Updated: Sep 15, 2022
On April 6, 2021, I put in my paperwork for early retirement. I had enough time in the system to come out with my health benefits. Although I am not old enough to collect financial benefits, I still felt it was worth it to leave the job on my own terms because I refused to continue to deal with mistreatment.
In 2018, for the first time in 24 years, since a new director took over, I struggled with feeling like my time at my job was ending. Subsequently, and unbeknownst to me, I became part of the movement known as the ‘Great Resignation.’
The concern I had about my job ending was valid because of the mistreatment I received from the new director, and frankly, in the past, other employees in my department lost their jobs for various invalid reasons. I did not want to take a chance and lose everything that I worked so hard for to that point. The signs were there, and I refused to succumb.
During the pandemic in November 2020, I got signs I should leave my job. I will share more on that later in this article. Many people would probably think the timing of it all could not be worse because the country was in turmoil, but I beg to differ.
Sure, we were amid one of the worst pandemics of our lifetimes, George Floyd’s murder was front and center on our televisions and in social media, the Black Lives Matter movement was in full swing, and companies were scrambling to figure out how they could reduce the unease Black employees felt as it related to discriminatory tactics happening to them on the job. The scenarios I just laid out resonate with me greatly, which was partly why it made sense for me to leave. Basically, life is too short to waste time.
‘They Don’t Care About Your Loyalty’
When the previous director retired in mid-2018, I thought that was my opportunity to get a fair promotion/raise since I went years without a fair one because of contract restrictions.
I loved working for the program and never complained about not having the salary that I deserved because of fixed salaries in the contract. However, I earned my master’s degree during my tenure with my department, and I also took on responsibilities of another employee who retired.
Once the previous director’s salary became available because of the retirement, I thought that was my chance to receive a fair promotion/raise.
During an eye-opening negotiations meeting, prior to the former director’s retirement, which was inclusive of the former director, an executive, and the incoming new director, I stated why I deserved an appropriate promotion and raise in the amount that I asked for and included in my commentary that I had been loyal to the program and position for 18 years (at the time), and I was the most senior member of the team. I thought to myself, surely that should count for something.
The executive stated to me rather matter-of-factly, “They don’t care about your loyalty.” That statement shocked and disappointed me, and it really woke me up. Even if the organization did not care about my loyalty, the people I worked for should have cared. If they were not on my side, then who was?
The executive and directors knew I was a team player, but they did not reciprocate in kind. I felt that they should have fought harder for me to receive what I deserved. I found out quickly that loyalty meant nothing, and I needed to rethink my strategy.
Fighting For Fairness
When the new director officially came on board, we had a meeting with labor relations in the negotiation for my promotion/raise. I fought hard for my raise because I deserved at least a 20% increase for all the reasons previously mentioned. Unfortunately, I did not receive the 20% increase. In fact, I was extremely disappointed that I received nothing close to 20% or even 10%.
Fast forward to a week after that meeting—I had this weird thought, and I did some research and found out that other co-workers with less seniority and lower-level degrees than I had were making upwards of $15,000 more than me. Can you imagine how frustrated and disgusted I was to discover this? I felt sick inside. So, I wondered why this was happening, and I came to a few conclusions.
Favoritism of other employees was one reason. Another reason was because the new director treated other employees like they were more valuable than I was. Despite my impeccable reputation and high scores on my evaluations, the new director did not see my value. In addition, there was a lot of passive-aggressive behavior happening, too. The new director asked what I thought about things, knowing that she didn’t really care what I thought about anything.
I was the main office administrator on the team and the new director left me out of program-related meetings, and didn’t apologize for not including me, which was intentional. In addition, the new director started taking responsibilities away from me. At that point, I believed I was no longer important. I was expendable. I met with the new director to discuss what was happening but felt gaslighted and minimized during the conversations. After two and a half years of anguish and defeat, that was the last straw. I had no more fight left in me.
My spirit and self-esteem became disjointed, and I wondered whether I was good enough. I felt insignificant, worthless, degraded, unwanted, violated, and out of place, like I didn’t belong in the department anymore. I became sad, physically ill, and was full of anxiety while still trying to do my job effectively.
In all the years working with this department, I had never felt the level of scrutiny I felt for my last two and a half years there. At that point, the situation wasn’t worth me continuing to have meetings with the new director to discuss what I was experiencing. I was done. My intuition told me that my time was winding down and it was time to strategize and make new decisions beneficial for me.
Nothing About Me Is Mediocre
From the start of my career at the university, I received fours and fives on my work evaluations, which represented superior and outstanding work. I worked for two other directors, an administrator, and professors in this department, and a previous department for this organization.
The directors, administrator, and professors gave me the evaluation scores that I deserved. I also received commendation letters from other department chairpersons and directors for collaborative work. However, the new director decided I deserved a three on my evaluation, which represents a level of work that is just proficient or, in my mind, mediocre. Of course, I was livid. Never in the time that I worked for this organization did I ever deliver work that was just proficient.
