This is chapter 21 in a series entitled Telling My Story.
My daughter recently recommended a book to me entitled Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.
It is an excellent book and one I would recommend. I only wish I had read it a few decades ago. (Of course, that would be problematic since it had not yet been written.) While I did not have the benefit of Dr. Cloud's wisdom at that time, I do have the pleasure of looking back and seeing that I did, from time to time when it counted, do the very thing he advises.
Dr. Cloud's book uses both professional and personal applications to illustrate the times and situations in our lives when we need to end something - a job, a relationship, a responsibility. He is not talking about ducking out on our responsibilities; but rather he depicts the rational practice of analyzing our circumstances and deciding when it is time to move on: to create a necessary ending.
I did this three times in my career. Each time it was painful and somewhat frightening, but in each case the outcome was that I found myself in a better place with more room to learn and grow. In this chapter and the following two chapters I will share with you those three stories.
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My first job, when I returned to the workforce after an absence of almost fifteen years as an at-home parent, was as the office manager in a busy dental practice. I have outlined some of the more humorous aspects of that position in a prior chapter entitled Learning the Drill .
It was a two dentist practice, one near retirement and the other at the beginning of his career. The younger doctor was skillful, charming, and upon occasion "integrity-challenged." One day a local businessman came in to begin a series of treatments to receive ten porcelain crowns which were very expensive. He was the last patient of the day, and as young Dr. P. sometimes did, he left the last of the finish work to his assistant and he went home for the day.
As this patient came by on his way out of the building, he stopped at my desk and handed me a small brown paper bag, saying simply, "Dr. P. said I should leave this with you." He walked out without further explanation.
I was busy; the phones were still ringing, the staff was leaving for the day, and I set the bag aside until just before I locked up for the day. When I finally had a moment to look into the bag, I was astounded to see a large bunch of one hundred dollar bills. I counted the cash to discover it amounted to several thousand dollars.
We did not have a safe in the office, and we rarely received enough cash payments to make one necessary. So with this amount of money in hand, I was uncomfortable leaving it in a desk drawer until the next day. So I quickly locked up and made a special trip down to the bank, arriving just before they closed and deposited the money in Dr. P.'s business account.
The next morning when he arrived the first thing he did was ask me whether his last patient had left anything with me the evening before. I smiled and said he did, and proudly told him that as a precaution I had made a special trip to the bank to deposit the money for him.
His face displayed instant fury as he nearly shouted at me, "You did what?" The first patient had not yet arrived, so he went on to explain to me that this was to be an "off the books" job that he and the patient had arranged - cash under the table for a considerable discount off the cost of the crown work.
Now I had spoiled the whole thing by depositing the money, which would mean it would have to be reported on his taxes. He ranted, he raved, and he sniped at me between patients all day long.
I got quiet and I got scared. (I desperately needed the job as I was the sole support of our family at the time) And I prayed. Hard. I had never agreed to be part of a scheme like that, and I was angry that he would assume I would go along. But I could not afford to simply tell him to "stuff it" either. What to do?
When my lunch break came, I was too upset to eat, so I spent the time alone praying for wisdom and for the courage to do the right thing. At the end of the day, he came back to my desk to give me a few more choice words about my naivete' and lack of savvy about how the "world really worked."
When he finished, I gathered my purse and few personal items, handed him a letter I had prepared in case it came to this, and said, "Here is my letter of resignation. I did not mean to interfere in your business arrangements. But now that I understand what you intended, I cannot and will not participate in it. I am sorry it had to end like this. I believe I have left everything in order so that it should not be too difficult for my replacement to take over."
He was so surprised he said nothing as I walked out.
I went home still shell-shocked, unable to believe what I had just done. But I also felt a peace that passed understanding, because I believed I had done the right thing.
I did not know how we were going to pay the rent, buy food, or make the car payment. I only knew that I had done what had to be done in those circumstances. You either are a Christian when the chips are down, or you are not. You are either an honest person, or you are not. Sometimes there is no middle ground.
Please understand that I did not feel brave or holier-than-thou. Instead I felt scared, and sad because I did not want to be judgmental or self-righteous, and I had actually enjoyed working there, most of the time. But what was done was done.
Except that it wasn't ....
Early the next morning Dr. P. called me. I assumed he was looking for a patient number that he could not find. But no, he was calling to apologize. He said when he got home and told his wife, J., what had happened, she told him he was an "idiot" , that letting Marsha quit was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life.
He said she reminded him that he was making more money since I became his office manager than he had ever made in his life and one of the reasons was because of the straight-forward and respectful way I made all payment arrangements with patients in advance of the work being done. (Note: Our accounts receivables were running at over one hundred percent; meaning we were collecting everything he was currently producing and also collecting some small portion of past due accounts which were on the books from before I began working there.)
He also admitted he was calling because she had insisted that he do so. So, would I please come back to work?
I thanked him and politely declined. I explained to him that given that he was still angry over the misunderstanding and in light of the fact that he was only asking because J. had insisted, there was no basis for me to return. "I would do exactly the same thing the next time, and you would be just as angry. So there isn't really any way that would work."
Dr. P. knew a little of our personal circumstances, enough to know that I really needed the job. He also knew he had hit a brick wall.
A little later I received a call from his wife, J. She began by apologizing and letting me know that she did not know what Dr. P. thought he was doing in expecting me to go along with his tax- evasion scheme. She assured me that it would never happen again, and that she was personally asking me to please return to the office. She further assured me that Dr. P. would never again ask me to do anything of that nature. I believed her.
After careful prayer and consideration, I returned. However, I now knew that I was dealing with a person of limited integrity and that the time would come when I would need to leave. But the knowledge gave me time to plan my exit, to watch for other opportunities, and to gain as much expertise as I could in my remaining time there.
When I left, I gave ample advance notice, and then walked out with my head high and my conscience clear. I also left with the well-wishes of my coworkers and even the sheepish best wishes of Dr. P., who had given my new employer a glowing recommendation of my work.
Thus, this necessary ending was the bridge to a new beginning.
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"When you ask yourself if you should have hope for this person or business to get better, the first diagnostic is to see what has been happening up to this point. Unless something changes, that is exactly what you can expect to happen in the future."
~ Dr. Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings, page 94)