my former coworkers hired me to work for them … but it was a bait and switch, they fired me, and I’m ashamed

A reader writes:

I was recently fired from my job. I never thought I would find myself in this position, and while mentally I am struggling to get past the emotional aspect of it, I know I have to push through and focus on finding another job.

My situation was a bit uncommon. A few months ago, two former coworkers — Amy and Brooke — reached out to me. I had a great relationship with them and saw them as mentors. The job we worked together at was in, let’s say, custom teapot painting (I’m disguising the real field for anonymity’s sake). I found that it wasn’t my strong suit and it was a very toxic company, so I went to a company where I did teapot painting in-house. I was great at this new job and consistently got great performance reviews in two years there.

Amy and Brooke started their own custom teapot company, and they wanted me as their first hire. I turned down the job three separate times, knowing this type of work catered to a lot of my weaknesses. Throughout every conversation, they were so complimentary to me, saying they knew how smart and capable I was and they hated that my old toxic company made me doubt myself. Finally, they told me that my role would not include managing the custom orders, but would just be painting the teapots.

On one hand, I was great at my current job, but felt like I wasn’t being challenged. I really looked up to these two women, trusted them a lot, and thought working with them would give me the opportunity to grow and develop more in my field. So, I decided to take it.

Before I officially accepted their offer, I tried negotiating the proposed salary for just a few thousand dollars more. Here’s the first red flag: They said for that level of salary, they would want me to take on some of the responsibilities of being the point of contact for some of these custom orders, just for one to two projects. I thought it was a strange practice for that small of an increase, but again, they were so complimentary and said they knew I could do it, and I leaned on the trust I had in them, so I ultimately accepted. Since I hadn’t done that type of role for over two years, my employment contract stated that I would take on that role six months after starting, and the raise would come when I took those responsibilities on.

Fast forward. About two weeks into the job, Amy said I was doing such a great job that I would be moved up to the PM role (with the salary boost) now instead of waiting six months. A few weeks later, they asked if I wanted to take on more (basically back to what my role was at the old toxic company) for an even bigger pay boost. I remember thinking that it felt like a bait and switch, but they made me feel like I really could do this. I thought maybe my imposter syndrome was worse than I thought and they saw something in me I couldn’t see myself. They said they would always be there to support me if I had issues, so I felt comfortable enough and accepted.

About a month into the role, things had changed even more, we nearly doubled in size, and everyone else in my role had significantly more experience than me. As we grew, I got the feeling they wanted to take a more hands-off approach. I was the only PM who didn’t have a painting partner, so I felt like I didn’t have anyone to even bounce ideas off of without being a major inconvenience. One of my projects was for something I had never done before, and I was really in over my head. I was working until 8 pm or later and sobbing over dinner every night at the thought everything on my plate.

I ended up making a few incorrect assumptions on that project. The customer never found out, but it did slightly mess up the budget for the project. Here’s the thing — while I took responsibility and apologized, I feel like with the information I had, they weren’t the craziest assumptions to come to. Maybe I should have defended my decision-making style more so they could have seen where I was coming from, but I didn’t want to seem like I was making excuses so I just apologized and fixed what I could.

During all of this, I also was having difficulties on a project where it was the company’s third time trying to design for a client who couldn’t stop changing their minds. Amy tried, Brooke tried, and now me. It was bad timing, but that project began to fly off the rails right as this issue came up.

Initially, they seemed annoyed, but late that week they told me, “We all mess up sometimes, we still mess up to this day all the time!” and, “We knew exactly what we were getting when we hired you and this is the company you’ll retire from.”

The following week, they fired me. It was a 10-minute conversation, and when I asked why I couldn’t be put on a PIP or have a warning, Amy said, “This is really uncomfortable for me so let’s keep this short.” They offered me an exit interview, but not with them, with a new admin they had just hired. Right after the conversation, they locked my work computer and that was that.

Since then, I’ve tried so hard to take my ego out of this situation and look at it different ways. Mentally I was really struggling. I live alone and had been in complete solitude for months due to Covid, and it had started to weigh on me. An old eating disorder resurfaced due to the anxiety I was under at this job. I felt like I didn’t have the option to go into treatment because I couldn’t miss work. Ultimately, I know this role just wasn’t a fit for me. But I really tried as hard as I could. I wanted to be the great employee I thought they saw me as. Given the history I had with them, I feel like there’s an added layer to this firing that isn’t there with most, and it’s been hard to get over.

I feel like a lot of this was imposter syndrome coming true. My confidence in myself professionally has plummeted. I feel scared to apply for jobs if I don’t surpass every single qualification. I’m now in weekly therapy for my eating disorder as well as this situation, and it has helped.

My question for you is how to handle this during my job search. I was only there five months. Should I leave this off my resume completely? Or will that raise more red flags? They did agree (in writing) to give a neutral reference. What does that mean for the employer side? I know I have to figure out how to explain this in interviews in a matter-of-fact way, and I was hoping you could provide a script on how to do that.

Right now I just feel like a total loser. I’ve still been keeping it a secret from a lot of my friends and family because I’m so ashamed.

You’re not a loser. You were pressured into taking a job that wasn’t right for you, and you were set up to fail from early on. Not intentionally, I assume — but Brooke and Amy mishandled this on so many fronts that it’s hard not to see their incompetence as an almost willful disregard for you.

Let’s review how they operated here:

* You turned down the job with them three separate times because you knew it played to your weaknesses, and yet they kept pushing — overriding your judgment with their own judgment, for reasons that still aren’t clear. In this process, it seems like they “love-bombed” you — flooding you with compliments and praise that wore down your defenses. That could be innocent — maybe they just genuinely liked you and your work and wanted to work together again — but when people shower you with compliments while trying to override your “no,” it’s hard not to see that as manipulative.

* They gave you a contract stating that your first six months on the job wouldn’t include the work you were wary of … and then reneged on that only two weeks in, knowing that you didn’t want to take on that work yet and knowing they had agreed not to ask it of you.

* A few days after telling you “we all mess up sometimes” and “we knew exactly what we were getting when we hired you” and “this is the company you’ll retire from,” they fired you. (By the way, telling an employee “this is the company you’ll retire from” is an odd thing to say, especially a few months into their employment. Amy and Brooke have a pattern where they like to make really grandiose statements that don’t line up with their with their later actions. And “later” sometimes means three days later.)

In other words, they wooed you hard to get you to leave a job you were happy with, then made a series of bad decisions that ensured it wouldn’t work out, and now appear to be cavalier that their actions left you with no job at all.

Amy and Brooke did you wrong at pretty much every turn. They might not have meant to — they might be head-in-the-clouds idealists who think everything will be great up until the moment they realize it’s not — but they did.

(And it would be different if they hadn’t wooed you so hard. There would still be all the other ways they messed up — but what they did is especially horrible because you didn’t even want to leave your job! They talked you into it!)

I’m curious about what else you saw of Amy and Brooke’s management because I’m thinking there’s no way it was good. Their words don’t match their actions, they pressure people into things they don’t want to do, they overpromise things they can’t/won’t deliver, and they don’t have forthright conversations about problems. And they say things like “This is really uncomfortable for me so let’s keep this short” while firing a person whose livelihood they treated like a toy.

So that’s them. You? Your mistake was letting yourself be talked into taking a job you knew wasn’t aligned with your strengths, but a lot of people in your shoes would have done the same thing, after all the praise and assurances of unwavering support. It’s highly understandable.

I hate that Amy and Brooke messed up so profoundly and repeatedly, but somehow you are the one questioning yourself and feeling to blame.

As for your questions …

You could leave the job off your resume altogether (five months is a pretty short time), but interviewers will ask why you left the previous job and then it’s going to come up anyway. You’re better off listing it and then explaining in interviews, “I was hired to do X, which they’d seen me excel at when we worked together at OldCompany, but they ended up needing me to do Y, which is not a strength. My focus has always been X, and that’s what I’m looking for now.” That’s the truth, and it has the advantage of ensuring that any new employer is clear that they shouldn’t hire you if what they really want is someone doing Y.

As for the neutral reference Amy and Brooke agreed to give, ideally you’d find out more about what that means. Does it mean they’re just going to confirm that you worked there? Something else? Ideally they should say that they hired you to do X, which you’re great at, but the job changed to Y and so it didn’t work out. That’s true, it’ll confirm what you’re saying to interviewers, and it won’t be alarming. Can you contact them and negotiate that? (And while I don’t normally recommend reference letters — most reference checkers want to speak to references and ask their own questions — in this case it could be helpful to have that specific explanation in writing from them, as it’ll confirm what you’re saying … and writing it might reinforce that narrative in their heads in case they do get calls.)

But please stop being ashamed of what happened. You trusted two former coworkers, and they turned out to be dishonest and bad at running their business in ways that harmed you. The shame here is theirs.

{ 207 comments… read them below }

  1. t*

    Amy and Brooke lack vision, and people like that are no good to work for because they do exactly what Amy and Brooke did.

    I’m sorry this hapened to you, OP.

    1. Joan Rivers*

      And unless they have a symbiotic bond, they could end up turning on each other, given how erratic their professional behavior is. I saw an entire Counseling Dept. quit in a “huff” at a non-profit, to start their own private agency, and then that closed quickly — because they couldn’t get along w/each other any better than they could others.
      So you may have dodged a bullet. Or they may complement each others’ flaws and do this to others.

      1. Selena*

        Maybe that’s why they were so adamant at hiring OP: they knew (subconciously) that they’d need someone to be a buffer and a scapegoat.

        You never know, sometimes toxic people bond over a shared hatred of the outside world. But most of the time they’ll rip into each other once the pool of victims has dried up.

        I feel sorry for the other people they hired. It’s doubtfull the company will live long, and they will no doubt try to find new bully-victims.

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    …Amy and Brooke have a pattern where they like to make really grandiose statements that don’t line up with their actions….

    Alison has an important take-away here. It can be hard to recognize when coworkers turn their sales skills on you – especially people you’ve looked up to as mentors and trustworthy colleagues.

    1. Beth*

      Yes, this! LW, I really don’t think you did anything wrong here. Sure, there are a few places where you could have stood your ground more firmly—but you were working with trusted mentors who you thought knew you well and were on your side, and I can’t fault you for doing so under these circumstances.

      I know it won’t rebuild your confidence overnight, but please know that Amy and Brooke seem to be at the root of every problem here. They pressured you to take on a role that you’d told them over and over again you didn’t want. They forced work on you that was expressly outside your skill set and strengths. They declined to give you necessary support (if this is usually a partnered role, why didn’t you have a partner? if it usually needs people with so much more experience, why did they want you in it so badly in the first place?). They passed you the most difficult client, the one they themselves had already failed with. They set you up to fail at every turn. Even the most competent employee in the world would struggle under those circumstances. None of this was about you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That client could have been fired. A client’s indecision can bring down a company if allowed. And it sounds like this is where these two are going- they will cater to the indecisive and eventually kill their own biz.

    2. Smithy*

      The point of people you trust turning their sales skills on you hits me.

