, my passion instantly shines through. My resume gets me in the door, but it’s always my interview that seals the deal. My clinical training prepared me for this. I know I can get the job. But no one ever trained me on how to walk away from it.
“One taught me love…”
I’ve had three jobs in my years as a speech language pathologist. Each one has taught me a very different, but important, lesson. I think back to my first job as a clinical fellow. I felt stuck in a small town with big dreams. I desperately desired a faster pace and more rigor, but I was content. I had support, opportunities for growth, and was surrounded by a team of talented therapists. This job laid the groundwork for my career. It molded me into a strong and independent clinician. And while I knew it wasn’t where I would be forever, it is where I cultivated my love for medical speech-language pathology.
The team mentality and responsibility instilled in me as a young clinician resulted in extreme guilt when I decided to walk away. I had never resigned from a job before. I felt like I was letting my team down.
What do I do?
What do I say?
Will my team members be upset with me?
How will the team fair without me?
Fortunately, supportive management and coworkers made it easy for me to transition on, encouraged me on my new journey, and shared in my joy of moving. On my last day, my manager embraced me and reminded me I always had a place to return there.
“One taught me patience…”
Have you ever seen that ranking of “life’s most stressful events?” Well, I’m pretty sure I experienced them all at once. I had left my first job, moved to another state, got married, experienced loss in my family, and made it through the holidays (phew!) But I landed right back on my feet with a new job.
I really wanted the stability of a full-time position, but there wasn’t one available due to hospital organizational changes and an unexpected hiring freeze, so I accepted a [full-time] PRN position in the interim. Yeah, I was making those wonderful, wonderful PRN checksssss. Meanwhile my husband had applied for a job transfer, and we weren’t sure if we were going to be moving or staying. Our home was still full of boxes from our most recent move and I just couldn’t bring myself to unpack. Something felt so uncertain and I was getting impatient. But my job was my constant.
The clinical experience I received at that hospital was unmatched. I loved my job. I was welcomed with open arms and was quickly made to feel a part of the team. So when my husband got the call that he had been approved to transfer, and we had only three weeks to move, I panicked. I was going to have to break the news to my team (again) that I would be resigning from my position, and I was going to have to do it quickly. And when I finally mustered up the courage, I was once again met with understanding, encouragement, and genuine support. My manager reminded me that I always had a place to return there.
“One taught me pain…”
My patience had paid off. I was moving onward, upward, and out of state. And once again, I landed on my feet. But this time, it was a close call.
I interviewed for the position, but received that dreaded rejection letter days later. I beat myself up about it relentlessly. Much to my surprise, weeks later, I received a call saying that they had opened another SLP position, and on second thought, wanted to offer me a job. Was I sloppy seconds? Perhaps. But this was exactly where (I thought) I wanted to be. But like my mom always says, “you end up how you start off”—and this whirlwind was truly only starting off.
I ironically onboarded with a woman who had been hired as a senior-level clinician with zero medical knowledge. She preemptively quit shortly thereafter due to the clinical rigor. It was later explained that she was “hired by mistake” and that I was ultimately overlooked for the position initially because they were “looking for a someone who wouldn’t bring drama.” Interesting.
Meanwhile, I was the oldest and longest-working entry level clinician in the department, I was exceeding expectations and my clinical strength did not go unnoticed by those around me. So after meeting the criteria for promotion, I applied and was swiftly rejected without objective reason. When I asked for feedback from management, I was labeled as confrontational, entitled, and insubordinate. As long as I continued to produce high-level clinical work, while remaining satisfied with my entry level title, all was well. But things took a sharp turn when I “stepped out of line” in search of professional growth.
Any attempts for research, program development, or committee involvement were met with blatant barriers and hurdles. I felt extremely stagnant, and because of this I channeled my energy into my professional growth outside of my job, but even those accomplishments were met with resistence. While my work was being affirmed by complete strangers and supported by the SLP community, I was simultaneously battling to defend my work to my coworkers and management—a battle that would eventually be antagonistically and unnecessarily escalated to HR and the legal team. My character was slandered by management—calling me a “catty woman” and suggesting “I seek help”—in front of my entire department.
For years, I wore the epithet of “negativity” and was deemed responsible for the declining office morale. I would receive feedback from management that was fueled by gossip and riddled with personal attacks, and the overarching message: be more humble. All while my manager could not even be bothered to learn my name.
It became impossible to develop as a clinician because my goals at work became less clinical and patient-related, as I just desperately wanted to stay below the radar. But like clockwork, I would receive cryptic meeting invitations entitled “concerns”, “meeting”, or “communication” where I would be blindsided for hours by petty topics such as my hair, “attitude”, and my likability—with nothing to substantiate the discussion. These meetings were usually complete with yelling, name-calling, and insults. I was exhausted. In private, my coworkers corroborated the treatment I received, and they praised me for being “strong”, but many remained bystanders in public. Those who chose to speak up were quickly intimidated into silence.
