I haven’t worked in many formal or professional settings. When I first landed at a ‘real’ job, it wasn’t the paycheck, status, or new schedule that got me excited to go to work. It was the parties!
Expressly, goodbye parties. Not only do I enjoy cake and confection, but I also enjoy spending time with colleagues sitting around and talking about work memories. Listening to people’s recant stories of the job before my arrival was fascinating. I learned a little bit more about the culture of the agency with each morsel of the cake. I even got to throw in my two cents about personnel and people departing from my working knowledge of their time at the agency.
I also witnessed the unstable rifts and hazardous conditions caused by staff turnover. Not only did this put pressure on all of the staff remaining to work that much harder, but it also was a sobering reminder that the status quo at the agency could shift at any time for the worse.
I came to treasure each of these goodbye parties truly. Each had its element, vibe, and turnout. If the staff member was appreciated or a hard worker, the cake would be that much creamier and from a nicer bakery. If the person departing the agency was an executive in good standing, everyone was corralled into the breakroom to say a parting word or sign the card. Sometimes, if the party was for a team member, the entire team would band together and map out all the dishes to be cooked, purchased, or baked. The parties for departing team members were the best!
In a serendipitous turn of events, I joined the big team at the agency. As a team, we even had weekly parties. There was always food on the table to have a snack at our meetings. I was gearing up for a magical feast of a goodbye party with all the trimmings and everyone in attendance, I thought. As I said, it was my first job. I had only witnessed goodbye parties for people in good standing as my departure and resignation time grew closer to coming about. My status and place at the agency dwindled and subsumed into being stripped of job responsibilities and reduced from a therapist to answering phones.
I wasn’t asked my input at team meetings, and half the team was giving me the cold shoulder. While I should have been more concerned about rallying back my image and standing at the agency, I knew there was no time for that. My biggest concern was that there was no talk or chatter about my goodbye party two days before my scheduled departure. How could they plan a party in two days? Did I ask myself?
That was when one of my last friends on the team told me there would be no party. My heart dropped. I was stripped of my party by a sour puss angry, hostile team member. A person who wanted me to feel ashamed of my work performance until the last possible moment I left the agency. There were days when I would sob and cry to myself in the car driving in because I was so miserable! The whole debacle and cancelled party were more of an ego slam than the complaints about my work performance that were unfounded. Ya Basta! Enough is enough! I said to my teammate. I’m going to throw myself a party. But when I told my mom, she asked me why I would throw a party for people that treated me like dirt. I told her I was determined to have my party and go out with class.
That’s what I set out to do the next day. I woke up early, went to the bagel store, and purchased a full spread of cream cheeses, bagels muffins, croissants, butter, jelly, and fresh smoked salmon. I sped off to work and set up the party, with a table cloth galore and all the ingredients of a good team party in the books. When nine o’clock came, and the team poured into the room, they were stunned. Some people opted to leave and not celebrate with me. Others ate, and I couldn’t help but feel warm inside and satisfied that I didn’t let anyone rob me of a good time and healthy termination from my first job.
To this day, people remind me about the party, and the fresh lox, and not the miserable situation I was in at the end. I had achieved what I set out to do, celebrate life and not be swallowed whole by misfortune.
Maxwell Guttman teaches social work at Fordham University. He is also a mental health correspondent for Psychreg where he shares his insights on recovery and healing.
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