“The only cure for grief is action.” – George Henry Lewes

Last week was the week I got fired. Now that was a kick in the gut. It still hurts. It hurts in particular because of the way it happened, but perhaps more on that later in this piece, after I work through how it happened and lick my wounds a bit more.

Although there are no hard stats that I’m aware of on the number of building superintendents fired, laid off or let go and replaced each year in New York City, I’d be willing to bet it’s in the thousands. It happens a lot. It happens sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. Occasionally no reason is given at all. But it does happen with frequency.

We deal with it. In due time we move on to a new life and job – hopefully a better one – after learning all we can.

To varying degrees in our work as supers and other building maintenance workers, we all slog away with the approval or disapproval of the managers, management firms and condo or co-op boards who hire us.

For those who are union members, it’s a little harder to get fired, but not at all impossible; it can and does happen often. Non-union workers are at the mercy and whim of the people you work for, from your immediate boss to those above him or her, and to the strength of your relationship with them. A strong working relationship with him or her usually helps and often is the glue that holds it all together. But even despite that strength there will be times you find yourself on the outs with a board, or having to deal with a change in ownership or management, or finding that an attempt to seek common ground on an issue has gotten away from all involved.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.” -Rita Mae Brown

There are a thousand different reasons for moving out the door, or for that matter for giving an employee a gentle push out the door.

For supers and resident managers it’s a double whammy. Since most New York City building superintendents get an apartment as part of their compensation package and work situation, you are up for a change in work environment AND living environment all in one fell swoop if you lose a job.

It has all the possibilities of a really traumatic situation for everyone involved, to say the least. That is, IF it’s not handled quite delicately. Sometimes even when it is.

This is even more so if you have a family and they must move to a new apartment in a new neighborhood and attend new schools simply because YOU lost your job, for certainly they did nothing to deserve this. The blame game can get played to its fullest.

There is no doubt that the experience can be very tough, both on you AND on those closest to you.

At the very time you need each other, both can be hurting so much that you either turn on each other in anger and fear of what the future may hold, or you turn away from each other in resentment and an inability to express what you’re feeling, and drift apart. Either one of which can be fatal, and can lead to a family tragedy of epic proportions.

“Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”  -Lyndon B. Johnson

But, when it does happen, how to react well and make it work for you and your loved ones – not against?

At the very least, for a short time, there is a sense that you want to retaliate in some way. It doesn’t work, nor does it help the situation. You just need to move on, to get another job, and resume your life.

If an overall bad attitude is what got you fired, the first thing to do is work on that. This is not an easy fix, or a quick one. It may be true that your bad attitude comes from having, and cultivating, the wrong reaction to what life throws at you. It isn’t what happens to you – but how you handle what happens to you – that defines who you are.

Even if you were in an impossible work situation and saw no way to save it, you will, if you allow yourself to feel, find that you grieve the loss. It can be quite like a death in the family; it is certainly a new beginning under different circumstances.

Very similarly to the death of a close friend or spouse or family member, you experience grief. Psychologists who have studied people going through these traumatic life changing experiences tell us there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance.

Each time I’ve experienced profound loss – even when it was expected as in the death of someone very old and close to me, I found it well worth my while to try to understand and work through those stages, allowing myself some time to experience and feel each one before moving on to the next.

Each stage is a component of how you will react; the only difference between you and all the others who’ve experienced these stages is the length of time you spend in each one. Some of your reaction depends on your personality, and you can’t quickly change that, if at all. Most of how you deal with it all is up to the depth of determination you muster within yourself to deal with whatever life throws at you.

“There is no squabbling so violent as that between people who accepted an idea yesterday and those who will accept the same idea tomorrow.” –Christopher Morley

Anyway, back to the reasons for this drama. Long story short (and I understand full well that this is just one perspective): the board wanted to take a big, expensive step that I felt was singularly ill-advised, not to mention self-aggrandizing.

I was asked by my manager and board president to express my unvarnished viewpoint (on how it would turn out) when prompted, to enumerate all the reasons why it should not be done, and to put forth a viable alternative. I don’t yet know if they agreed with me, yet somehow thought it would be better received coming from me than from them, or if there was some angling to use this incident against me.

It almost doesn’t matter, because either way the outcome is the same — the only reason I’d like to know the truth about that is for the lesson I might learn for the future.

Sometimes you don’t know how many it will take to whip your butt, but most of the time you do know exactly how many are going to try – this time I knew neither.

I stood up and expressed definitively what I thought and believed to be the best answer, wanting to be neither dishonest to myself nor a shameless shill for the Board. A certain Board member, who must win whether by hook or by crook, disagreed strongly and said so publicly, and demanded my public reaction.

I did as requested, laying my cards on the table and once again said my piece honestly and openly. It wasn’t well received. Apparently strings were pulled, favors called in, arms twisted. Politics gets nasty when individuals believe there is much at stake. Especially if the only thing really at stake is their pride.

“To remain young one must change. The perpetual campus hero is not a young man but an old boy.”  – Alexander Chase

It’s not pretty. It never is. But here I am. A big boy, somewhat battered and bruised again; sadder, wiser for the incident. A bit more jaded, cynical, battle-weary and -scarred, tiring of the game. Wondering if it was worth it. But allowing myself to feel, to breathe, to be.

And getting geared up for an alternative future. Next!

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