      All I can say is that this is why it’s so important to do your very best to find ways to assess yourself and your own work to know as much as possible how you will best succeed. This can be about level of seniority, but I think more so it’s about the kind of work you do best and the kind of work that is just a struggle. Because when we know that information about ourselves, then when those we do trust call out our struggle areas as strengths….it’ll help send up the appropriate caution.

      And that caution may not be nefarious! If a Mentor said they loved my writing and wanted to engage with me on a writing focused mentorship – that’s flattering, but that is not a career trajectory I want and know that long term I’d really struggle. So it may be about redirecting the offer or kindly declining it, but it’s to make sure that the flattery or love-bombing doesn’t derail that.

    3. mf*

      Also the feedback that Amy and Brooke gave to the OP (“this is the company you’ll retire from!”) was not honest or good in faith. These people are not to be trusted–they’ll do and say whatever makes them feel good (“This is really uncomfortable for me…”), even if it’s a lie or if it’s bad for business.

    4. Tuesday*

      Yes – I feel like they used their informal mentor status to essentially say to the OP, “We know you better than you know yourself. Listen to us.” That was irresponsible and wrong. The good news is that in her next job, Amy and Brooke won’t be there to undermine her confidence, and she knows she can trust her own judgment and decisions. The OP wasn’t wrong throughout any of this; they were.

    5. Red 5*

      My very first job after college, I learned to never trust the sales department.

      Then in my second job I learned they’re not always called the Sales Department. But once you identify who it is, never trust the sales department.

      Apologies to anybody in sales, it’s just my CYA to make sure that I don’t get into a toxic mess like that again. I’ve met a few people who were lower on the ladder in those departments that were good to work with, but the people who have risen to the top of it, they don’t work how I work and as you pointed out, sometimes they turn the sales skills on you and then it just gets even worse.

      I’m sorry this happened to you OP, but it looks like you did what you could, and you aren’t even wrong for wanting to trust Amy and Brooke.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “Then in my second job I learned they’re not always called the Sales Department. But once you identify who it is, never trust the sales department.”

        This is genius.

        OP is feeling someone else’s shame. She did nothing wrong! I hope OP is able to drop the shame and feel good about herself again, since she has nothing to feel ashamed about. I think many, many people would have done exactly the same, given the hard sell and love bombing.

  3. The answer is (probably) 42*

    Amy and Brook are totally bonkers and this is 100% on them. I can’t even fathom the thought process behind their behavior.

    I don’t know the size of their company, but if you can do so without compromising your anonymity too much, PLEASE leave a GlassDoor review with the broad strokes of what’s going on with that company’s culture. If they pulled this thing on you and then turned around and fired you with barely a blink, you’re not the only one they’re jerking around.

    1. Derivative Poster*

      When OP has found a new job and feels like their mental health has stabilized, they might consider writing a Glass Door review. Right now, it makes sense to focus on healing from the damage Brooke and Amy did to them. If Brooke and Amy are harming others, that’s on Brooke and Amy; it’s not OP’s responsibility to stop them.

        1. Selena*

          The story left me wondering if maybe the old company wasn’t as deeply toxic as OP believed at the time, and that maybe some of the problems actually came from A&B running the show (positioning themselves as ‘mentor’ in order to manipulate the new hires).

          In that case there’s a good chance they didn’t quit their job, but were forced out when senior management got wind of what was going on.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I mean, I think it will be pretty obvious who wrote the review. And given that she is having to negotiate a neutral recommendation, I think it’s probably best that she avoid publicly trashing the company, even if they’d deserve it.

      1. Dream Jobbed*

        Exactly. Do not trash the company at this point. (And honestly, if they work with you and show any ethics, be careful about later trashing.) But yes, at some point you can leave an honest review to warn off others.

        I am so sorry this happened to you. Please send us an update when things get better. (And I believe they will, hopefully soon, but eventually.) And I agree with others – don’t absorb their toxicity or blame yourself.

      2. Ellie*

        And I’d say its unnecessary too – if they operate like this, it won’t be long until their reputation gets around. And with their behaviour regarding that difficult client, there’s a good chance the business will tank before too long. The OP is better off sticking with the ‘bad fit’ narrative, and keeping their own hands clean.

        OP – bad roles happen, it’s not your fault. Can you see if you can get rehired at your old company? If the new company does fold, then it will be even easier to explain on your resume, as most places will assume you left because they were in financial trouble, and just didn’t want to say. That’s what happened with me, when the last company I worked for went bankrupt. I never had to talk about why I left again.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I think probably Amy and Brooke were not quite on the same page, maybe one had more faith in OP than the other, maybe one was OK with OP just painting teapots and the other wanted to see her blossom into a larger role.

  4. anonanna*

    Yiiikes. Hope you’re in a better place, OP. I also struggle with severe anxiety/OCD and it’s so hard when work stress starts impacting that. Sending love.

  5. Caroline*

    Wow! This sounds so much like what happened to me over the course of a year and a half at a small new company like this. I turned down the first offer, took the second, and was promised a bunch of things. A big one was that I wouldn’t be working alone/from home except I went into the office every day and was the only one there. Another was getting to focus on research I was interested in. Instead I did recruitment and spreadsheets. My “supervisor” bad-mouthed the client constantly, said things like “I’m in the research field so I can burst people’s bubbles” and frequently said she hated managing people. She gave me a lot of the wrong information and later as the company grew, I kept operating on the wrong information. And I was doing work I hated (spreadsheets all day, every day). They gave me more responsibility, wouldn’t help when I asked, and then put me on a PIP. They told me everything was fine, just a course correction and I read everything on AAM about PIPs and went to town meeting every single deadline/expectation, etc. They used an upcoming major life event and requisite time off to get me to train a new employee to do my job, hugged me the morning we were meeting (ostensibly to discuss the project) and then fired me. I’ve never so much as had a bad performance review. The shame is overwhelming even if I can get to a point of saying “they messed up” I still feel like I let them bully and meangirl me. It was awful.

    1. Lost, in disrepair*

      How did you explain this in future interviews?

      I had something similar happen and I’m still struggling to explain it. I can’t say “I’m working on this” because no one ever told me what was going wrong. My boss just started treating me like I was their worst enemy in the world and if I asked what I could do better “you are doing great”. Then I just didn’t work there anymore.

      1. Caroline*

        I have just said I was hired to do job x, I’m really good at it, but my position changed dramatically and I was staring at spreadsheets all day, given extra responsibility and then the position was eliminated. They made me sign an NDA but the agreement was a neutral reference and I wouldn’t have to tell people I was fired. They also avoided that language themselves, said “we’re coming to a mutual decision for you to leave” which… ok?

  6. Properlike*

    There’s imposter syndrome, and then there is gaslighting. Amy and Brooke are definitely guilty of the latter. They wanted what they wanted, and how it affected you was irrelevant to them. Alison is being charitable with her “idealistic” description; I’d identify it as willful ignorance at best on their part, borderline sociopathy at worst. Certainly they’ve carried forward the toxicity of your prior workplace.

    OP, I hope you will soon come to a point where you see that they were not worthy mentors, and their firing of you is not a judgment on your abilities, but a comment on their inability.

    1. Nea*

      Certainly they’ve carried forward the toxicity of your prior workplace.

      It’s so incredibly targeted at OP that I can’t help but wonder if they were somehow punishing OP from escaping the toxic company. They put serious work into wooing LW away and then deliberately teeing her up to fail with full knowledge of her wishes and weaknesses. It seems so personally vindictive.

      Letter Writer – I understand that you are shaken and confused, and also that you were bored at your previous place of employment. But if you left there under good terms and you felt happy and confident there, is it out of the question to go back and say “Wow, I made a mistake, do you have room for me?”

      1. Batty Twerp*

        This.

        It really does seems personal. Not having a painting partner? The impossible client? Pushing to include unsuitable work in breach of their own contract? (Let’s not sugar coat that as a positive, the contract said 6 months, they made it 2 weeks, that’s a breach).

        So, OP, this is on them, not you. I hope you find a way to get your confidence back. You can do this.

        1. Data Analyst*

          Yeah, I am really hung up on the impossible client…the two owners of the company couldn’t make them happy, so they foisted the client on their shakiest (in this particular aspect of work at least) employee, who they’d already pushed to take on more than they were ready for?? That part in particular seems willful and possibly vindictive.

        2. Selena*

          Going from 6 months in the contract to 2 weeks once OP had resigned their old job really screams ‘now that you cannot back out we do not feel bound by our previous agreement, sucker’

      2. ophelia*

        Yeah, I was just going to say – OP, I have worked at a (good!) company for a long time, and periodically someone leaves and then realizes they actually want to come back. If there’s an open position, we’re definitely open to rehiring! And there’s no guarantee that we’ll have a role, but honestly it would be worth contacting your former manager and just asking to have a conversation. And the people you were working with know you do good work, etc.

        1. So Anon*

          Happens at my job pretty often. We have high turnover, the grass is greener, but it’s not at all unheard of for people to cycle back. I would reach out to Old Job contacts and let them know you followed your erstwhile mentors into their new biz, but it went off the rails fast because while you love X and were hired for X (the work you did at Old Job), they needed Y and in within 2 weeks, that’s what you were doing. You never would have left to do Y! I think you can still be positive (in the “don’t badmouth the last job/boss” way), saying these were women you had really looked up to, but the way their new business shaped up was in no way a fit for you.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Yes, indeed! If the OP is lucky, the old workplace is just about the only one where they can go so far as to say that following the offer of Amy and Brooke looked good at the time, but it didn’t work out. (“Can you tell me more why it didn’t work out?” “Well, we started out with the understanding that I would be able to focus on what I really excel at – teapot painting – for the foreseeable future and only grow into other roles gradually. But then it turned out that in their growing business they had an urgent need for specialty teapot design. We were all probably too optimistic that it would be feasible and I think they overestimated how much guidance they would have time to provide me. So it didn’t work out. I should probably be listened to my gut feeling! So here I am returning to the teapot painting field.”

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        Seconding the ‘check back with your old employer’ but I don’t think this is personal.

        PMing is hard, and finding PMers for a startup is nearly impossible. Amy and Brooke wanted to do the fun stuff, and wanted OP to do the hard stuff. They knew she’d done it before, had adjacent skills to what they were doing, and liked her enough to want to work with her in a 3-person company. The problem is that Amy and Brooke don’t understand just how hard PMing is, and how it really takes a specific kind of mind to do it well.

        OP, please let go of the shame. Your only mistake was not trusting yourself enough to turn this down, and given the role Amy and Brooke had in your career, it’s understandable.

        Not being able to do PMing is not a reflection on you overall. It’s just a very specialized skill and mindset that you don’t happen to have. I can’t sell stuff and am not a great negotiator, they are mindsets I find very hard. But what I can do (analyze data and solve problems), I do really well. It took 10+ years and an advanced degree for me to figure all that out, be patient with yourself.

        Best of luck to you, OP, and internet hugs if you want them.

        1. EchoGirl*

          I agree with that. Amy and Brooke failed the LW in a big way, but it seems like a stretch to assume they masterminded the whole thing as a retaliation for some offense or other. At worst they may have zeroed in on her because they thought she’d be easy to push around into doing what they wanted her to do — which is its own form of nastiness, but it’s a different kind of situation than them setting the whole thing up intentionally to spite her.

