Each week, Prudie discusses a tricky letter with a colleague or friend, just for Slate Plus members. This week Jenée Desmond-Harris and Joel Anderson discuss Prudie’s response to: “Grateful for Being Canned”
Eight years ago, I was fired from a company that I had been with for seven years. They claimed I discussed confidential bonus information with an employee, but when I asked for their proof (which they said they had), they wouldn’t show me anything. I did not and would not do anything like that. It wasn’t like I could go to HR about it either, I WAS the HR person. To this day, I believe I was fired because my boss didn’t like the fact that I knew more about HR than she did and the employees respected me more. She had the VP believing she couldn’t do anything without her.
My question: Can I send my former boss a thank you letter, letting her know that she did me a favor? I am at a much better company; I love the job I do and I am making more money than that company would have ever paid me. I am well respected and considered a great asset here. If it wasn’t for them letting me go, I would never have found this job or company. I know it sounds petty, but so much good has happened to me since I left there, I actually feel grateful that they did that to me!
—Grateful for Being Canned
Jenée Desmond-Harris: I asked you to discuss this one because (in addition to the fact that you’re my husband, so I can ask you to do the chat at the exact time that works best for me without any concern for time zones or manners) nobody I know is more passionate about a years-long grudge toward a bad boss. Not even close.
Joel Anderson: It’s true. I’m unabashedly proud of my ability to maintain and nurse this grudge over the years, even as my career has inarguably taken off since I worked under that bald-headed, beady-eyed clown in Atlanta.
Jenée: I know you entertain fantasies about confrontations at NABJ conventions, but did you ever think about a “Thank you for treating me terribly and trying to ruin my career, because leaving that workplace set me on a path to do much better than I would have there” letter?
Joel: No. If only because I would never want to, even mockingly, make him think he had a role in my career in the past decade or that I could even muster the ability to speak to him with anything other than disdain. But I get the LW’s impulse here. They want to stunt on an old, bad boss but seem enlightened about it. (And not just confrontations at NABJ conventions. I have a very active imagination.)
Jenée: Right, but it’s totally transparent. That’s why I think if you want to do the enlightened approach you have to kind of wait until someone asks, or at least until you have a prompt or a peg. (A speech about resilience! A Twitter conversation!) You can’t just come out of nowhere with a fake “thank you” because that suggests that you’ve been dwelling on it and still aren’t over it, thereby undoing the enlightened vibe.
Joel: Right, plus I think they’re placing their gratitude in the wrong place. The LW did all of this. They’re the ones who persevered after a potentially calamitous professional experience. They’re the ones who managed to get a foothold back into their field and find a way to thrive. Why give any credit to someone whose only role in any of that was trying to derail it? Their former boss doesn’t deserve that.
Jenée: Also, it’s OK to still be upset! One angle you always focus on when it comes to your former bad boss situation is that he is still out there treating people terribly and running them out of journalism. And that’s a very legitimate thing to remain concerned about.
Joel: Exactly. That was always my thing about my former boss. When I finally got past my own frustrations and anger about that situation, I became really upset about how my old manager was still in a position to ruin many other careers (which he did). But, at least for me, I funneled that frustration into making sure people knew who he was and what he did to me and that I wasn’t alone. And it’s worked! At least once a year, for the past decade, I’ve gotten messages from old colleagues telling me about how that boss has remained a malignant force in their newsroom. If it’s not possible to get him removed from a position where he can still harm people, at the least I can give warnings to other potential job candidates there or advise people who are currently there on how to maneuver around him. The LW can and should spend some time being grateful for their own good fortune and then maybe use their distance to help some of the people left behind.
Jenée: Truly the funniest part to me was when you did this and then he caught wind of it and called up Slate to complain about you and they were like “Uh, Joel, someone weird left a message. Let us know what we can do to support you.”
Joel: LOL. I loved that. Still tickled by it. He also emailed me personally to complain about talking about him publicly and, truly, I enjoyed telling him to fuck off. Which is why I ask: Who gives a shit if it’s petty? Pettiness is human, and sometimes it’s satisfying to indulge it. Actually, a lot more than “sometimes.”
And you know what? It really only matters how you feel about yourself in the wake of that experience. It could be that the LW’s old boss is a sociopath and doesn’t care at all about what they did and you’ll just be disappointed trying to get a response from them. Don’t give them that power. Just be happy for your good fortune and be petty when the time calls for it.
Jenée: Yes, gratitude is a wonderful, healing thing to feel and you should feel it about where you are and what you’ve overcome, but don’t give them an ounce of credit.
In closing, do you want me to tell the story about how your former boss made you and your colleagues go to a restaurant where his daughter worked so it could appear like he had friends, or do you want to?
OK, I guess I already did. I just know that anecdote is important to you.
Joel: It was so transparent, so pathetic. But TD, just know this: We know you don’t have friends, bruh.
Jenée: I seriously doubt he is a Slate Plus member but no harm in addressing him directly just in case. That, letter-writer, is what owning your pettiness looks like. And it’s what we want for you.
More Advice From Slate
My first husband died when our sons were babies, and for 20 years I carried his name, raised our children, and watched our grandchildren be born. In my late 40s, I found myself in love and engaged. But then my soon-to-be mother-in-law brought up the fact I wasn’t planning on changing my name. It hadn’t been a factor until then—I have had my late husband’s name longer than my maiden one; it is my name, personally and professionally. She told my fiancé and me that it was “disrespectful” that I wasn’t planning on changing my name and I was “still clinging to a dead man.”