I withstood the name-calling. I withstood the character assassination. I withstood the intimidation. I gracefully stepped over every.single.hurdle designed to make me fall. But it was the eventual overflow into my clinical work that did it for me. I was being pressured to abandon evidence-based practice in exchange for increased consults in a productivity-driven environment. I was no longer allowed to be a free or critical thinker. I was to be [barely] seen and [definitely] not heard.
Leadership and integrity were absent on all levels. There were no checks and balances. There was no voice of reason. There was no moral compass. This job was bringing out the worst in me and everyone close to me saw it. Yet, I continued to waver about walking away.
If you know me, you know I’m no quitter, so to leave that position felt like failure. I have dedicated my ENTIRE career to being an acute care SLP and I simply wasn’t going to be bullied off that path. It would be like admitting that I didn’t belong in a space that was notoriously lacking in faces that looked like mine. I would be leaving a department that historically has been demographically homogenous. But looking back, the trajectory of minority groups in that department has been short-lived and similar in experience—coming and going much like a revolving door. And this desired element of sameness seemed startlingly dangerous for a healthcare setting, particularly in one of the largest medical consortiums in the world . So I stayed.
* * *
The last time I saw or spoke to my manager was the day I turned in my two weeks notice. She told me that “I had a good run in acute care…it’s not for everyone”, and that hopefully, I find some place that “is a better fit” for me—despite may entire career being in acute care. Although it was absolutely my most cringey job farewell, I was proud of my courage to recognize and leave a toxic situation. There were no well wishes, no tears, no hugs. But I know l that I will never have to return there.
“Now I’m so amazing…”
If 2020 has taught me anything, it has highlighted the things in life that matter most—physical wellbeing, mental health, and integrity—and the importance of balancing these aspects. This has truly been the year of prioritizing self, and I’ve especially loved seeing it among women of color, who have historically be the most disenfranchised in the workplace.
The most salient example is perhaps Shonda Rhimes—you know founder of “Shondaland” and the creative mastermind who has single-handedly been running primetime television for the last decade? Yeah, her. She officially announced this year that she would be leaving ABC, her television home of 15 years, and taking her talent to Netflix with one of the biggest contracts in television history. Her reason? Despite being a talent powerhouse, she was continuously battling her employer for respect. Her breaking point? A $154 Disneyland pass. Read that again. This woman has generated billions of dollars in revenue for ABC all while producing some of the best shows of my lifetime, and when asked for an extra Disneyland pass, an executive reportedly replied, “Don’t you have enough?”
Don’t. You. Have. Enough.
This idea that people, more specifically Black women, who bring extraordinary talent to the table, should continue be satisfied with enough baffles me. That just a mere seat at the table should be enough. And should you became unsatisfied with enough, you must bear the scarlet letter of “entitled”, “arrogant”, or “difficult to work with.”
Even in our very own SLP world, there is a growing exodus of talent. Just check out the “SLP Transitions” Facebook group, with over 13,000 members looking for alternate career paths (eek!) I am reading, watching, and listening to stories of women of color clearly and candidly telling us why they are leaving jobs that are no longer serving them.
One of today’s most brilliant researchers in our field, Dr. Ianessa Humbert, recently penned a transparent piece about her unprecedented exit from academia, and the pushback she received from her colleagues when she announced her departure. She has also been candid about her exclusionary experiences as a Black SLP and being deemed “unfit” for various professional spaces, despite her accomplishments. She recalls how she was counted as a “loss” for leaving academia, but ultimately reveled in the fact that she “left when [she] didn’t have to. [She] left when [she] wanted to.” She unapologetically regained control of her life and left a situation that was no longer serving her.
We spend years filling our minds with information about speech-language pathology. I think back to all of the anatomy and physiology coursework, the clinical practicums, and report writing, which has undoubtedly made me into the clinical I am today, but not once did I learn that when a workplace is no longer mutually advantageous, you can go. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave when things turn toxic. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave when ethics and clinical competency no longer take priority. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave when you become stifled in mediocrity. It’s perfectly acceptable to leave for a better you.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never walked away from a job casually. I value each job I’ve had and every lesson learned along the way, regardless of how painful. And when I was in what I would imagine to be the worst possible place, and felt like I was being broken down and pummeled, I was in fact being molded into a stronger and more resilient person and professional. I bloomed in the hard, cold concrete where I was planted—to the point that I began to believe it was my destiny. And I thought surely if I poured 110% into that job, I could thrive. But you can’t excel your way out of bad situation. Sometimes the only control you have is to leave. Leaving a toxic environment isn’t defeat. Doing what’s best for you isn’t failure. It’s actually a huge win.
So as we transition into the new year, I urge you to pursue wholeness instead of perfection. Follow growth instead of your pride. You owe it to yourself. And with the best intentions remaining at heart, I promise you will always land on your feet.