Kill Me Now Karma – Formally Known as Do Not Write a Reference Letter This Way, Reprised

I made a terrible mistake in a reference letter once. Granted I was very young and new to the processes of supervision and management. My only training had been being thrown directly into the fire.  Actually, I think they used me as kindling.

As it happens, I was eventually asked to write letters of reference.  Unfortunately, one of those early requests was for someone that I would’ve preferred not to do, but I felt a little obligated and truthfully, I also had semi-dark reasoning.   I was hopeful that it might help us get rid of her faster.

typewriter and paper for 46She regaled us daily with constant complaints. Unfortunately, her desire to provide suggestions for improvement didn’t match her primary efforts.  She also questioned whether every request was really necessary and then she moved at the speed of cold honey to complete them.

Various versions of our days of whine and quease ran through my mind as I struggled with what to say in the letter.  In the end I managed to write that she was a good employee who reliably came to work and could be recommended to competently complete processing general work in repetitive format.

And then she was gone. Yay!

A couple of years later, it was time for me to move on too.  I was thrilled with my new position in a really dynamic up and coming company. It was about a year into this job when guess who applied for a position at the same place?  When some asked me about her because of our mutual previous employer, I said I only knew of her and that I couldn’t really say much else.

I was underwhelmed at the thought of her presence in the building, but I was really unprepared for the news that she would be coming to work in my department, once again under my supervision.  Was I an ax murderer in a previous life, Karma?

I was ready to throw back scotch shots, multiple scotch shots, and I can’t even look at that stuff without thinking esophageal transplant. I still don’t understand how scotch isn’t really automotive fuel additive.  I wholly entertained “kill me now, Karma” thoughts.

To make a long story short, and to shorten the building horror of my damaging memories, I’ll just move onto the day my scotch bottle needs blew up.  My frustrations uncorked with an unbridled request for her to complete her duties.  As in, “Why can’t you just shut the hell up and do your damned job”?

I didn’t realize how loudly I‘d made my request until I saw the company VP strolling down from the other end of the building to ask if I was OK.  Then he asked me to come and speak with him in his office. Yep, thats a walk of shame right there, especially when it’s with somebody you deeply respect.

We engaged in the discussion of what happened and why and how I couldn’t understand how we could move ahead in any meaningful way with such an obvious lack of fit, as she clearly was.

He turned to a bank of files and pulled out a folder.  In measure of fair play, or maybe just a little bit of play, he asked me if I was sure she wasn’t competent enough to work for the company.  I answered with certainty; no, she is not.  Then he handed me a copy of a reference letter she’d provided. Yup. Why couldn’t he have just handed me a few shots of automotive fuel additive instead?

I could only, again, will for death as he explained that, of course part of the reason she’d been hired was because of my own words speaking for her.  I had no reply.  I sat there in bitter disappointment at how death was unwilling to respond. I instead willed for that block of the city to be struck hard by a sudden and deeply distracting earthquake.  No luck there either.  I ended up mumbling some claptrap about trying to do better and slithered out the door.

As it turned out, my department was soon going to be relieved revised anyway and she was being moved to another department.  Fortunately, that little ‘situation’ worked out for the both of us, but it left me with a lot to contemplate, and to learn, especially when it came to  reference letters.

I learned how to say “sorry, no can do” when I had to, and more importantly, I got a much firmer grip on the seriously wise adage of  ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’. There was just no way I could take another possibility of having to turn to scotch.


29 thoughts on “Kill Me Now Karma – Formally Known as Do Not Write a Reference Letter This Way, Reprised

  1. That was really captivating… it’s funny, horrible, and everything at once! (I’m talking about the event!) I once had a student who on the last day of secondary school, came to me and said “I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time. I think you’re a c***.” Unfortunately for him, the next day he discovered he needed a reference!


  2. Really enjoyed the read and tone of drama and humor and mortification. Unfortunately, for better worse, there is great comedy in such moments and you definitely turned it into your art.


    • Gee Diahann, thank you for that. I am finding it a lot of fun to go back into the mortification files. It’s a natural path when you’re required to supply some commiseration for your ever adventurous offspring.


    • Yeah, busted is definitely the decisive word. As embarrassed as I was, I was also very lucky to have been working for a really decent VP. He gave me some tips that eased off some future bumps. Thanks so much for the visit Joanne!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t it wonderful that we usually learn from our horrible young mistakes! I finally learned, because an outright “no” was too confrontational for me, to say “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” It’s posted on the side of my monitor now.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, that must have been precious – to have her come back & haunt you! I would have taken her into my office on the first day she reported to my division & told her point blank – I won’t be putting up with your whining & whinging in this position. I need you to do the job you’re asked to do in a timely manner. If you can’t do that, tell me now & I will try to find you another place in the company to work!


  5. Reminds me of a letter of recommendation I saw quite a while ago. It opened with, “Mr. O’Malley has served with us for six months to his complete satisfaction,” and closed with, “If you are thinking of giving him a berth, make sure it is a wide one.”


    • Another good laugh! I love that: …”served with us for six months to his complete satisfaction,”… Oh man, if only I had been a lot more clever! I think I might try to slip something like that in for any other not so great reference request. Thanks for that Jeff.


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  7. Ah, the walk of shame – right there with you, all the way. So unfair that when an earthquake is the only reasonable solution it’s not a happening thing. As for laughing right now – it’s “deep, distracting” and loud.


    • Ha ha, thank you so much! I wish I could say that was the last professional embarrassment of my career, but if I’m honest….. Excuse me, I feel the need to hit the liquor store coming on. Thanks again Jill!


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  9. That is so true BW. When you stay in a career for decades, I find it is not uncommon to run into the same people over and over. I’m in transportation and have had that happen a number of times. i once hired a gentleman named David as my assistant in a warehouse. I changed jobs and ended up getting laid off. David too had changed jobs and asked me if I’d come to work for him. I did. Eventually. he went back to driving and I got promoted and once again I was his boss. We were good friends and still are. We eventually separated ways and he is now in a different city. For me the moral is to always treat employees with respect (even when firing them) because you never know when they may become your boss or control your entry into a company.


    • Way too true of a statement when it comes to how you treat people. Fortunately for me, I was never going to be in danger of having to work for that particular person at the time, but I knew I had to be careful from then on.


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