update: interviewer badmouthed me to my references because I didn’t want to “harness the power of QAnon”

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose interviewer called up her references to badmouth her because she didn’t want to “harness the power of QAnon”? Here’s the update.

I so appreciate your answering my question, and so quickly: I was able to use your wording exactly in emails to my references because of your quick response. (Unfortunately, I got the email too late to contribute meaningfully to the comments, but I read all of them and really just love everyone who reads your blog. Thank you all!)

It turns out that the board member had called ALL of them. Of six references, four (including the original one who notified me of this mess) laughed it off just as breezily, understanding completely that the call was absurd and sharing some asinine stories of their own. The fifth had a lot of questions for me, and I had to clearly spell out what the potential client had said to me before they understood (I was hesitant to bring specifics to the table because it could out the organization/board member, but I guess that’s no bad thing at the end of the day). Once they did understand, though, they were so apoplectic with outrage on my behalf that they actually called the board member back, though the call was never returned.

However. The final reference was overwhelmingly concerned by the board member’s allegations and called me into an in-person meeting. I went, realizing the board member may have spun things in such a way that made my client uneasy and eager to rectify that. Almost as soon as I sat down, this client started discussing QAnon in earnest and just…laid into me. It became extremely clear that he, too, was a supporter/believer/whatever and that he and the board member had likely had an extensive chat about those of us who aren’t. He told me that if I was so “closeminded” about “excellent, well-reasoned” strategies presented by board members (see, when he says it without knowing the context, that sounds horrible!) he didn’t see the point of continuing our contract since I had “shown my true colors.”

Well, Alison, I’m embarrassed to admit that I cried. The contract/money wasn’t a make-or-break for me, but I have quite literally never been fired…or reprimanded…or even had a manager be truly disappointed in me. And yes, I know that this man’s opinion of me matters not at all, but I felt blindsided, angry, and embarrassed (I KNOW!) someone’s opinion of me had changed so drastically, and that I was fired. It was a short burst of angry and incredulous tears and I was able to quickly remember another script you’d given for crying at inopportune moments. I explained the origin of my tears matter-of-factly, told him that while I was very surprised by his decision I wouldn’t try to change my mind, and let him know I’d send the files on my outstanding projects along with my invoice in the next 48 hours. His EA had emailed me before I even left the building to request the documents/final invoice…and followed up with an email from her personal account apologizing profusely for her boss, who is apparently unbearable in a variety of other ways. (I suggested she read your blog and get the heck out!)

I closed out my accounts with the organization, was paid promptly by the kind EA, and, in theory, that was it. But for whatever reason, my confidence took a huge hit: How could I not have seen (invisible) red flags with this client? Was I actually close-minded because I couldn’t “see the other side”? I got fired. My perfect employment record was tarnished! It didn’t matter if these people were unhinged…I should have worked harder, or…something?! It doesn’t take a clinical degree to realize pretty quickly that my usually well-controlled anxiety was no longer dormant and, with a little introspection, that I was in fact struggling with the current state of the world, a new NICU-graduate baby, and setting completely unrealistic career goals and business milestones for myself while 1) expanding a business 2) as a new mom 3) in the middle of a pandemic.

Thanks to a therapist who is worth her weight in gold and a husband who is simply the most supportive and understanding human on the planet, I’ve recalibrated my work/life balance and am actively working on why my identity is so wrapped up in being a high-achiever. My other clients are all appreciative of the skills I bring to the table, I’m spending more time with my daughter and husband, and I’m working on making realistic goals and filtering negative self-talk.

Oh, and I also anonymously sent a very…interesting novelty calendar to the board member who started all this. Immature? Yes. Satisfying? BIG YES.

Thank you again for your perfectly-worded and perfectly-timed advice. Your blog has been my go-to resource (and source of entertainment) for over a decade, and I am so appreciative.

{ 286 comments… read them below }

  1. ecnaseener*

    Way to go, LW! Actually recovering quickly enough to remember a script IN THE MOMENT is a level of power most of us can only dream of. Good riddance to weirdo QAnoners, and thank goodness this didn’t damage any of the relationships with clients that are actually worth maintaining.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Seriously, to remember a script *in* the moment!! Wow!
      I am impressed and am heading over to the script to review it!

    2. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

      All of this. OP, you evidenced quick and clear thinking under pressure/while overcome by strong emotions, which is a very powerful skill to have.

      1. Cheap Ass Warm Gooey Burnt Banana Bread*

        “ His EA had….followed up with an email from her personal account apologizing profusely for her boss, who is apparently unbearable in a variety of other ways. (I suggested she read your blog and get the heck out!)”