          1. Selena*

            Yeah, i’m going to go with them seeing OP as an easy target for bullying, rather than a predefined plan to break her

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          I’m inclined to agree. I don’t think these two were in the corner, rubbing their hands together hoping to make OP fail. I think they were so bright eyed and kept pushing the yucky work onto OP because they didn’t want to do it/handle it. And instead of admitting all the ways they went wrong, they thought it was just be way less yucky for them to fire her and put that mistake out of their minds.

          Bad behavior on their part. OP didn’t do anything wrong. It’s crappy that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes, and I sure as heck wouldn’t look at them with any kind of anime heart eyes.

      4. Ellie*

        My impression was that they were just wide-eyed optimists, and probably did think the OP was this magical unicorn that could solve all their problems and take on endless amounts of difficult work. Doesn’t make their behaviour right though, but its the firing part that I cannot understand. I wonder where that came from… its so at odds with their earlier behaviour. I wonder if the difficult client insisted on it, and they were ultimately just too weak to stand up to the OP?

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, that or Amy and Brooke didn’t have the same take. OP mostly talks about them as a pair, but one could have wanted to keep OP and put her back onto just teapot painting, or providing more guidance for the other stuff, while the other was expecting OP to perform miracles and lost patience fast.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I really agree with you. Alison is far more charitable than I could ever be. Firing someone like that is just a terrible thing to do.

      1. No Name Today*

        I remember Alison’s advise to a letter writer who asked if it was OK, to cry when firing someone and she advised to remember that the person being fired is the one whose feelings are paramount.
        Amy said, “This is really uncomfortable for me so let’s keep this short.” made me physically ill. I wish OP was not in a place where she is doubting herself and was able to turn this around and not attack or even be snarky, but matter of factly say, “I have very strong feelings right now, too. But I’d like us both to put them aside and discuss what just happened..”
        Because in my mind and on comments boards, I have super human level ability to control my emotions, think clearly and respond calmly.

        1. Koalafied*

          The most horrifying letters always have at least one moment where I feel compelled to say out loud to my computer monitor, “Ohhh noooooo! No no nooo!” That line was it for me in this letter.

          1. No Name Today*

            Yeah, the involuntary “nooo” like watching a movie and the baby stroller gets knocked down the steps at Grand Central station.
            This was a stroller steps letter.

    3. Threeve*

      I would be astonished if their relationship with one another is remotely healthy. In the letter, they sound like they’re always making unified decisions, but the wild inconsistency and all-or-nothing dramatics may indicate a power struggle between them, or a teenager-style tendency to egg each other on to destructive extremes.

      1. lb*

        this is an extremely astute observation – i bet you dollars to donuts that their relationship puts the fun in dysfunctional!

        1. Joan Rivers*

          Yes, and they could end up turning on each other, too. It’s hard to picture them having long-term success.

    4. Just Here for the Cake*

      Agreed! The lyrics to “Gaslighter” by The Chicks kept repeating in my head as I got further and further in this letter…

    5. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      This is textbook gaslighting, and OP, it is SO not your fault. You are not stupid, you could not know what they were up to.

      It does feel like, “I should have known!!!” doesn’t it? But you couldn’t have. Try framing this like a guy who cheats on his wife, and she trusts him. A lot of people will (including guy) will try to blame wife for trusting him, and that is a load of BS. OF COURSE the wife trusted him — she married him! He made a promise to her in front of God and his mom that he would be trustworthy! Then he showed that he wasn’t worth that trust, and somehow it’s wife fault that she didn’t know.

      Garbage. Your situation is different, because it’s work (which you can take or leave), not a life commitment, but the basic idea is the same: they courted you. You trusted them. You are NOT DUMB for trusting them. They put you in situations you couldn’t handle. You tried to address it professionally, they said they heard, then they turned around and fired you.

      Not your fault. Not what you “deserved”. I’m not going to yell at you to stop feeling ashamed right now, because you feel how you feel until you don’t feel that way anymore; but see if you can work through the shame a little quicker by actually believing what we’re all saying: you are not at fault for any of this.

      So, you had a learning experience. It makes you stronger. You behaved perfectly. You will continue to behave perfectly, because that’s who you are. Future employers will appreciate that and you. Now go kick ass.

  7. Kali*

    Maybe I’m just a cynic, but it sounds like Amy and Brooke gaslit you into being the fall guy – really underlined by setting you up with that impossible client. They lied (and praised you to cover up those lies), and you ended up with a job that was nothing like what you wanted to do. You knew and told them that this isn’t what you wanted to do. This is like hiring on to do the office work for an NBA team and ending up on the free throw line in front of a crowded stadium. You were set up to fail, just as so, so, so many of us would in that circumstance, unless we were Michael Jordan (and he probably isn’t great at office work to begin with).

    And I really can’t get over the cavalier attitude in their firing of you. Oh, what a shame that her firing you was uncomfortable for *her*. Sheesh.

    I’m sorry this happened, but I’m glad you’re rid of these people. Best of luck in finding non-soul-sucking bosses.

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      This. Your experience sounds horrible. It really sounds like you were set up to fail. And then the firing was ridiculous.

      Even though they agreed in writing to give a neutral reference, I would be wary of depending on the definition of neutral for two people who gaslit and tossed you so thoroughly under the bus in several instances.

      1. RecoveringSWO*

        I agree. It may make sense for the LW to keep this job on her resume while job searching now, but once she’s got a new job I would drop this job off her resume like a hot potato! Don’t give a reference checker the chance to interact with those horrible managers!

      2. No Sleep Till Hippo*

        It’s also worth noting that they have put other things in writing that they almost immediately reneged on – see: LW’s entire employment contract. I’m sorry to say it, but I think at this point it would be wise to assume that neutral reference is not guaranteed.

        LW, if you can avoid using them as a reference at all I would strongly advise you do. If you can’t… I can’t find them at the moment, but I know Alison has posted letters about how to deal with a situation where your only available references aren’t great.

        Best of luck to you, and please know in your heart you did nothing wrong here. Even doing your 110% best, there’s no way to succeed when the goalposts keep moving on you like that. Amy and Brooke fully screwed you over and took advantage of your trust – THEY are to blame, not you. I’m so sorry they treated you like that, you deserve so much better.

        1. Emma the Strange*

          I wonder: would it be feasible for LW to have a friend call Amy and Brooke pretending to be a potential employer and see what they say?

    2. meyer lemon*

      It is really hard not to see them as malicious, because they were just so awful all around. That combination of “this is the company you’ll retire from” and immediate firing, with the added bonus of “this is uncomfortable for me, so let’s cut it short” really veers into cartoonishly villainous territory.

      It doesn’t really make sense to me why they would work so hard to hire the LW, only to turn around and fire her, though. Maybe they have a weird revenge plan to individually hire every person who worked at the old toxic company, set them up to fail, and fire them in a series of increasingly ironic and cavalier ways.

    3. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I really wonder if this wasn’t all about Amy and Brooke getting one in on their old employer. Even if so, though, he way they treated the LW was utterly callous and heartless.

    4. XF1013*

      “Michael Jordan probably isn’t great at office work to begin with.”

      I’m pretty sure he would take that personally.

  8. Aquawoman*

    Oh, LW, you’re not a loser at all. You had a realistic sense of your strengths, and communicated that repeatedly. People you trusted trampled all over that, lied to you, and then set you up to fail: if a friend came and told you that they had been put into a role beyond their skill level AND that they were the only one in that role who didn’t have a painting partner, the only question would be whether their boss was evil or just incompetent.

    1. Reba*

      Yes, OP, your original self-knowledge was on point! These people steamrolled you, but you were right all along about what works in a job, both for you personally and in terms of how work should be organized.

      I really like Alison’s way of narrating it in a potential interview as a learning experience, and I hope OP can come to see it that way, too. If you can talk about it in a calm, neutral, “well, it didn’t work out but it confirmed X thing for me” it will go a long way to project confidence and growth.

    2. Ari*

      Exactly! OP, I am so sorry this happened to you and that it’s causing you such turmoil. You did not deserve to be treated like that. You’re not bad at your career or an imposter simply because you had this bad job.

      I’ll just add that it seems like you have trouble asserting strong boundaries — or, at least, you had trouble doing so with Amy and Brooke. I’m also a person that struggles with asserting boundaries with those that are bound and determined to run right over them. I think it’s probably normal to some degree to struggle with boundary pushers, but that struggle can often bring up feelings of frustration, shame, or distress (especially if you already have trouble setting boundaries at all, let alone with a pusher).

      If any of that rings true to you (even if only in the context of your work relationships), then I would strongly recommend seeking out therapy as well as other support systems specifically for folks who need help prioritizing their needs and asserting their boundaries. I think that if you can do the emotional work of addressing this piece of the situation, you’ll feel better about yourself going forward. You want to feel empowered enough to know your needs and be able to state them authoritatively to others in the moment as they’re trying to push you. The more you do it, the better at it you’ll get.

      Plus, doing this kind of work may help you to better address your imposter syndrome in the long run. And good luck! I hope you’re able to give yourself some compassion along the way.

  9. voyager1*

    Amy and Brooke sound like loons. How much did the budget get blown up on that one project? I bet it wasn’t much but Amy and Brooke might have had to cover it (even with company money). Totally wacky to fire someone over. That firing is insane.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      My suspicion is they were both failing with that indecisive client, so they put OP on the project last so that the failure could be pinned on her. She was just their fall guy.

      I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in Brooke and Amy’s brains; they have a sociopathic disregard for their own word. Even if the other employees don’t understand what really happened with OP, it’s not going to be lone before they figure out that their bosses’ words are just dust in the wind.

    2. Glenn*

      You took a job which you excelled at before they changed it into a completely different job.

      The way I see it, you were laid off not fired. Your job was eliminated.

      You should ask for a positive reference for the initial job and a written explanation that they changed the duties without consulting you about it.

      & You deserve a severance package

    3. Momma Bear*

      I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now that you mention it, I wonder if they had a firm fixed contract and blew through the money and couldn’t afford the salary they promised OP so they fired OP instead. Or if it was a government contract where the client could point the Finger of Death and say they wanted x person off their contract or lose it altogether. They wouldn’t have had to fire OP but if they had no other funding for OP if OP wasn’t billable to that contract….

  10. QuinleyThorne*

    I’m sorry this happened to you OP, and while I don’t really have any additional advice, I’m wondering: would it be possible for you to return to your old job? It was a job that played to your strengths, you were happy there, and they’re already familiar with your work. Using Alison’s script might also be helpful in providing a context to illustrate why you’d be returning as well.

    Best of luck OP!

    1. Vichyssuave*

      I had the same thought. Old job might be wary you’ll jump ship again, and I would only do this if you’re committed to spending a decent amount of time there without looking for something else. However, this is a case where I could see a previous manager being more understanding, since you left for an opportunity to help previous coworkers/mentors with a budding business.

      We’ve had a few employees leave for various reasons and come back without hard feelings, so there are certainly places out there where this is a realistic option. And I can’t see much harm in OP asking, unless of course they left out hard feelings from the previous company in their letter or something.

