It was 2000 and my wife was pregnant with our first child. Her impending birth inspired our decision to move from beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico. We wanted to find a community where we felt more connected, was closer to the ocean and had good schools. It was time for us to go.
I was a firefighter/EMT at the time for the local Fire Department and a local ambulance service. I hadn’t shared with my co-workers that I was looking for new work for fear that they would judge me. People who work in Emergency Services are like a close-knit family. This is a result of working in stressful environments and long hours together. I was afraid they would feel betrayed, and that they would abandon me.
After spending several thousand of dollars on out-of-state trips and unsuccessful hiring processes I was despondent. My job prospects seemed bleak and I was feeling like nothing would happen for me.
And then something did happened. I found myself just outside of Portland, Oregon for a big city-wide fire department hiring event. Thousands applied for the select few positions they had. It was no wonder. The positions were well paid, in a desirable and well-established fire department. The benefits were amazing and you were outside of vibrant and beautiful city.
I showed up for testing and I was “in the flow.” You know that feeling when everything seems to be going your way and every time you open your mouth the right words come out. The interviews ended with smiles, the testing seemed to go with ease. After a three day process of testing and interviews I got THE phone call. They were offering me a job. It was the job of a lifetime. And thank god: My wife was now 7 months pregnant, so our urgency level to move was high. Also, in the intervening weeks I had made a mistake. I’d left a document on a work computer that showed that I was planning on leaving. My co-workers were feeling betrayed and resentful by my lack of transparency. And rightly so.
We flew to Portland to do some final administrative work and to find a home. We visited with Real Estate agents, and started to imagine ourselves living here. We were both nervous and excited about all the possibilities the future held. The remaining processes for me to go through were solely administrative. These were requirements of a professional service that works for the city. We were doing things like blood tests and sensitivity training. All activities that were administrative only and not part of the testing process.
After a morning of routines and orientation, they had scheduled me for a “quick 30 minute conversation” with the staff psychiatrist. I showed up, full of optimism, openness and confidence. Everything was going my way. The psychiatrist I met with had gone through my entire set of tests, including a 400+ multiple choice question test and a long-form essay questionnaire. He went through my scenario-based videotaped tests. He asked me many questions. One of them included the following: “The questionnaire asked whether you’d ever thought about suicide. I notice that you answered the question affirmatively.” There was a pregnant silence. I missed it.
I replied “Yes I did, thanks for asking!” and then explained: “Of course I wondered what it would be like if I was no longer on the planet. Everybody does but that doesn't mean they are thinking of ending their life. Someone who never thinks about what it would be like to no longer be on the planet is not living a considered life in my opinion.”
The psychiatrist continued with questions for another 10 minutes and then we were done. I left the office without any concern or consideration. When I showed up at my next scheduled event, there was a phone call waiting for me. It was a battalion chief. They were withdrawing their offer of a job effective immediately without review. It was a direct reflection of my conversation with a psychiatrist.
“Not fit psychologically to be hired,” “unbalanced,” “crazy,” “mentally unstable” were all things that rushed through my head. I was ashamed, I felt like a true failure. And I had to go down to tell my 7-month pregnant wife in the parking lot about my utter failure. We went home to New Mexico. I was heartbroken and spent too much time wondering whether what they said was true. Needless to say, the news got out. Nobody said anything, and in my mind the silence was worse than ridicule. I was sure of my unworthiness and now they were too. I spent the next month just showing up to work and doing what I was told to and then going home. I drank a lot, slept a lot and suffered a lot.
Finally a friend and co-worker forced me to sit with her and talk it out. I poured it all out the stories, the guilt, the shame. She was quiet for a moment and then looked at me and said “So you know where you screwed up, right?” I told her I didn’t understand. “You told them the truth. You told them what is true. You were transparent You were truthful and you told them what was so for you. And that's not what they're interested in. They're interested in the ‘right’ answers. They want square pegs for square holes. They don't know what to do with any other shapes. They're looking for people who don't think for themselves but do know how to regurgitate the ‘right’ answers they are expecting. Your mistake was by telling them the truth….. you PSYCHO!”
At that point we both broke-up laughing. She gave me a big hug. My wife and I moved shortly thereafter, and I left the fire service. I have never looked back, and I've never been happier. I look back on this “failure” as one of the best things that could have ever happened. This moment was my catalyst to distinguish my own path.
There is no greater gift that I have given myself then being declared unfit, unstable and a psycho. I’m not a square peg. And neither are you. You have so many unmeasurable facets that make you perfectly the person you are. Your nuances cannot be categorized. You do not fit into neat boxes. Some people and organizations would like you to fit into some category, and if you don’t they may judge you. AND THANK GOD THEY WILL. Because then you will know that you are not for them, and more importantly THEY are not for you.
When you find yourself teeing up for your next big leap, or if this inspires you to take one, it will either go as planned, or not. WHATEVER the result, it will further shape your path. And it is THESE moments that are so critical for shaping your future. Do not let the fear of failure get in the way of you finding your full expression, and fulfilling what you were meant for on this planet.
You can trust me, after all, I’m a psycho.