“My former employer has literally destroyed me. What can I do?”

Question: I am a Plumbing Designer, a small segment of the building design community. After 11 months of my case against my former employer in the Virginia Employment Commission, a decision was made in my favor: my former employer can tell people that they terminated me, but they can’t say they terminated me for misconduct. Problem is: for 11 months, that is what they told prospective employers and recruiters.

At 61 years old, I just can’t wait a few years for the “air to clear.” I’m unemployed, my house is in foreclosure, and my meager savings and retirement are wiped out. My wife even sold her wedding ring to help.

My spiritual convictions tell me that retribution is a “dead end.” Yet, I feel this company, with deliberation, sought to destroy me . . . and they certainly have succeeded. There is no space here for substantiation of the facts, but I have to do something. Or is it “Just my tough luck.” A word or two from your professional experience would be helpful. Thank you!

Clover, South Carolina

Answer: Dear Steven:  

Every now and then, a letter comes from one of our blog readers that simply MUST be answered, and I find yours to be one. I will, as you ask, share a word or two from my professional experience, but I hope you don’t mind if I share some personal thoughts, as well. My law practice draws upon both, and I believe one enhances the other.

1. First, I must admit that I am not, and have not, “walked in your shoes.” I must admit to you that I have not been, and am not now, “in your shoes.” I am your age, but I have not had the misfortunes you now face. I can tell from your letter that you are a proud man, yet at the moment you feel beaten, discouraged and hopeless. Very few can say they “know how you feel,” but I am certain it feels quite painful, and at the same time, also numbing. Please understand that, while I don’t share your present problems, I do recognize them, and I do feel bad for you, and hope I can help you, in some small way.   

2. When overwhelmed, I pray for three simple things: Strength, Stamina, and Serenity. Above all, you must endure. You must go on. You must commit yourself to survive. You cannot – if just for the sake of your wife and other loved ones – permit your former employer to “destroy” you, as you wrote. You just cannot permit anyone to do that to you and your loved ones. Instead, you must pledge to yourself – and to those who love you – that you will not permit that to happen. When overwhelmed, I ask God for nothing but (i) the strength to get up each day and face the world until bedtime, (ii) the stamina to do that each next day, seven days a week, and (iii) sufficient serenity inside my soul to say to myself, “I am proud, if not for anything else, that I stand up to all that I face.” I promise you that, if you do the same, it will be granted to you. I’m certain.

3. Though it sure sounds trite, counting your blessings is both soothing and sustaining. You are alive, sounds like you have your health, you have a wife, you have a trade, and quite likely so many other things that are, truly, blessings of the first order. Keep that in mind. And keep in mind, too, that there are many “wealthy” people out there with far less than you have. Go over a list of them each morning, and again each evening. It is both soothing and sustaining.

4. Chances are, you’ll never get “justice” or “retribution” from your former employer. I see many situations between employees and employers that suggest to me the best thing is simply to “drop it.” In these situations, it just seems that devoting more time, effort, thought and resources to the problem is inevitably going to result in nothing but a “deeper hole.” In these situations, it seems to me that the smartest thing to do is to redirect that same time, effort, thought and resources, in a positive fashion, to taking care of yourself and your loved ones. It might be paying a bill, finding a part-time job, or even a small but comfortable apartment. Put that energy and that effort only into positive directions, and surely your former employment relation is not one of those. Is it, as you say, “Just my tough luck?” I’d rather say, it was a negative in your life, but surely not a reason to abandon all that is positive in your past, your present and your future.

5. Don’t just “wait for the air to clear,” but rather choose a “new path” and “take positive steps” on that path each moment of each day. You may not think so, but I surely believe that your skills, your experience, your intelligence, your perspective, your understanding, your patience, and the support of those who love you are more than enough to get you on to a better path, and on your way down that path. It may be teaching young people the fine art of Plumbing Design, or as a deli clerk, or working at a gas station. But each day you have the opportunity that so many others don’t or won’t have: another day.

Steven, you say you “have to do something.” I hope and pray that you have the courage not to do anything that is not good for you and your loved ones. Others have already done that: they’ve treated you unfairly and even cruelly. Please don’t make it worse, or help them do more harm to you, or even do the same unfairness or cruelty to yourself. You’re much too smart and valuable for that. And, I hope, too focused and determined. “Living well is, indeed, the best revenge.”   

My Very Best,
Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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