Reflecting on being laid off & where I am now after two years
I'm so glad I came across this post via LinkedIn, Mike. The universe wanted me to see this as the past two (maybe more) years have been a similar experience in understanding when things truly fall to pieces and you are forced to seek and take the journey, as you have. I commend you and am proud of you. Thank you for these words and resources. I have reading and reflecting to do!
So, So, So powerful and such perfect timing for me to read this. Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty. I recently left the field of museum education and have been struggling with all the same feelings. Although my leaving was my choice, I still feel angry that I was put in a position where I felt like I had to make that choice. I thought I was at my forever-museum and had been putting down roots and making plans. I know I am in a better place, professionally, but I am still struggling. Your words hit me in ways that I can not articulate but I am so glad you could!
As always, Sir, so many truths and insights to unpack, reflect upon and dance with. So first, as everyone before me has said, thank you for your great care and skill in relating your experiences, emotions and hard work. Writing in the way you have here is such a welcome break from the impulsive “need to share my important experiences” writing that I try to filter from myself every day. Most of my experiences and ideas are definitely NOT important. They are average, which is fine, and sometimes wrong. I postulate an idea and then look for all the ways that it doesn’t hold water so that a more true postulation will reveal itself. But, mixing metaphors here, hitting 350 will get person into the hall of fame, so I console myself when I metaphorically find myself taking a turn at the plate. Museums and the social, economic and knowledge ecosystems in which they operate are part of very complex, often paradoxical systems. Dr. Suzanne Simard, professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, has described some deeply relatable characteristics of complex systems in her autobiographical and scientific memoir “Finding the Mother Tree”. Simard describes how the leaves, stems and roots of forest trees and plants, coated and connected below the surface by a network of variously adapted fungi, create a chemical neural network that perceives and responds-to the environmental and physical changes going on around them. Simard, in my reading, has made the case that the diversity and complexity of the cooperative perceptive systems and the expanse and capacity of their communication networks have a greater impact upon the success of the forests’ ability to thrive than the severity of the challenges to the systems, themselves. Fire, insects, deadly bacterias, climate changes, toxic mining tailings and industrial particulates can often all be overcome in the long run, Simard suggests, if there is an underlying, diverse, redundant and cooperative sensory and communication network knitting the community together. This, I wonder, may be what museums in the western world fail to get right. The pandemic may have served as an accelerator in revealing the flaws but art, science and history museums work so feverishly to become “third spaces”, the unique places within our communities, apart from commerce and government, where spectacular and life-affirming ideas are given root and nourishment and where guests and audiences are invited to safely respond, that they fail to first focus on building diverse, interdependent, and reliable sensory and communication networks. How many times have I watched my own organization change management structures and leaders, adopt project management software, revise mission, value and vision statements, focus on visitor experience surveys, double the frequency of 1-hour meetings, and yet utterly fail to deeply grow internal or external trust, support and a sense of shared reliance on open communication both within the organization and across the community? Likewise, how many times have I seen the distrust of narrowed access to power, specialized-interests and oddly hidden authorities serve to further privatize and isolate what on the surface looks to be an organization dedicated to the public good? When an organization fails to help its smallest branches both understand the value their work to the health of the community - again, not to the goals and objectives of their departments in a bureaucratic sense but rather to the connection to the health of their community and the health of their organization’s role within that community - then that perceptive neural network of diverse groups and individuals, cooperatively communicating and building trust simply languishes and decays in its isolation.
Absolutely, there are still feelings after 10 years.
It's good to be part of this community. I love museums and even though sometimes it's difficult, I believe they are true places for positive change.
Thank you for sharing all these beautiful reflections of your journey! This resonates so much for me, especially the complicated feelings about finally returning. I put what felt like 1000% of me into a job I loved for many years and then was let go. This was 8 years ago and I feel like I have only in recent years finally let go of the complicated mixture of betrayal and also frustration at myself for letting myself get strung along for years with well intentioned but ultimately empty promises of advancement/job security/appreciation. I wanted to believe the best even though I was at the whim of grant funding and other factors out of my control. Anyway, I visited the place I used to love and work after a year or two and just sat at a table outside and spoke some words aloud to the space. The second time I visited I brought a friend I knew would honor and hold space for my complicated feelings. It was nice to create a new memory that wasn't tied at all to my employment there. I'm now so grateful for the catalyst that launched me into embracing my truest desires and most meaningful way of moving through the world and connecting with my family. Like your quote from Amber Johnson, it's the better versions of ourselves that better the world.
Thanks for sharing! You made me remember what I felt almost 10 years ago when I left my museum. I’m my case on my own decision, but with similar feelings of anger, sadness and frustration. Today I still work for museums and I thank for the forgiveness and the real “letting go” process.
Thoughtful and sensitive essay.
Mar Fuentes, from Mexico
Mike— Thank you for not only sharing this but taking the time to craft it in such a thoughtful and evocative manner. I miss you and I’m very excited about your new self and your book.
For completely other reasons than yours, I am in the process of letting go and disentangling my identity from my work…it is not easy and I applaud you for all you have done and all you have shared.
Peace and be well.
Thank you for sharing this. My two year anniversary of being laid off will come later this year, but so many of the emotions you describe are very similar to my experience. I have not yet found the forgiveness necessary to visit. I'll check out some of the books you mentioned.
Thank you for your work and for the references to authors and thinkers who have helped you deal with the challenges you describe in this post.
Thanks for writing about your feelings and process so openly. I still have healing to do after being pushed out of my museum job in 2015. We make these jobs our identities and it hurts so much to endure that kind of rejection.
As your partner and the person who knows and experienced this entire journey from the inside, I so appreciate you taking the time and emotional energy to post this, and thank you, again, for introducing me to Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, so that I too could learn from her wise words during those first anxiety-inducing months of the pandemic.
Just a quick note and a huge thanks, Mike, for sharing. The concept of 'radical forgiveness' is quite inspiring and I will keep in mind to find more about it. Ca. 10 years ago I made a similar experience and finally (I can say this only in retrospect, at that time it was more than difficult) it enabled me to find my unique voice and to go MY way. I think that you make quite a difference in the museum world with what you have to share and how you do this. Greetings to everybody here!
This type of essay is so difficult to publish. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, and for taking the steps to allow yourself to continue to give back to the Museum community after this experience, too.
Thank you for the very personal resonance
of my own, Since 2020… as a volunteer school tour docent at the Getty Center I relate to your experience. After refining myself from being a teacher for years, (it was hell.)
I found the Getty was training people to lead school tours. A year of training and happily leading kids of all ages on school tours. My nirvana.
The tours stopped 2020 and I found solace in walking and unexpectedly getting to know a host of wild squirrels as friends.
We are inching back now into school tours, but what struck me was that you speak of redefinition of museums, which just happens to be the new three year program at the Getty for staff and volunteers on the “Museums as Prisms”.
I hope we can all find answers and so glad to connect with you and others on this journey.
Thank you so much for your brilliant sharing🙏🏼