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Some Days in the Life - The Termination of Skippy

Posted 6/4/99

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I mentioned in an essay a while back in this journal that I'm good at what I do -- which came as some surprise to me. I've had that reinforced recently. I'm apparently a good manager, because I can fire people well.

This is, apparently, an art form.

The person in question was terminated about six weeks ago. We (being Personnel and myself) decided it would be best if she -- we'll call her "Skippy" -- finished out the year if she wanted to. She wasn't being ridden out on a rail or anything and we weren't concerned she'd set a 14 year old on fire or anything. If she got another job, we'd let her go immediately as needed.

So, I pulled her into my office and we sat down, and we talked for a long while. She cried and I just felt like Hell. It's hard to do it. It's no fun at all. You have to see someone you like and respect have their world shake from underneath them, and there's nothing you can say or do that makes it any better.

I let her talk and rant for a bit, and then we went for a long walk, circling the campus, and I let her say whatever she wanted and didn't hold it against her. I did it in the morning -- I'd had people who terminated me in the afternoon or after the end of the work day before, and I always resented it, so I did it the way I'd want it done to me. I offered her the rest of the day as needed and she left, and I felt rotten the rest of the day.

It's what had to be done, and it was my job to do it. She didn't blame me, or so she said. Others have complimented the way it's been handled. I'm apparently good at this.

I don't want to be good at this.

The last six weeks have had their stressful points, as the grieving process and the inevitable -- and understandable -- bitterness kicked in. That, plus the strain of searching for people for different positions, plus end of year and my illness, made it about as unfun as Brewster Academy ever gets.

We finished up this week, so today was Skippy's last day. She was very professional, once again. The whole office took her out to dinner at our favorite "non-Brewster" restaurant. She laughed, a hair bitterly, part way through, and said that it was where we took her while interviewing her in the first place. A detail I'd forgotten in those pre-journal days. We joked. We laughed. She talked about the interviews she'd had this week and the further interviews she'd been invited on for next week.

We got back, and did our jobs, and she packed up forever. We hugged a bit and chatted more and made sure her computer and keys were turned in, and then she headed out.

And I feel... something. Wistful. Sad. But not hurt. I had let that part of the office go in my head weeks ago. It will be easier now, without that reminder of a life shaken up, of a meeting I'd rather not ever have again, of the nature of adulthood.

Robert Heinlein once wrote that a man would be willing to shoot his own dog if it were needed. You didn't foist the job off on someone else who might screw it up or bungle it and make the dog suffer. You did it yourself and you did it right, in the name of the dog. That person would be a man, regardless of gender. Not a spineless poltroon. I could have had Personnel fire Skippy. I could have sat in my office and waited and then murmured about regrets to her when she finished. It would be within my rights.

She was in my staff, though. She was my responsibility. So I took care of it, and tried to do it right -- clean, without false hopes, and I hope without more pain than was unavoidable.

I'll miss her now -- her point of view, her savage wit, her sense of humor and the universe. You can be wrong for a job and still an asset, and I'll miss the assets she brought to the work. I'll miss her, period.

Monday, we move on. So so will I.