My boss wants to get rid of me

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Cary’s classic column from THURSDAY, SEP 2, 2004

She wants me to leave under my own power — in a nice, quiet way.

Dear Cary,

I’ve been working at a high-tech company for about five years. My previous boss adored me, gave me good raises and promised me a promotion. Unfortunately, she got fired three years ago and was replaced by another woman. (BTW, I am female as well.) Anyway, the new boss is youngish (she’s in her young 30s, I’m in my young 40s) and felt she needed to take the bull by the horns by giving everybody hell.

There is no question she is smart, organized and driven, but she expects way too much from her employees. There has been high turnover in her group since her tenure, but management doesn’t seem to notice because she manages “up” if you know what I mean. My first review from her was scathing, but the subsequent two were fine. I’ve been working on a major software project this year that required a lot of travel and a great deal of time and effort. I thought everything was going fine, but lo and behold she tells me that my “management” skills aren’t up to snuff and wants me to leave the department. She said she’ll get me another job in the company, but doesn’t want me in her group. No paperwork, no human resources, no anything — she just wants me to leave.

Here’s my beef: I had no warning about this at all. I appreciate that she doesn’t want to involve H.R. because they are typically on the side of the company. I admit culpability and that some things slipped through the cracks. But she is the type of manager that if you do 10 things right and one thing wrong, the one wrong thing wrong will be noticed. In other words, she is a micro-manager.

Your advice? Should I just smile and find another position in the company, or investigate this further? I’ve worked hard and don’t feel I deserve this. To make a Machiavellian reference, maybe I didn’t kowtow to the prince. There has never been any chemistry between us, and I never tried to brown-nose her.

Getting Screwed by a Boss From Hell


Dear Getting Screwed,

You are probably correct that the problem lies in your relationship with your boss — or, more precisely, in your boss’s attitude toward you. Had you “managed up” as you say, in that relationship, perhaps she would regard you differently. But I don’t think you can fix that relationship now. She’s apparently made up her mind. She wants you gone.

The manner of your going, however, is still up for discussion. So I’m not sure I agree that it’s best to keep H.R. out of it “because they are typically on the side of the company.” The very fact that your boss does not want H.R. involved indicates to me that perhaps they should be involved.

I can think of several reasons your boss might not want H.R. involved. Perhaps she knows that you have a good performance record and she can’t make any kind of business case for moving you. Has she said anything about how her plan to get rid of you would help the company? Probably not. Perhaps what she is proposing goes against company policy — after all, H.R. is there for a reason. Also, H.R. may have noted the high turnover in her department and she may be afraid of bringing further attention to the problem. Perhaps H.R. cannot be “managed up” as easily as the other subpar midlevel managers she’s got wrapped around her little finger.

Meanwhile, she is trying to enlist you as an ally in your own undoing: You and me, honey, we don’t need H.R., we can settle this between us. She may be pretending to be on your side and against “the company,” but remember: She is the company. She is management. So don’t fall for that line.

Instead, why not go to H.R. confidentially. Explore your options. Get some counseling. You don’t necessarily have to tell them all the details. Just say that you’re looking into, you know, career development. You may have rights in this matter that you’re not aware of. Consider it from H.R.’s position. One of the things they try to do is avoid lawsuits from disgruntled employees. And while many in companies view the H.R. department as something like the principal’s office, there are always a few individuals who went into the field of human resources because they wanted to help people flourish and succeed. Of course, others go into it because they like to fire people and make them fill out forms. So you never know. But it’s worth looking into. At the very least, it will show your boss that you can’t be cowed or secretly manipulated.

It could backfire, of course. She could make things worse for you. But I don’t think she would fire you — if there were grounds for firing, she would have done it already.

I look at it like this: A personality conflict in a work situation is not the end of the world, and it does not have to be some ugly secret. It’s a fact of life. It happens all the time. Not everybody gets along. Not everybody likes everybody else. The right thing to do, I think, is to acknowledge it and deal with it in an aboveboard manner.

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I got caught stealing money from work

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Cary’s classic column from

I was fired and I’m making restitution, but I’m dying of shame.

Dear Cary,

I stole a large sum of money over a period of time from my job and was appropriately fired. I agreed to work out a repayment plan for all the money that I owe.

Although I am extremely lucky with the outcome, I feel remorseful and ashamed of what I did. I even attempted to commit suicide for the pain and guilt I felt (because of this situation, coupled with other things going on in my life). My career is probably shot to hell, I probably lost the trust of many co-workers/friends and I can’t seem to move forward with my life.

I knew that what I did was wrong and I am deeply sorry for what I have done, but I can’t seem to get past this. How do I forgive myself for what has happened and move forward?

Ashamed and Lost in Chicago

Cary Tennis Writing Retreat in France

Dear Ashamed and Lost,

Self-forgiveness comes from a recognition that though we have done wrong things, we retain a core self that is worthy of love.

There is a paradox, or difficulty, at the heart of this, whether you believe in an external power of forgiveness or not. We face what we have done, no matter how awful, but we come to this action filled with self-love. How can this be? How can we not hate ourselves for what we have done? How can we not grind our teeth at night for how we have screwed up our lives and the lives of others? And if we still love ourselves, does that mean that we believe we are innocent?

No. We are not saying we are innocent of the crime we have committed. We are saying that no matter how great our crime, we retain some kernel of innocent humanity, and that we remain deserving of love.

We balance these seemingly contradictory truths and live with them: Yes, even after committing a crime, we retain an innocent core self; it may only exist as a ghost self, or a fragile impression, a faint tracing of past innocence; but it is there. We were born into innocence, and that fact remains. It is to that self that we direct our nurturance and love.

This is a matter of the heart. But that is not all there is to it. There is a worldly component. When we transgress, we are cast out. A firing is a casting out. Yet unlike a society or village that might cast you out and then welcome you back from the forest, or a penal system that might imprison you and then release you, a company may fire you and forget you. There is little hope of being welcomed back to this particular company. Yet you need, for your own resurrection, to enact some kind of return. So perhaps you will feel it necessary to return to this same field with a different company. Or you will embark on a similar field, in a way that is informed by what you have learned through your transgression. In this way, having been cast out, you reinvent yourself in order to make a kind of return.

The ritual of exile and return makes vivid our passage. It gives us the feeling of “moving on.” Lacking that ritual, you would naturally feel stuck. Look for ways to live in the world openly as a person who has committed a transgression and is making restitution. Perhaps you can be of help to others who are also struggling with feeling stuck and full of self-hatred. That will take your mind off your own problems and give you a way to be useful. Being useful in the world heals us and gives us back our place. It is one way of “returning.” Speaking openly of what we have done and how we are working to correct it empowers us, and it empowers others; it takes the sting of shame away.

Finally, let me just say, as a layperson with no religious or political standing, as somebody you might sit next to on the bus: You are a flawed human being just like the rest of us, deserving of love and respect just like the rest of us. You needn’t punish yourself any more. You’re doing your time.