  11. Cat Tree*

    So they really said “This is really uncomfortable for me so let’s keep this short”, and didn’t give you any answer at all? And then refused to participate directly in your exit interview? That is so passive-aggressive, immature, and unprofessional.

    It reminds me of a time that I worked at a plant that was shutting down and the VP offered me a transfer to the new plant in the same role. During the transition, before I actually started the transfer, they hired my would-be manager at the new place. After a few months I found out that she didn’t like my work, so the transfer was no longer available to me, but they offered a job in a different department that didn’t line up at all with my career goals (which I turned down). In 5+ months this manager had never given me any indication that I was doing anything wrong, but she agreed to have a phone meeting with me and HR to explain and give me feedback. Well, at the last minute she had to postpone and then just never rescheduled. It made me think even less of her than I already did that she couldn’t muster the courage to have a single slightly awkward conversation with someone. I mean, I’m super glad I never ended up with her as my actual manager. But I don’t think she was cut out to be a manager at all if she can’t handle these conversations, and the same is true of Amy and Brooke.

    1. MCL*

      I am just so dismayed on behalf of the OP here. All those nice, encouraging words from people they looked up to, and then learning in the most devastating way that they are not supportive at all. I am the kind of person who has always found mentors who were encouraging and supportive, and if one of them had done this to me I would be totally devastated. I hope OP can move on from this and find a great job with truly encouraging mentors who don’t pull this nonsense.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      That sounds like something that happened to an old coworker. Our center was closing in a few months. There were offices around the country, including one in near where a friend lived. She moved accross the country with the promise that she would have her same job just at this new place. NOPE! She had an interview to be hired at the other office …. doing the exact thing she had been doing for the last 5 years. She didn’t get the job.

  12. I AM a Lawyer*

    I’m guessing by neutral employment reference they mean dates of employment, position(s) held, and pay (except in states like California when employers can’t ask about applicants’ salary histories) and really nothing else.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I’d still avoid using them as references if at all possible. A neutral reference if given by a completely neutral third party (like an HR person, if they have one) would probably be fine, but if it’s Amy or Brooke on the phone I wouldn’t risk having them use tone, extended pauses, or other cues to communicate just how “neutral” the reference is.

      1. meyer lemon*

        Given how completely weird and untrustworthy they’ve been, I’d wonder if they might just straight-up lie and give a terrible reference just because they can.

      2. JohannaCabal*

        LW can also have a friend pose as a reference checker and see what they will say.

        While no laws were broken, to the best of my knowledge, LW could try to renegotiate for a positive reference, even having the job listed as “current” (I’ve heard of such things happening).

        Also, LW, read through the contract carefully. I wouldn’t put it past them to have you on a strict non-compete. If you obtain a similar role in their area, they seriously may try to sue you.

        1. Nea*

          Seconded. Someone on the LW’s side should call and find out exactly what that “neutral” reference entails. Especially since we already know how valid their word is.

          If there’s a noncompete, then I think the wisdom elsewhere should be employed, that LW’s job description changed entirely. LW is not competing with the client-facing job that LW never asked for. LW is going back to painting.

        2. Velawciraptor*

          Having a friend pose as a reference checker is likely to backfire and could, if discovered, result in OP being terminated for cause from any position they receive under such circumstances. No need to engage in dishonesty to avoid the issue when Alison has provided an excellent method for addressing it.

          1. Nea*

            I think you’ve got it backwards. We’re not suggesting that someone pose as a reference from toxic job. We’re suggesting that someone call and check the reference – “Hello, I’m from Widgets Inc, and I am verifying that Lilly von Lilliput worked there from x to y. Is that correct? I see. Are you willing to say if you would hire her again?”

            The latter isn’t remotely anything that OP could be terminated for, because it doesn’t involve OP committing any sort of fraud. It does, however, let OP know if the company will continue to try to harm her employment prospects.

          2. Amh*

            I don’t think they mean the friend should provide a fake reference, rather that the friend should call the ex-employers as if she was checking a reference to see what would be said.

          3. Sharrbe*

            Shes not asking a friend to pose as a reference. She’s asking a friend to get a reference from these two women. Heck, the friend can say she wants to hire her as her dog walker or nanny if pretending to be from some made up company makes her uncomfortable.

            1. JohannaCabal*

              Exactly. There are also services you can pay that will call your references to find out what they will say but having a friend or acquaintance works if money is an issue.

              Regarding the non-compete, even if LW is working in a different capacity, I wouldn’t put it past Amy and Brooke to get miffed if LW finds another job soon. I could easily see them doing that out of some misguided feeling of ownership (“How date LW find a job and not wallow after getting fired!”).

        3. Dashed*

          Yes, I second that.

          In fact, I did that with a job from which I was unfairly fired which promised a neutral reference. Had my BFF call and ask for dates of employment and the boss who fired me told her that he had let me go because I was untrustworthy and unreliable. So… not the neutral reference promised, which was realllllly important to know.

          Of course, one reason I did this was because they withheld my last paycheck for 3 months so they could call and demand answers to questions they had. When someone shows you who they are, believe them and proceed accordingly. The reference check by my BFF was my double check and they proved exactly how heinous they were.

  13. Van Wilder*

    At my old toxic job, I never defended myself with my narcissistic boss. Even when she made mistakes, I would apologize. I thought I was making myself look like a professional by not making excuses, but I think I just ended up making myself look stupid because I took the blame for everything and never explained my thought process.

    Anyway, I feel for you, OP, but at least you only wasted 5 months of your life there. Hoping that you quickly move on to bigger and better things!

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, there are excuses and then there are explanations. You should always provide information that clarifies why you made a mistake (or “mistake” that’s really just not being a mind reader) such as “Oh, actually, in the initial email, you had asked for x, not y,” or “Not knowing x, I thought y was the best course of action.”

      If said in a collaborative, let’s-solve-this-problem-together way, normal bosses and coworkers will appreciate the context. This might not’ve worked with Amy and Brooke though- tyrants, charlatans and abusers are the ones who will label any elaborations of this sort as “excuses”.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        I’ve definitely worked for some awful bosses that took any attempt at explanation as an excuse and refused to hear it. It’s absolutely infuriating, and is probably exactly what would have happened with Amy and Brooke.

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yes, my boss definitely was an insecure tyrant. I guess I sensed she would interpret any explanation as an attack, which is why I always bit my tongue.

  14. Third time, no charm*

    I have to type fast as I’m at work but I wanted to say…I’m in my 3rd bait & switch job in 3 years. I’m physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. I get told I’m “the best employee we ever had” but piled on with more work than anyone else & also, never given any solutions to help or even defended when co-workers bullied me (2 of the 3 jobs). I look at job ads I would have applied for before and immediately click off when it says anything about multitasking or busy atmosphere because I dont trust myself anymore. I’m having panic attacks. And this COULDN’T have come st a more perfect time as I was struggling to figure out how to explain my recent job history. I didnt even know how to ask. Thank you so much for asking, OP. And I hope you get back on your feet soon. That was a cruel thing to do to you at any time, let alone in the current world situation!

    1. PT*

      I’ve had a bunch of these jobs. Bait and switch, toxic work environments, bullying, bait and switch payrates, missing pay. The economy is just serving up crap on a platter. It sucks.

      My new policy is to go to work, keep my head down, and not attract any attention to myself.

  15. yeah, no....*

    Don’t use them as a reference. They don’t keep their word. Even if they are “neutral” over the phone, they can use a tone and pauses to communicate “don’t hire OP”.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      It sounds like they’re not needed for references at all- OP can use the previous job, and the one before that. I think it’s unusual that a reference from a job held for five months (with longer tenure at other positions) would provide many valuable insights. Future employers don’t need to know that the heads at this company also worked with OP prior, and in that context, it’s not odd to omit them as references entirely.

    2. RC Rascal*

      This. Given their track record, they won’t be neutral at all when a potential employer calls.

    3. jph in the heartland*

      I would guess that the LW would not use either one of these snakes as an official “reference,” but if she has to list all her previous jobs on a job application, she may need to put that job down on the application. In theory, if the new job called to see that she was actually employed there, they would say yes. I wouldn’t count on them to be nice, however.

    4. StudentA*

      Completely agree. You can’t trust what they will say about you behind your back. The type of people who probably can’t even corroborate their own stories. Ha. Had my share of these.

  16. SaffyTaffy*

    This feels like every first date I’ve been on where the guy gushed about how great I am, said he loved me, etc. and then ghosted. Why do people do this- in ANY interpersonal relationship?

    1. Cat Tree*

      Oh no, why would anyone proclaim love on a first date?! The ghosting was a blessing in disguise because the alternative is a stage 5 clinger.

      1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        Usually the gushing on the first date is from guys who view women as vending machines: pay compliments, receive sex.

        It’s weirdly analogous to Brooke and Amy in the letter: pay compliments, get someone at bargain wage who can produce work AND PM for your most difficult clients.

        Either way, when the human doesn’t pay out the expected reward, they walk away. Because the compliments were never sincere. They were always transactional.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yes, this! OP, I’m so sorry you went through this, it sounds excruciating. But please take heart in knowing that it wasn’t about you at all, it’s about Amy and Brooke (who SUUUUUUUUUCK) and how they manipulate people. All the best, I hope we hear from you soon about your new amazing job.

  17. Cant remember my old name*

    Feel free to leave them on your resume for two reason:
    – having them on your resume doesn’t mean they have to be the references you provide.
    – I don’t see this company lasting very long so it may be a non-issue in like two years.

    Good luck in your job search. Please keep in mind that you were excelling at the job you left. You are clearly capable, so focus on jobs that highlight those strengths!

    1. Cat Tree*

      Good point with the second thing. Lots of new small businesses don’t make it, even pretty good ones. And this one doesn’t sound like a good one so I wouldn’t be surprised if it no longer exists in a few years. I don’t wish being penniless and destitute on anyone so hopefully they have a safety net, but it wouldn’t be that surprising if it simply folded.

  18. OP*

    OP here!

    First, I want to cry just reading Allison’s reply and all of these comments. I almost regretted sending in this letter after I emailed because I still had/have so much self-doubt I was honestly worried the reply was going to be “Well you took a job you couldn’t handle, what did you expect?”

    Obviously, my friends have told me similar things about the situation, but hearing it from strangers who aren’t obligated to be on my side feels like brings such a sense of relief that I can’t even put into words.

    I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kind words and how much it means to me. I’ve had so much anxiety to jump back into the job search because I was still feeling like I’m not good enough. I think this has given me the validation and push I needed to get back out there. Hopefully I’ll have a “Friday Good News” to share at some point!

    1. Glenn*

      You took a job which you excelled at before they changed it into a completely different job.

      The way I see it, you were laid off not fired. Your job was eliminated.

      You should ask for a positive reference for the initial job and a written explanation that they changed the duties without consulting you about it.

      & You deserve a severance package

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      From a complete internet stranger, they were the problem and they shouldn’t be in charge of a pet rock, much less a company.

      Good luck on your search!

      1. twocents*

        Seconding. It’s business owners like Amy and Brooke that drive the “90% of small businesses fail” statistic.

