At my previous workplace, there is an annual tradition of travelling to wild backward areas to test the products we claimed were built for such environments. At some point in the trip, around a campfire in the evenings, newbies were inducted into the club by gulping a mouthful of apple moonshine. A photo was taken and after development hung on the company wall.
This simple act was a way of bringing you deeper into the fold. At its core, the drinker acknowledged their commitment to the company’s vision and in return, the company brought them into a coveted position of ultimate acceptance. The harsh liquid can be thought of as cauterizing lingering doubts on both parties: did we make the right choice by picking you, each side seemed to ask. A resounding yes, then, in the face of the clear like water liquor.
Every day at work, with each moment spent striving towards the story we had been fed, was a sip of the numbing elixir. For almost three years and together with the constant subtle reinforcement of being around like-minded people and high-sounding platitudes, this was enough for me to fold myself into the dream. But something shifted and the company changed radically. Internally I did not catch up as fast. The change happened in bits for me: a solid criticism about our products that lingered in my mind for days, a no longer deniable failure to meet some key metrics, a company relying on our technology tanking.
There was no single moment when I stopped seeing what everyone around me seemed to see, where I put the bottle down, no hard line between the before and after, much like coming out of a hangover. I went to work as usual and did worky things: emails, phone calls, gossipping with colleagues over lunch about how management was evil and daft (they probably thought the same of us), torrent downloads, and the rapidly diminishing work I was there to do. Nothing was normal and I was transforming from an acolyte to an unrepentant critic. There must have been a fall to earth, a sudden sobering up where I was left to stare at what was around me left unpropped by utopian ideas, only cold hard facts I was unwilling to believe were left. I was no longer sure what we were trying to achieve.
I remember joking with a new employee once, telling her not to drink the moonshine. At the time she did not understand what I was on about, I still do not think she does or even remembers that small interaction. My point was that place has an allure which swallows you completely and if you let yourself get immersed, you will drown in a dream which might remain just that. I wish to be proven wrong, to be shown up as insane only so I will not have to deal with the weight of my conscience and the burden of my idealism.
On paper, it was stated as poor performance. At the final meeting, I was told I was a poor fit in the new company structure. One could argue they are the same thing: my performance at fitting into the changed company was poor. I could not adapt to a changed environment, rather, I did not want to. One could also argue it does not matter what the reasons were. I was still out of a job. There were many flowery words, as is customary for anything disingenuous and unconvincing. I got the impression the decision had been sealed days before and this formality was for their benefit, to assuage their own minds.
The real reason I was fired, then, is I stopped believing in what we were doing. Doubt follows you around like a bad smell, people pick up on it, and the last thing you want on a project you have tethered your hopes on is someone who is distrustful. I lost my faith. I stopped drinking the moonshine. This no longer bothers me. Things lose their meaning, we wane in our convictions, often irreparably, and even love dies. The job lost its meaning, I faltered in my beliefs I was making the world a better place, my love for what I was doing died. The anger and bitterness at my perceived unfairness of how I was let go have receded and I accept losing things is part of the journey.