Quarter Life Crisis
A scream erupts from Max’s throat.
He won the lottery!
Well, the next best thing.
Max reads the first words of the email again:
We’re pleased to offer you the Executive Assistant position with our company. If you agree, please sign the attached offer of employment, and we will let you know the next steps regarding the onboarding process.
He couldn’t believe it. He finally got a job.
Footsteps thunder down the stairs. Max’s cousin, Ella, searches the kitchen with frantic eyes. She grips a pen in her hand, positioned to stab the nearest threat. “What’s wrong? I heard you scream.”
If he wasn’t so giddy right now, he would make fun of Ella for her reaction. The BTS sweater with all of the members’ faces she wears is even more ammunition, but he ignores it. “I got the job!”
A look of sheer murder flickers in her eyes upon hearing there isn’t any actual danger. It transforms into joy when she processes his words. Ella lets out a scream of her own. “Oh my god!” She drops the pen and hugs Max, the two jumping around the kitchen.
When they let go, Ella claps her hands. “We have to celebrate. I’m taking you out. When are you free? When do you start? What are the next steps?”
Max laughs at the flood of questions. His cousin talks a mile a minute when she’s excited. “I’m free until the job starts. The email said I start in two weeks. I have to sign their offer letter, and they’ll let me know what to do after that.”
Ella sits at the kitchen table, and Max joins her. The sunlight streaming through the windows can’t compete with the brightness of both their smiles. “Have you told your parents yet?”
“Not yet. I just got the email, and you’re the first person who knows.”
“I was the first person last time, too.” The light dims from a cloud passing over the sun.
Max leans back in his chair. “I can’t believe that was five months ago. I was such a different person back then.”
His mind drifts back in time. He is brought back to the moment his quarter-life crisis began...
“Ready for our meeting?” asked his boss, Whitney.
“Yep, let’s do it.” Max unplugged his laptop from his desk to bring with him.
“We’re going to stop by Annette’s office first.”
The head of HR? He didn’t know what role she had to play in this meeting, but she was fun to talk to.
Max followed Whitney to Annette’s office. They passed by empty desks. Their company had just moved to a new building. All of the departments were still getting settled. Cubicles were half-built, chairs were stacked in corners, and plants were waiting to be put to use as decoration. The space smelled of plaster and newness, ready to be replaced with coffee and routine.
They arrived at Annette's office. The smile that normally played along her face was absent. Tension hung in the air. A kernel of dread formed in his stomach. Something was wrong.
“Please, sit,” directed Annette. Max and Whitney took the seats across from her desk. “You’re probably wondering why you’re here.”
“We’ve decided to let you go. Your skills aren’t what we need at our company right now…”
Max didn’t hear the rest. His thoughts came to a screeching halt. What did she say? Let go?
Was he being fired?
The sound of paper cut through his thoughts. Annette handed him a document. “And here are the termination papers that go into more detail. If you choose to sign them, we can offer you a severance package. Do you have any questions?”
She might as well have been speaking in a foreign language. Max’s brain short-circuited. His mouth was dry. His first instinct was to run out of the room. However, a small but firm voice in the back of his head stopped him and asked him a question. It was just enough to get him to ask the same question out loud.
Annette blinked. “Excuse me?” As if she was surprised he actually had a question.
Max turned to Whitney. “Why are you firing me? How did you come to this decision?”
His boss averted her gaze. She couldn’t even talk to him directly about it. “There are two main reasons.
The first is that you were taking a long time to finish projects. The second is that you don’t seem happy at the job anymore.”
His confusion ignited into anger. Of all the reasons… The irony was that Whitney wasn’t wrong in what she said. Yes, he had been taking a long time to finish his projects, but that was because she kept assigning him projects that weren’t related to his job and didn’t offer him any support. She did this to her other employees, too. They were left to fend for themselves and got blamed when they didn’t meet the unrealistic standards expected of them. The other employees, now Max’s friends, shared their frustrations during his first week. He tried to show initiative and produce quality work, but it was the equivalent of floundering in the ocean without a life jacket. Max tried to talk with Whitney to communicate his concerns, but she always dismissed them, insisting he would figure it out.
Anger bubbled to the surface, ready to erupt and call out Whitney. However, he knew that would just make him the disgruntled employee who couldn’t keep up with the demands of the job. He would be stereotyped as the angry brown person.
Stay calm, Max. Be professional.
“Was there a reason why we couldn't have had a meeting to discuss my performance before you came to this decision?”
Whitney straightened as if she had been preparing for this question. “I tried talking to you, but nothing seemed to be working.”
Max didn’t have to analyze their past interactions to see the flaws in her statement. “Are you referring to the one time you interrupted me during my lunch break and asked if I was okay because I ‘seemed down’?” He put the last two words in air quotes to emphasize his point.
Any doubts he had about Whitney’s leadership were confirmed at that moment. There had never been a formal sit-down meeting to review his work. If Max had to guess, it seemed like Whitney didn’t want to go through the effort of giving him a fair evaluation.
Instead of addressing what he said, she moved on, much to Max’s annoyance. “We’re letting you go before the holidays to make it easier.”
Max took in a controlled breath. Easier for who? Christmas was two weeks away. He still needed to finish his shopping for his family and friends. But if he didn’t have an income… How could Whitney possibly think any of this was helpful to him?
“And I’d be happy to write you a letter of recommendation while you search for your next job.”
That was the last straw.
“With all due respect, Whitney, I don’t want a letter of recommendation from you. I can’t trust that what you’ll say will cast me in a good light, given the reasons for why you’re letting me go.” His voice cracked at the end. Tears pricked the corners of his eyes, but he wasn’t going to give Whitney the satisfaction of seeing him cry.
His boss didn’t have the same control over her emotions. Whitney sniffled and wiped at her eyes.
Are you kidding me? Max was upset because he was getting fired, but Whitney had the audacity to be emotional? Unbelievable. He shook his head, grabbed the termination papers, and stormed out of the room.
When he got back to his desk, he started packing his belongings. Since he had only been there a short time, he didn’t have much in the way of decorations or mementos.
“What happened?” one of his co-workers asked. “Are you okay?”
“I just got fired.”
“What?” exclaimed the rest of the group.
Max slung his backpack over his shoulder. “I’ll tell you later. I’m going to miss you all.” As much as he wanted to get out of that building, he couldn