    3. WhatNow*

      Hi OP! Just wanted to say that I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope a great thing is right around the corner!

    4. Nea*

      Here’s my story, may you take hope: I once fell in with a team where I was not just micromanaged, but humiliatingly so – they treated me like an ignorant child who absolutely had to be led by the hand because I simply couldn’t do anything right.

      It shattered me. Shattered my confidence, my ability to work, everything. After a while I was making constant mistakes because I was becoming so twitchy and unhappy, which only fed into the narrative that I had to have my every breath monitored.

      I got out, but at the cost of my belief in my own abilities. When I asked for oversight at the next job I was told “we trust you, go forth and do” and I wanted to cry, I was so convinced I couldn’t do the work.

      Two years later I got an award for excellence.

      Toxic people from a toxic place treated you in a toxic manner. Go forth in all your beliefs that you are worthy and experienced.

      1. Momma Bear*

        I had a soul-crushing job. Looking back, it was a poor fit for my personality and skillset with iffy management. A job that better aligns with one’s skills and strengths can be healing/empowering.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “Two years later I got an award for excellence.”

        Classic! Toxic people project all their weaknesses onto others. So glad you got out of there!

    5. Beth*

      You took a job that you specifically negotiated to be something you could totally handle, and then had the rug pulled out from under you by people you trusted. That’s 100% on them, not you! I hope you’ll send in an update when you find your next position!

    6. Boof*

      so sorry OP. I too at one time took on something I thought “this will either be a good growth of my past research or go down in flames”. I pretty much went down in flames (I mean, I got out when it obviously made sense to go out and salvaged some stuff but it was hardly plan A and the stress and damage to my sense of self was something else).
      But now, 6 years later, I am pretty much exactly where I was trying to get to, just the path was slightly different. If anything it ultimately affirmed that I have a good sense of what I do well and what I don’t and that there’s no sense in forcing myself into a position I know will be hard when I have other options.

      LW this place sounds truly toxic, I understand why you were wooed into checking it out, hopefully in time you can breathe a sigh of relief that it is over and feel confident that you did everything right and move on with what you can learn from this (that you can trust yourself!).

      (Also would be very suspicious about what kind of reference this crew would provide like others here)

    7. Carlie*

      OP,
      A couple of co-workers you trusted formed a start-up, and you went to work for them both because you believed in what they were doing and wanted to do them a favor because you had expertise they needed. They turned out not to have the management skills needed, forced you into multiple roles out of your area, and then let you go because they couldn’t leverage your skills properly. That is not on you, and any employer should understand that.

    8. Qwerty*

      Hi OP! I’m sorry all this happened to you!

      I wanted to respond to your comments about imposter syndrome because I firmly believe imposter syndrome is the result of management failure, so please feel free to direct those negative feelings away from yourself and back at Amy/Brooke. Almost everyone I know with imposter syndrome really just has a realistic view of what they can and can’t do OR a strong awareness of where their weak points are combined with a desire to improve. However, the people around them don’t take them seriously or dismiss these concerns without thinking about it. You knew that you are good at painting but not being a PM, but your bosses made you do PM work anyway. It’s totally fine that it didn’t work out! And if any future job tries making you do PM work again, you’ve got a really strong example of two jobs that prove what a bad idea it is.

      As for the self-doubt that we’d say you knew what you were getting into – this would still suck even if you had known from the beginning that you’d be a hybrid PM/painter! It is totally feasible for someone to feel optimistic, especially when the new job is with former coworkers you like/respect. It’s very plausible to have figured that the bad PM experience was due to the old toxic job and that it would be possible to succeed in a bettter environment.

      Finally, it is totally ok to fail at things. I don’t think any of us here really view this job as a fail since there were so many bad things outside of your control, but anxiety doesn’t always listen to reason. Regardless of your skillset, I’m sure you are good enough – it is just tough sometimes to find a job that matches your skills! I suspect that you may have an easier time finding a painting job then you think – I’ve dealt with so many people in my field who got pushed into a PM or management role and say “nope, that did not go as planned, I just want to code” that interviewers probably won’t even be surprised.

    9. Hare under a moon with a silver spoon*

      Repeat after me: Not your fault. OP please imagine a friend in this situation – what would you say to them?

      And things can turnaround – I had a situation where I was unceremoniously let go (and I felt gaslit as to the reason), and I ended up with a role better than those that let me go could’ve dreamt of for themselves, let alone me in my lowly position. Keep going and trust yourself, if they let you down, no matter you keep going, you will get to the place that values you. And there’s a whole community here so if it takes a posting very friday open thread to keep going we’re all behind you.

    10. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      OP, I went through something similar a couple of years ago: interviewed for a job that was a career step up for me, during the interview I was told things like “You’re exactly what we need here! We need someone to whip this team into shape!” (yeah, red flags all over the place); within my first couple of weeks, my boss and other people were telling me how excited they were for my leadership and all the positive changes I was going to make to the troubled department I was hired to manage. Then, as soon as I started to actually manage those troubles (which essentially meant holding a couple of under-performers accountable), the bottom dropped out. My boss went from telling me she was “jumping up and down excited” about me to completely denying that she had seen the problems I was seeing with these employees even though there was documentation going back 5 years before me. Even when the worst of my staff displayed aggression towards me and was caught in multiple lies, even when HR told me to fire them, my boss told me it was her job to keep a leash on me to stop me getting ahead of myself. It was maddening, and toxic.

      I stupidly spent almost four years in that hell trying to make it better. (Narrator Voice: It never got better.) It got so, so much worse. When I got fired in a particularly cruel way (after filing a discrimination complaint–go figure), it obliterated my few remaining shreds of self-esteem as a professional and as a human being. It was the most humiliating, terrifying experience of my life, and I spent months in deep depression.

      What helped me was getting another job in a totally different industry where my skills could transfer, and working with a totally normal, decent team of nice, normal people. (And therapy!) Working with good people in a good organization where you are valued will help you rewrite the bad script those other jerks left you with. Just keep remembering how much you were valued at the other employer, and make a list of all of your accomplishments and skills. There are plenty of other organizations out there who would LOVE to have you on their team, you just have to work up the strength/energy to get your application materials together, and keep applying. You can do it! Wishing you all the best!

    11. SansaStark*

      Your post took me back to a really dark time when I got fired about 8 years ago. I was so ashamed (like you – unnecessarily!) My next job was WAY below my experience/skill level because my confidence was so shot that I didn’t think I could do anything but the most basic job. What I didn’t know was that it was going to set me on a new career path that would be full of great opportunities that I would really love.

      When I lost my job, I didn’t know anyone who had gotten fired until a very successful friend reminded me that he had been fired/had businesses fail several times. I certainly never thought of him as having anything to be ashamed about and in time that helped me rebuild the image I had about myself. You’re not alone. So many people with successful careers have been fired and it doesn’t mean that any of us are bad people, bad employees, or anything like that. You were absolutely set up to fail in this situation and I just hope you feel less alone knowing that other people have gone through this, too, and are rooting for you from a distance.

    12. The Prettiest Curse*

      They suck, you don’t. Have confidence in your skills and in your instincts and best of luck with everything!

    13. Not Australian*

      You were ill-treated, OP; if there’s any shame or embarrassment attached to this situation, *you* are not the one who should be feeling it. We can all be hurt and damaged by trusting the wrong people, but please don’t let that deter you from trusting other people in the future. The world is not entirely made up of Amys and Brookes, thank goodness!

    14. Sharrbe*

      “I was honestly worried the reply was going to be “Well you took a job you couldn’t handle, what did you expect?”

      I can relate to this so much. I’m constantly waiting for someone to call me out on not being perfect at work, at school, even how long I’m taking getting my groceries through the self-checkout. Unfortunately this kind of self-criticism makes us vulnerable to people like your former bosses. It’s like they have a radar. I’ve had a few people like this in my life over the years. Then I find out that most people want to help you through rough patches and understand that no one can perform perfectly all the time, and I realize that I’ve just been causing my own pain.

    15. JustA___*

      OP, I spent years at a dysfunctional job where the type of work I *wanted/was promised* to do was dangled in front of me constantly, but there was always a MOUNTAIN of other work that took up my time (and overtime!).
      It took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t going to change, and even longer to realize it wasn’t my fault that it wasn’t changing. Brooke/Amy remind me sooooo much of that employer.
      You will find another job. There are so many employers who treat their employees with respect and work to their strengths so that everyone can succeed together. I’m sending good vibes your way.

    16. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Piling on to say you are SO not the problem here. Please hold your head high and remember how good you are at what you do. Then get out there and find someone who will appreciate you for it.

    17. Not So NewReader*

      That whole story is really awful, OP. I am so sorry this happened to you.

      Hang on to the fact that you do not have to carry THEIR shame for them. It’s not your luggage, OP, it’s okay to set the shame suitcase down and walk away from it. These two epitomize what NOT to do in the world of work.

      I hope as you doze off to sleep each night, you picture the millions of Alison’s readers shaking their heads and wagging their fingers at these two. I hope you tell yourself, “Yep now the world knows what these two people really are at their core.”

    18. infrequent commenter*

      OP, stranger on the internet here to confirm this was them, not you. Wishing you the absolute best.

    19. AtlantaTJ*

      OP I wish I knew what industry you were in as my company is great, everyone gets to be remote if they want, and we desperately need people!

    20. Dashed*

      Good luck, OP!

      I just want to add that having had a similar experience myself, I know the feeling of shame and the incessant, “If onlys” and “What ifs?”.

      In the long run, I had two take aways. The first is that I am no different from anyone else — I CAN be fooled. The second take away is that you’ve gained experience and in the future will be wary of trusting people who woo and flatter you.

      I would urge you to think not that you gained shame or a black mark, but experience. As the saying goes, “The only way to avoid mistakes is to gain experience. The only way to gain experience is to make mistakes.”

      Your only mistake was in believing untrustworthy charlatans. That is it.

      And that was a mistake you could not avoid making at the time.

      Forgive yourself. Know that many of us have suffered similarly and we are still alive and kicking.

    21. Former Employee*

      If it makes you feel any better, once I got through your letter, I immediately dubbed your former employers “the gruesome twosome”.

      My other thought was that they’ve got some sort of “folie a deux” going on. (I know there’s supposed to be an accent over the “a”, but my keyboard doesn’t have that function.)

      I have no idea what sort of dynamic is going on with these two, but the important thing is that you have gotten away from them.

      Two suggestions that many have made are good ones, I believe:

      1. Check with your old company and see if you can go back.

      2. If not, have someone do a “reference check” and see if they do give you a neutral reference.

      Take care and best of luck to you from an old lady who thought she’d seen it all until I read your letter, OP.

    22. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      It is entirely them and not you! To add on to everything Alison said, I find it particularly troubling that they, knowing you do not feel as comfortable or as experienced dealing with the parts of the job that are not strictly teapot painting, dumped a client on you who was so difficult that neither of them could handle that client! These two ladies are real pieces of work! You did a great job trying to perform at that level after you explicitly told them you were not comfortable with it. You didn’t sell yourself to them as something you aren’t. They sold you to themselves as something you aren’t and they sold you a job that wasn’t what was described. And now, they are making you pay the price. They are not good employers or managers. Please do not let these individuals undermine your confidence any further, because you proved yourself more than professional, and they proved themselves entirely unprofessional!