I made a phone call to the new director to discuss my disagreement with that score. The score needed to be changed because I deserved a better one. She told me she made an “error,” and she would change the score. However, she made it a point to let me know I was not perfect. I never claimed to be perfect, but I’m far from mediocre.
All the while, I thought to myself, what if I didn’t read through the evaluation and just signed it with blind trust? I am convinced that the score would have remained as a three if I signed the evaluation blindly.
Moving On—You Know When You Know
My decision to leave came with much trepidation and careful planning. I wondered if it was the right time. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. After all, as I mentioned, I could not receive a monthly pension payment and still needed to earn a living. Also, I was concerned because I worked for this department for most of my time at the organization. I loved working for the department because of the difference we made in people’s lives.
Even with all those thoughts running through my mind, I felt God tugging at me that there was more to my story that had to be explored. Sometimes, things happen the way they do to push you into your destiny. However, if I didn’t experience the mistreatment that I did, I wouldn’t have had the courage to explore moving on.
In November 2020, I had to go to the office to mail out a publication to individuals in our mailing list database. We were in full swing working remotely. In an instant, I heard God speaking to me to clean out my office. To describe what God sounds like is difficult. It’s an innate feeling of knowing what you heard and following through while having faith. So, I cleaned out my office. What I realize more and more in life is sometimes, God will allow uncomfortable situations to occur to get you to move closer to your destiny and purpose.
After all, the pandemic was difficult and scary, and I was transitioning from the place where I spent most of my career without knowing what my next move would be. So, with faith as my guide, I tip-toed toward moving on without knowing what was on the other side of the mountain. Keep in mind that I contacted human resources and put in my paperwork to retire on April 6, 2021.
On April 7, 2021, I got the shock of my life and found out why God told me to clean out my office to prepare to leave. Because of the pandemic, we held all meetings by Zoom. I needed to schedule a meeting with a colleague who wanted to collaborate with our department. One fateful day, I checked our Zoom link to make sure it was accurate to email to the colleague. We discontinued another link because someone hacked the previous link.
When I clicked on the link, I got the shock of my life. The new director and co-workers were having a meeting. It shocked them to see me also because they had a look of surprise on their faces. At that moment, the new director mentioned they were meeting to discuss ways to get additional grant funding. The problem was the new director did not inform me about the meeting. I was the main office administrator, and the director should have included me in the meeting. That was a slap in the face and made me feel discounted. I realized nothing happens by accident or coincidence. I was supposed to find out about that secret meeting.
The crazy part about all of that was it was confirmation and validation for me because the day before that happened, as mentioned, I put in my papers to retire. That situation gave me the clarity I needed, and I felt more certain about my decision to leave.
‘Cake in the Conference Room’
My ‘Cake-in-the-Conference-Room’ moment came when I called the new director on April 8, 2021, to let her know I decided to leave, and she didn’t seem too shocked when I told her I was leaving. She did not ask me why I was leaving or try to figure out a way to make me stay. That conversation spoke volumes to me.
As I shared my news with her, I heard the most beautiful melodic sound in the background. For whatever reason, the new director was oblivious to the sound, and I mentioned it. Then, the new director went to the window and saw a red cardinal sitting on a tree limb, took a picture, and sent it to me.
I’m convinced that the red cardinal was singing loudly so that I could hear it. That was enough for me. The spiritual significance of the red cardinal was my notification that I was indeed, without a doubt, doing the right thing. The red cardinal was my assurance that the time was now for me to join the ranks of people who are part of the Great Resignation.
An Ending Or A New Beginning?
The next few months leading up to my departure would prove peaceful. Ironically, there was no more feeling uncertain and anxious, no more issues with my self-esteem, and no more unfair treatment—I was almost out of there, and it felt so good!
I made many friends while working there who I keep in touch with. The connections that I made through the years will serve me well in the future. One employee in the department said that I was a “pioneer” for deciding to leave, which made me feel special. I am not a bridge burner and left on a high note because I am a person of excellent character, professionalism, and integrity. I fulfilled my purpose working for that department in more ways than one.
The Great Resignation has provided many with the boldness and determination needed to leave jobs that did not serve them well and helped individuals finally pursue their dreams. When people decide to leave their jobs and live life on their own terms, it helps them gain confidence and helps to fulfill their purpose.
I am honored to be part of such a bold group of people who stood up for themselves and left jobs on their own. I am a multi-talented, multi-skilled individual who can do anything in life. Each day, I am finding my way through my purpose. I am more than ready for this challenge, and I am thankful that God has given me the courage to go after what I want and not let fear of the unknown hold me back.
God Bless You with Good Health and Wellness,
Antoinette Shar’ron Johnson
Living Life On My Own Terms is a two-part series. Click here for part two!
Looking for merchandise with positive messaging, check out Inspirations by ASJ!
Is The ‘Great Resignation’ Actually A Mass Retirement? (forbes.com) by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox
Predicting How, When, Or If ‘the Great Resignation’ Will End by Edward Segal
Great Resignation Continues as 44% of Workers Seek a New Job by Greg Iacurci