    23. Mimsie*

      Oh gosh OP I was so gripped by your story. It sounds like a really difficult experience. Please add me to the choir of people who are on your side and take every bit of Allison’s advice. Listen, Brooke and Amy sound like the real imposters here. There’s a saying here in the UK “all the gear, and no idea” (it somehow rhymes in an English accent lol) and this describes them. They have all the makings of a business but absolutely no clue how to MANAGE one and manipulating everyone around them with their chaos and fakeness. I really wish you the best of luck in your next endeavours and hopefully in a few years you look back at this relatively short ordeal as just a random crazy ride that most of us experience one time or another in our careers.

  19. Nanani*

    OP, is your previous job before the firing still an option?
    If you explain what happened, they might be willing to take you back considering your great performance. Don’t let shame prevent from at least reaching out to your previous managers to find out.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Even if that job isn’t open, at the very least, reach out and say you’re in the market again and would love to be considered.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. If OP left on good terms they may be able to use that job as a reference, get a new job there or network for the job hunt.

    2. Not Australian*

      Indeed. I’d personally be contacting my former boss and saying “This was a terrible mistake and I’d love to be able to come back; do you know of any suitable opportunities?”

      1. Ellie*

        Me too – OP will have to contact them anyway to freshen the reference, why not ask if they’d like to have you back? I took a role on quite a few years ago, that turned out to not be a great fit at all (wrong technical environment, with a seemingly friendly team that were actually quite toxic in a favoritism/boundary violating kind of way). When the contract was running down I knew that for the first time in my life, I would not be getting renewed. So I asked my previous supervisor if he knew if anything was available. Several years and many promotions later, I’m still working on that project. For a long time I believed that, because the people were friendly, it must be my fault that I didn’t do so well. It was only when someone I respected who was also on that team for a limited time approached me casually later on, and started talking about all the problems they had, that I realized it wasn’t all on me.

  20. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

    OP, this sounds awful. I’m so sorry.

    For better or worse, secrecy empowers shame.

    If you have trusted loved ones you can talk to, that could do wonders for your mental health and sense of perspective (even strangers on the internet!). You are not alone.

  21. Exhausted Trope*

    First I am so so sorry this happened to you, OP. It’s awful to be betrayed and doubly so when it’s from colleagues. Their treatment of you is so unethical, I can barely stand it. I don’t know how some people sleep at night.
    I do hope that you will soon be in a good place where you can shine and where people actually have ethics.

  22. L.H. Puttgrass*

    “This is really uncomfortable for me so let’s keep this short.”

    What
    The
    Ever-loving
    Eff.

    Who says that? When firing someone? These are not people you want to work for. These are not people with basic empathy skills.

    LW, I’m sorry these heartless people (a term I use only because all the more accurate words I can think of would get me sent into the moderation queue at best) conned you into working for them. I wish I had better advice than congratulations for getting out of there. It may not seem like a victory now, but trust me, it was.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yeah. Awful and embarrassing on Amy’s part. “Well that’s unfortunate but I’ll still need you to participate in this conversation with me so I understand what happened. I’m very uncomfortable too.”

    2. Threeve*

      If you go super hard recruiting someone who has doubts about the job, even if they turn out to be a genuinely poor performer–not the case here, OP was a high performer set up for failure–your choices should be 1) support them in making the new job work with coaching or different responsibilities, or 2) make a truly good-faith effort to help them move on to something that’s a better fit.

      There is no excuse for what they did.

    3. Jane Anonusten*

      I had (emphasis on “had”) a friend once who would say the meanest things and then go “oh, I forget other people have feelings.” She would totally say something like this.

      1. Depends*

        I too had a former friend. She came to see me in the hospital after my child was born — a very difficult pregnancy and delivery. I was, to say the least, not at my best physically or emotionally. I was happy to see my friend and looking for the strokes and affection you need at that point. She looked at me and said, “Wow, you look terrible. Couldn’t you get up and do your hair and put on make up and nice clothes before anyone arrived? Why would you allow yourself to be seen like this?

        When my mother basically told her where to shove her words, she gasped and said, “I was just being helpful!”

        No. No, you were not. You were being mean and taking a pot shot at someone who is vulnerable in every way.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “If it’s so uncomfortable for you, then perhaps you should not be in management.”

      No, she wasn’t uncomfortable with her own words. If she was then she would not have said the words “You’re fired.”
      She was uncomfortable anticipating OP’s words. That was the real problem. Hearing the truth can really hurt some people.

  23. Lacey*

    These ladies sound insane. They’re obviously grossly incompetent managers and deeply inconsiderate human beings, but that doesn’t explain all of this. It’s bizarre.

  24. LadyByTheLake*

    Feel NO shame, OP. You had no reason to distrust these people, who you knew as friends and mentors. You were forthright in what you could and couldn’t do and they pushed you out of your comfort zone into doing something that you were forthright that you couldn’t do well and then punished you for not doing it well. Talk about gaslighting!! Lesson learned — these two are horrible, nasty people — that’s no reflection on you.

  25. JRR*

    Familiar story. Job duty/responsibility creep has been a problem for me in the past. I’m an excellent teapot painter, but I’m a bad project manager, and even worse at juggling multiple projects.

    I really wish I new a way to tell my employer, “give me a task and I’ll do it, but don’t give me the responsibility of figuring out which tasks need to be prioritized and how to accomplish all needed tasks with available resources, etc.” I’d happily take a pay cut in exchange for less responsibility.

    1. LadyByTheLake*

      Just say it — I’m best when given a task with clear priorities and directions. I am not good with having to determine priorities or project management.

  26. HandsOffManager*

    I get the sense that their inability to clearly set and communicate expectations may be why they have difficult clients and problems with project management. My money is on their business folding soon.

    1. Vichyssuave*

      Agree. Add in the whole “this discussion is really uncomfortable for me” when firing poor OP and it’s all too clear Amy and Brooke seem to have no idea how to handle difficult conversations that can’t be resolved with flattery or cajoling.

  27. chewingle*

    Amy and Brooke are what I would call “positive bullies.” They essentially used exaggerated positive comments to bully you into doing something you didn’t want to do to begin with. And then when it didn’t work out, they seemed to take zero responsibility for it. Don’t use them as a reference.

    If they actually acknowledged their own role in your poor performance (which you warned them would be the case if they pushed you into this role), they would have agreed to at least a PIP (though I would have been more in favor for a demotion back to the role they originally hired you to do. And at least then you’d have something while you job hunted).

  28. HereKittyKitty*

    I’ve had something similar happen to me and yeah, it was a big blow. It makes you doubt everything about yourself. Be kind to yourself and take the time you need to process this. If you can afford to wait a bit before jumping back in, feel free too.

    I’m wondering if you have contacts back at your old company? If you told them you were baited and switched they may be willing to hire you back. I’ve worked at two companies where hiring back people was common as long as the employees left on good terms.

  29. TootsNYC*

    I’ve been in your shoes, suddenly believing I was no good at a job I’d done really well somewhere else, or for a different boss.

    I encourage you to reach out to people you worked with before, with whom you know you had a good reputation.

    I’ll also say that nothing makes me more reassured of my own skill, knowledge and experience than these two things:
    1. Interviewing for a new job
    2. Speaking to students about my field in an informational way, either formally or informally

    If you can arrange something like that, to get your read out of your current mindset, and to reconnect with the you of previous months.

    Ask a colleague or a smart friend to help you role-play some job interview sessions. Contact an old professor and offer to do a Zoom Q&A session with some students.

  30. planetmort*

    This whole post gave me the wiggins. I too was talked into a job I didn’t want and didn’t think I could actually do, but I was flattered and praised and promised help.

    It all went to crap pretty quickly, and when I asked for help, I was told I waste senior to need help by the very person who had flattered and promised me help if I needed it. Shortly thereafter, I was fired over the phone right before a planned vacation. Good times!

    I don’t know Amy and Brooke are like my former boss, but my former boss couldn’t manage to have uncomfortable conversations, despite frequently bragging that they were expert at it. They would always end up saying whatever they thought you wanted to hear, whether or not it was true.

    I am still getting over that period of my life, but I am way further along that road than I used to be. Time heals a lot.

  31. SometimesALurker*

    Reading your letter, and hearing that you feel bad about this, made me think of what one of my best friends said to me after my breakup with my ex (who had also been a close friend of his, so her opinion really mattered to me) — “whatever signs you might be telling yourself you should have seen are only visible in retrospect and with a **lot** more context than you had at the time.” Obviously, I only have your letter to go on, but I think that applies to this “breakup” too.

    Were there some questionable things that are definitely red flags now that you look back on them? Sure. But, it’s completely normal and reasonable that you didn’t interpret those things as signs that your trusted mentors would behave OUTLANDISHLY BADLY AND WEIRDLY.

  32. Momma Bear*

    Not sure if OP wants to do this, but maybe reach back out to the old job that they were reasonably happy with and see if there’s a new role for them. We had someone leave for a startup that failed, and no one really cared why he was back, just glad he was with the expertise he returned with.

    As for the rest, it’s easy to doubt yourself when someone says they think you are awesome. Everyone wants to be awesome. I think, however, that OP needs to consider this Lesson Learned re: the hard sell recruiter or working for friends.

    I’m appalled that these two wanted to do a quick firing and then send the new admin to do their dirty work re: an exit interview. They did not want to deal with the consequences of their actions, from recruiting to firing. I strongly suspect that there were other signs of this – the customer that wasn’t happy, wanting to be hands off with the PMs, etc. Not giving OP a teammate like everyone else while knowing that the job wasn’t their strength? Really poor move.

    OP, I hope you dust off and move on. Thankfully it was only a few months, but no job should be that horrible that quickly. It’s not you.

  33. Des*

    OP you are beating yourself up too much and the people in your love who love you (your friends and family) will understand. If perfect strangers on the internet can understand it when you explain, then so will the people closest to you. Tell them. They may be helpful emotionally.

    Also, do you have contacts in your old workplace? Maybe after those 2 great evals they might want you back? I mean, you might not want to go there and that’s a different thing, but if you liked that job, why not feel out whether you can come back? You could explain that this new job just wasn’t a good fit and made you appreciate what you had etc.

  34. SituationallyAnon*

    As a younger working woman, I had a similar experience. My first job was at a place where most of the employees were relatively young, and friendly…lots of socializing outside of work. Three (male) co-workers quit the company and started their own small business. By that time I too had accepted a different job. The three guys kept urging me to quit my new job and join up with them. Fergus, who was sort of the de facto leader of the three, was particularly insistent that my talents were ABSOLUTELY NEEDED! DESIRED! …and even though I was doing some occasional freelance work with them on the side, and enjoying it, I was reluctant to quit my well-paying job for a start-up.

    Fergus spent A YEAR incessantly urging/sweet-talking/campaigning for me to join them, and not just join them, but assume the leadership position. After a year, I accepted their offer. Almost from day one I was bringing in lots of business…the pace was hectic but our little company was making a mark! Within three months Fergus had turned a bit short-spoken and mildly argumentative, which I attributed to his ongoing marital woes plus a lot of overtime hours. Nope.

    Two months after that, Fergus announced that I wasn’t meeting his (undefined) expectations for promoting *his* particular role, so he was breaking up the group. Oh, and since the office space lease was in his name…he would continue to sublet to the other guys, and I needed to move out as quickly as possible. And figure out how to complete in-process orders without any contribution from him. I was so, so, so embarrassed and ashamed, trying to explain “what happened” to everyone, when I didn’t understand it myself.

    I was dumbfounded that a colleague I respected, and someone I’d hung out with socially for multiple years, would choose to put me “out the door” with no real explanation, no attempts to discuss or address or solve whatever had been troubling him. I was even more horrified that I hadn’t seen it coming. How could I have so spectacularly misjudged the situation? Months later I bumped into another mutual friend who expressed sympathy about the business bust-up. I told him “The hardest thing is, I still don’t understand WHY Fergus acted as he did.” The friend said: “Oh, didn’t you know? Fergus has a real problem dealing with women in positions of authority. Everyone knows that.” Well, I didn’t…and the reason I didn’t is that Fergus had made a concerted effort to portray himself as my staunchest advocate. Until he stopped ‘portraying’.

    There’s no logical reason why he lobbied so hard to GET me in that position of authority in the first place, just as there’s no logical reason why Amy and Brooke did what they did to you. The best advice I can offer is, do whatever you can to move on with your own life, and do well at that, and don’t let Amy and Brooke live in your head rent-free for very long. I promise you that’s the best revenge! Because:

    For me, Fergus’s “betrayal” was the impetus that set me on a professional path that was much happier and more fulfilling. Once I realized that, I had no more ill-will to Fergus. Ten years…yes, ten years after the business bust-up, I was at a friend’s barbecue, and Fergus walked in. Each time I approached him intending to offer a sincere and friendly greeting, he skittered away like I was radioactive. He Would.Not.Speak.With.Me. I just laughed…because obviously his guilt over his actions was still living in HIS head…while I had spent years at that point not really thinking of him at all.

    Please know that you are not the loser, and the only “shame” here belongs to Amy and Brooke. You will be able to overcome this hideous experience in ways they never will.

    1. knitcrazybooknut*

      I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that perhaps Fergus set up a situation where he could cut you off. Purposely? Maybe not. But it is entertaining that he can’t talk to you anymore! I’ve had that experience before, and it’s lovely to realize you’ve let go of that hot rock and don’t have to hold that energy. Meanwhile, they’re still being burned.

    2. planetmort*

      In my situation I ran into my former boss in an elevator a couple of months after it all went down. Watching them freeze and act SUPER uncomfortable was a small and petty joy to me. I got to be pleasant and ask them how their holiday season was and they got to act terrified and guilty.

  35. Idril Celebrindal*

    LW, Amy and Brooke sound so much like my abusive ex that I’m feeling sick to my stomach on your behalf, especially because I remember being where you are.

    I hear you say, “I really tried as hard as I could.” Hold on to that, because you did. You tried, you gave it your all and more, and their actions are not your fault. They lied to you, manipulated you, broke their promises to you, shifted their expectations of you with no warning and blamed you for not reading their mind, and then betrayed your trust in them. None of that is your fault. They felt entitled to have whatever they wanted and abused your good nature and friendship to get it. Being kind and generous and honest is not a character flaw, and you do not deserve the doubt they have placed in your heart.

    It’s a hard road to get back the confidence they took from you, but it starts with “I did my best” and “This is not my fault.” I encourage you to look yourself in the eyes in a mirror and say those sentences out loud, because you deserve to hear them said out loud in words.

    I am rooting for you, LW, and I will say that there is a long line of people on this site and elsewhere who are walking the path of healing ahead of you, and we all have our hands held out to help you along. If you do decide to talk about this with your friends and family, I suspect you might be surprised by the number of people who have been where you are and will help you along the road.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think time will be kind here for OP. I worked for a place where I was set up to fail. The boss enjoyed it.
      I worked so hard, I knocked myself out every day. There was no point to all that effort. At a new job later on, my new boss was amazed at how well I covered everything. I thought, “But this is how I usually work.” Then it dawned on me just how abusive my old boss actually was. Productivity levels that satisfied most boss did not satisfy the abusive one. One big clue I had was when old boss said, “Angry people work harder.”

      So OP, this is what is see here. A person who is made to feel inadequate will work harder and have more productivity in order to have good standing with the bosses. It would not surprise me to find out you were paid LESS than other people they hired. They were bilking you for what they could get out of you. Once you maxed out (which you would have maxed out at some point because they planned to overload you) then they would just toss you to the curb. You got them launched, they took on more people so bye-bye to you, OP. Users. Abusers and users.

  36. LilyP*

    I also think you should make a concerted effort to unlearn everything Amy and Brooke ever told you about your “imposter syndrome”. Underestimating yourself and your potential is a real thing (especially for women) but they are not a reliable source of info on this! Also, remember that skill and enjoyment are two independent axes of work — it actually doesn’t matter at all if you ~~could~~ be great at PM work if your really ~~tried~~ when you actually just don’t like it and don’t want to do it. Healthy challenge is attempting things you want to be able to do but aren’t 100% sure of yet, not just throwing yourself at anything you find difficult. Let this experience be a lesson about what you WANT and don’t want in your work, not about your capabilities or lack thereof.

    Also asking you to take on PM duties when you tried to negotiate….they were 100% to going to ask you to do that stuff anyway without a pay raise and were just taking a convenient opportunity to pressure and manipulate you!

    1. Raida*

      this, absolutely.
      “I think you’d be a great X!!!” is not the same thing as “I remember you were interested in X.” or “Would you like to get experience in X?”

      Someone who is pushing you and can’t clarify exactly why, what the value is to you, what specifically you can use in that sphere that you’re already good at – they aren’t really thinking it through and that means you can’t trust their judgement. Especially if they’re pushing you into something you *already dislike*!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Actually, OP, if you can bring yourself back to the beginning of the story, I think you had good self-awareness and you had a realistic evaluation of your skills and your limits. I also think that you are taking this for granted- you know how many people do not have this? Way too many.

  37. anon4this*

    Ugh, Amy and Brooke sound like the worst. It’s no wonder they’re entrepreneurs, they have no problem promising the moon and the stars to clients or employees without any practicality on how to achieve it.
    Who says you’re going to “retire from here”, then fires you the next week? Could you sue for wrongful termination? It sounds like they didn’t follow their own termination procedures, but this won’t work in a “right to work” state .
    At the very least, apply for unemployment. Leave a google and glassdoor review. And check in with your old workplace, it may be worth reaching back out to see if they filled your old position, or to at least secure a strong reference.
    And f*ck Amy and Brooke’s reference, I wouldn’t even list that dumpster fire on my resume.

  38. AndersonDarling*

    I felt like a looser when I was forced out of a job and it took me years to fully process the situation and understand that it wasn’t my fault. Maybe I can tell you what I learned so you don’t have to spend so much time fighting your demons.
    1. The only thing I had control over was my perception of the situation. Yeah, in hindsight I should have recognized that things weren’t going in the right direction and I should have left sooner, but I didn’t have the life experience at the time. I forgave myself for not being omniscient.
    2. I kept moving forward after the warning signs because I kept hoping for the best. Being hopeful is a wonderful quality and this virtue will serve you well in the future. Learn to move on when it is time, but never stop being hopeful!
    3. Being angry/disappointed/confused at selfish people won’t help you process the past. Keep the focus on you and the future.
    4. Even in the worst job of my life, I still learned skills. I learned a lot about myself, and I got some solid work skillz that I can bring up in interviews to spin that sad time into something positive.
    5. Again, this wasn’t your fault. You walked into something that could have been a great opportunity and you were adventurous and brave! There wasn’t anything you could have said or done differently that would have magically turned the situation around and made it a perfect job.

    Trust me, once the shock and raw emotions dissipate, you will be able to talk about this during interviews (if you want to). Life will move forward and this will just a be a blip in your long and rewarding career. So stay positive, and adventurous!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I like this list a lot.
      1.Omniscient. oh my yes! There is no way you could have known, OP. But this one will never get by you again. You will see things that remind you of this and you will know to get out.
      2. Hope. It’s great to be hopeful. We can be hopeful anywhere we don’t have to stand in the middle of job from hell in order to act hopeful. You can be hopeful in your NEW place, too. Base your next steps on what you actually see vs. what you hope to see. My wise friend use to talk about the pattern of three. You see something three times then you have a pattern and you can make decisions accordingly.
      3. Locked in the past vs. unlocking the future. It’s fine to look for clues that you can pick up to save your hide if you ever meet this type of person again. This helps you to build a better tomorrow. Lemonade out of lemons.
      4.Learning. It’s amazing how much these crappy places can really sharpen us for our next employer. I am sure your next job is going to seem easy to you after this.
      5. Yep. Not your fault. This is an exercise on not carrying other people’s shame for them. Both are a sorry excuse of a human being.

  39. Loredena*

    OP, you mentioned an employment contract. In addition to reviewing it carefully for any restrictions they’ve placed on you, consider running it and the circumstances past an employment lawyer. They may owe you severance. Also, did they fight you on unemployment? In similar circumstances I sent a letter detailing my expectations for severance, not pursuing a non compete, and unemployment, before I spoke with the EEOC. That sufficed to get all of the above with my agreement not to pursue any complaints. You might find something similar.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      Seconding the employment suggestion. And seconding everyone who said see if you could possibly go back to teapot paining job. If you think there “neutral reference” will be a hindrance in job searching I have a work around. I once worked at a place where the owner had given multiple star employees bad references. When I started applying else where I marked not to contact her on my applications and offered several other references from the same place of employment (the Assistant Director, coworkers, and clients) I honestly told the interviewer that Owner had a history of giving bad references and that they should feel free to speak to multiple people who knew my abilities at that job. I was later told I was hired due to how glowingly every reference they contacted spoke of me. I’m so sorry this happened to you OP. This was straight up gaslighting and wrong of them.

  40. Spicy Tuna*

    I don’t understand why they pushed so hard for the OP to take a job that she was very open about not being a good fit for. Did they just need a warm body in there? Knowing that her skill set wasn’t a good fit, whey did they insist on her taking on the responsibilities she was not prepared to do? It’s way worse to hire someone that’s a bad fit than to keep the position open a little longer.

    My partner and I have our own business. He has certain strengths and I have certain strengths. Whenever one of us is forced to pick up tasks for the other person, it’s an unmitigated disaster. It is true that people can grow professionally and challenge themselves, but there are some things people will NEVER be good at. There is no shame in acknowledging this and working around it.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      It crossed my mind that Amy and Brooke were jealous or otherwise bugged to see OP happy and doing well. There are people like that. And they set out to screw it up for her.

  41. Rainyjaney*

    Honestly, just reading this makes my heart hurt! You’ve done nothing wrong here at all, OP, and in fact your level of self-awareness and commitment to doing the right thing make me feel like you’d be a great asset to any other organisation whose values and expectations align with yours.

    They’ve been completely cavalier with your emotions and opinions in pursuit of setting up on their own, and you should probably be glad you’ve seen the back of them, though I know things probably feel a bit difficult at the moment. Good luck with next steps, and I hope you can put this behind you at some point soon!

  42. Khatul Madame*

    OP, I hope you have an impartial industry contact that can provide a sympathetic ear, competent feedback, and job leads. When I was in a difficult place professionally, I reached out to someone who went through something similar in the past. It was not a close acquaintance – like you, I was ashamed to confide in work friends! but talking with them was greatly reassuring, and it was great to have an example of someone who bounced back. I am deeply grateful to this person and hope I can pay the debt forward.

  43. Raida*

    Man, those two do not know how to run a business – they sound like toxic positivity MLM “we’re all in this together but I really want to win so if you could just do what I want that’d be great because you’re awesomeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!” women.
    Urhg. Gag.
    What I think you should take away from this OP – and there’s always something that experience teaches us – is that when someone is praising you, ask for specifics.
    I’m doing great? That’s good to hear, what specifically did I exceed your expectations on?
    If they’re just mindlessly praising because people like that, then the answers won’t have any meat to them. And you can start to manage up as well – get in the calendar regular reviews, be specific on what you want feedback on and how.

    Those two suck as managers, and probably suck as business owners too – they’ve doubled in size recently, have new staff, can’t manage uncomfortable situations and don’t support staff? That place will crumble if they can’t love-bomb the staff into staying.

  44. TeapotNinja*

    I think one of the learnings from this can also be that you should try and inspect whether the grass truly is greener on the other side before jumping in. Do your own due diligence as much as you possibly can first.

  45. Larz*

    I don’t have any wisdom to add, but I do feel compelled to jump in and say this is not your fault, those people are horrible, and in the words of Captain Awkward, it’s time to assemble Team You–the people who have your back and will show up for you in ways that matter to you–to support you and help you through this. A firing handled this poorly (especially with all the wave of cheerleading that preceded it!) can feel a lot like getting dumped, and if your heart is aching, you’re not alone in that, and it’s okay to make space to grieve the hurt they caused and the loss of people you thought of as mentors.

  46. Very, very, very long time reader, first time commenter*

    OP, I don’t have any advice or I don’t know how to lift you up but I just wanted to let you that my heart goes out for you. Amy and Brooke were truly crappy coworkers/friends/managers. You didn’t do anything wrong and I totally understand why Alison says it sounds like they were love bombing what. What a truly toxic place. You have nothing to be embarrassed by from where I’m standing. I’d love to tell them they suck as humans to their faces. Seriously, I’ve been reading AskAManger for years and this is the first time I’ve ever commented. This just really hurt my feelings to read! <3

    1. Very, very, very long time reader, first time commenter*

      Man, all these years and now my first comment has all these weird typos in them.

  47. Still trying to adult*

    Oh, I’m so sorry that you’ve had this done to you. And I specifically want to say ‘done to you’.

    I had a really bad experience at my first adult job, flamed out, was let go (they didn’t call it firing, so that I could collect unemployment, which I still think was decent of them in a bad situation. But so much of it was their setup, their responsibility. I was put on a big project with no experience at PM, one upper manager seemed determined to get under my skin (he actually did it to everyone, but they all had known him so long they just said ‘thats the way he is’) Perhaps most telling, when I analyzed the experience years later, was my direct supervisor who said to me ‘You’ve got a college degree, you can do this job’ Well, 1) he didn’t have a college degree, so he DID think that a college degree gave you all the skills. 2) He did have mad skills at getting things done, in spite of no degree. To use an overused term, it was a perfect storm of over expectations and inability to perform to them.

    Sooo. My advice: Sit down, write down all the things that Amy & Brook did that were wrong, and everything that you did wrong. I think you’ll see that your wrongs are so miniscule in comparison to theirs, that they bear 99.999% blame for all of this. They’re horrid people. You survived with your integrity & dignity intact; they have none. And tell yourself that several times a day for a couple weeks and a few times a week forever after. I predict this will give you confidence to answer interviewers’ questions about what happened. And you can say it without shame, but
    ‘just the facts, ma’am’

  48. Jessica Fletcher*

    If you’re in the US, you should file for Unemployment if you need the money. Although you usually aren’t eligible if you’re fired, you might get it. I had a similar situation a long time ago, where an employer told me I was doing well, and then fired me with no warning. The employer fought my UC claim, but I won. The state didn’t tell me why I won, but I believe it was because the employer had recently made comments similar to what you describe.

    I hope you find something new soon!

    1. Frank Doyle*

      It varies from state to state, but if you’re fired you often are eligible for unemployment insurance. Usually it’s only denied if you did something truly egregious, like insubordination, or not showing up to work. That’s not the case here.

  49. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Bait-and-switch sucks. Just sucks. Unfortunately, you don’t know what you’re really getting into until you get there.

    People you liked and respected and trusted traded on that and led you on and lied to you. There’s nothing for you to be ashamed of.

  50. Budgie Buddy*

    OP, it sounds like you have an accurate sense of your professional strengths and weaknesses. You know what you’re good at and what you’re not. That was borne out by your experience working with Amy and Brooke.

    Where your judgment led you wrong was in trusting these people as mentors in the first place. They didn’t turn out to deserve the trust you gave them. There probably wasn’t a way to know that until they showed their true colors, but in writing your letter you’ve already spotted a lot of red flags about the way Amy and Brooke handled things early on that hinted they didn’t have your best interests at heart.

    So if there’s a place to improve your judgment after this horrendous experience, it’s more centered on strategies for vetting mentors and workplaces rather than in evaluating your work skills.

  51. squareround*

    When you are good at your job employers often think you can do anything. You have to learn to stand your ground and say no to tasks and jobs you know you can’t do. There are always going to be pushy bosses, you can’t change that. You can change your own responses.

  52. Mittens*

    Good Lord. Why do people like Amy and Brooke exist?

    I am so sorry that this happened to you, LW. Like Alison says, I can’t see how any of this was your fault. I also really can’t see as to how you could have behaved or done anything differently that would have mitigates the glaring incompetence and disrespect that Amy and Brooke have thought appropriate here.

    I think Alison sums it up well when she says you were set up to fail by these two, and it really does boggle the mind. If it is of any comfort, I have dealt with being set up to fail at work (although this was 100% on purpose by management as, unknown to me, I was hired instead of their preferred internal candidate, who was not actually capable of performing a critical part of the job), which led to a similar firing (when a formal warning should have the been the most severe action taken, but even that was a stretch). I’m not in the USA, but my own firing was illegal, although I’m well aware of the lack of legal protections many workers have in the USA.

    I wish you all the best, OP. Thankfully, my next job after it was a good one, but it took a couple of months to find and I was so relieved that they didn’t ask the dreaded “so, why did you leave you last job?” question during the interview process.

  53. Paul Pearson*

    I have known many Amy and Brookes. They always seem like good salespeople – because they’re good manipulators. They’re enthusiastic and can really sell people on an idea and convince you they’re correct. In some ways they’re very talented because they can make you believe the moon is a diamond and they personally will hand it over to you

    But they never deliver. They promise everything and really sell that promise, but ultimately they have nothing and will duck out when things get hard. That’s not on you, OP: some of the brightest people in the world have been hoodwinked by talented snake oil salesman.

  54. Siv*

    Op please go get your old job back! It will be good for your mental health. Now is likely not the time to find a brand new job

  55. BadWorker*

    OP, aside from everything else, don’t worry about having this come up during your job search! I am in a similar situation, as I’ve been in my current job for just a year but it turned out to be very different from what I expected. I just say “I took this job expecting to do X most of the time, but it turned out to be exclusively about Y” in a matter-of-fact tone and then I move on to explain why I think I’d be a good fit for this X-centric role I’m interviewing for.

    So far, the recruiting managers I’ve talked to have been satisfied with this brief explanation. As a bonus, since my current position isn’t very relevant for the jobs I’m applying to, they usually ask me about previous experiences in X roles, so I’ve been able to talk about my time with other companies (where I excelled!!) and not about my current job.

  56. Confidence will come back soon!*

    This was total gaslighting by Amy and Brooke! Not your mistake or problem or weakness or failure or any such things your mind is thinking of. They abused your friendship and trust. Abuse erodes confidence and leaves us doubting ourselves. But remember, its not you. it’s THEM!

    You can put it on your resume and say it was a start up company and you tried it and it didn’t not work for you. Good luck! You can also reach out to your previous company and say the same and ask if they have a position available for you. Considering they know your work and was happy with it, they might have one for you.

  57. WindmillArms*

    OP, I work in a field that sounds like it has a similar client relationship. I’m really good at what I do, but I’ve had the occasional impossible client. The difference between a good company/project manager and a bad one is what they do when I have that impossible client. Good ones step in, take over, and manage the client–including deciding to decline the work. Bad ones do an Amy and Brooke: wash their hands of it, leave me alone in the battle, and hold me accountable for the mess.

    They seriously failed you, and I’m sorry.

  58. forever young*

    OMG
    A similar event happened to me, and, it was crushing. Five months… I will never work for friends again.
    I found out my good friends husband was a psychopath, from said friend, AFTER I took the job.
    Found out he stole her cat, locked it up at his work (my new work) prior to my working there, cat lost a bunch of weight, and then he returned the cat. this was to punish her for something or other.
    I kid you not. Everyone seemed to know and be okay with it, even though they were all scared of him too..
    NOOO NOO.
    I quit, no job. I was scared but then I landed this amazing job, and here I am.

    I am so sorry this happened to you, and no amount of shame will fix THEM and they are the problem, not you.

    take the time you need to process but please put the shame down, it belongs to someone else.

  59. Goldenrod*

    For some reason, of all the stuff that pisses me off about this letter, the offer of a “neutral recommendation” pisses me off the most!

    They should give OP a GLOWING recommendation and offer ANY help they possibly can! As Alison said, they can point out her strengths – that they KNOW she has – but a “neutral recommendation”??? What a shitty, begrudging offer. Amy and Brooke are straight up A-HOLES.

    OP, I hope you can write them off as the a-holes they are and stop internalizing THEIR failures! You will bounce back….but they will have to be their crappy selves forever.

  60. Chris Hogg*

    First, as so many others have said here, you were in a crappy situation, it obviously hurt (and hurts) a lot, and we’re all pretty sure that you’ll recover from this.

    Second, I’m so glad you had the courage to post this, as it confirms the principles that I’m sharing with people, about how to say no, and what can happen when we allow others to override our no.

    Perhaps this will be encouraging:

    A: Wisdom is the key to success in life.

    B: That sounds like what I need. What is wisdom?

    A: Wisdom is learning how to go through life without making mistakes.

    B: I definitely need that. How does one get wisdom?

    A: By making mistakes.

  61. Tanith73*

    OP, I’m kinda angry for you – you were promised a job focusing on your skills, and Any and Brooke changed it. Then gave you a project they had already failed at, but expected you to succeed. They are not good managers.

    I hope the future goes well for you, and that you rock your next job.

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