        Another brilliant maneuver!

    3. Marthooh*

      Yes, between that and sending the nice EA to this blog, the LW has truly harnessed the power of Ask A Manager!

    4. Your local password resetter*

      Right? That takes an amazing level of composure and levelheadedness. And doing it while you’re breaking down in tears! That’s something very few people would be able to pull off!

  2. Lacey*

    I’m so sorry you had one insane person to deal with – and that it hit you so hard. But I’m so glad you have supportive people and a great therapist!

    1. RJ*

      Honestly getting fired by a client like this fits the definition of “good trouble”. LW don’t give this person a single second more of rent-free space in your head because you can’t rationalize the actions and words of irrational people. You don’t see red flags when people turn on a dime, and believing that JFK Jr is coming back from the dead is an “other side” you don’t want to see. You did nothing wrong, and their lunacy is not about you!

      1. somanyquestions*

        Absolutely. I bet that if LW had known all this about then, she would have fired them as a client herself. It was all just shocking in the moment.

        1. OP of this Letter*

          This is a really good point I hadn’t considered. OF COURSE if I knew this was his stance on the world I would have severed our contract! Oooh, this made me feel better. Thank you!

          1. DyneinWalking*

            Not only that, but also imagine how stressful it could have been for you to severe the contract with him. Certainly you’d have had to listen to way more than just one rant, and payment may not have been as prompt and uncomplicated as it was in this situation.

            It might all have come as a shock, but really everything worked out to your benefit (with the exception of the mental health thing, of course): You are now rid of a client you wouldn’t want to continue to work with anyway, and you can peacefully relax in the safe knowledge that this client out of his own volition will stay away from you so you won’t have to deal with him again.

      2. embertine*

        Absolutely. If you’re pissing people like this off you’re doing something very right, not very wrong.

  3. Mental Health Lawyer*

    YOU ARE FANTASTIC. I am so impressed by your ability to notice oversize reactions and recalibrate to make your life work better for you. I cannot tell you how much this made my heart sing, I mean minus the conspiracy theory that is seriously harming American society. This EA is lucky to have stumbled into contact with you and we are all lucky to have heard such a fabulous moment of self-awareness and a career victory.

    1. You get a pen and you get a pen*

      Now I want a follow up from the EA!!! What a story. I am not sure what I would have done in LW’s shoes but I can say with certainty, she handled it with FAR more grace than I would have.

      1. Aphrodite*

        I came here to say this. EA, if you reading this please let us know. We’d love to welcome you aboard.

      1. OP of this Letter*

        I told her I’m open to meet for coffee or over Zoom if she wants to chat! I don’t know her well but all my interactions with her have been positive and I’d be happy to help!

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*


      I also need to know if it features the phrase “and thou shalt ingest a satchel of Richards” on the calendar.

        1. Worldwalker*

          In a heavily moderated forum, I once got away with “For you, I recommend a coprophagic diet and premature demise.”

    2. Data Nerd*

      I can’t help but admire OP’s restraint. I would’ve been tempted to send something much more smelly, or in flames. Or both.

        1. L Dub*

          I’m re-watching Gilmore Girls and the scene with Paris talking about Operation Finish Line was playing when I saw your comment. Made me giggle. :-)

        1. Sleepless*

          I gave that one to the Yankee Gift Swap at an animal hospital. The young kennel attendant who received it was greatly pleased.

        2. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

          My sister gave one to my husband last year and he loves it. He sends her a picture every month and they laugh about it. It is ridiculous.

    3. Twisted Lion*

      I want to know too!

      Fun fact you can also send someone a potato with a message etched into it. Anonymously. LOL

    4. DC*

      I’m hoping it’s a Joe Biden calendar. Just to remind them, you know, who actually won the election.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      For some reason my eyes skipped and I read “colander” … as in headgear for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. My mind bent a little.

      1. Student*

        I am both pleased and mildly concerned that your first association for “colander” is “religious hat” and not “cookware”. I have questions about your dinner parties.

    6. Hazel*

      I just need to say that i read your user name as “Don’t touch my slacks”! Which, of course! no one should touch other people’s slacks or snacks without permission

    7. OP of this Letter*

      I want to share so badly! It was hilarious (at least to me). But I feel it’s too risky! I’d prefer he just wonder about it forevermore.

      1. Consequences?*

        If he did figure out it was you, what’s he gonna do? Fire you? Barmouth you to your network? Oh, wait…

        1. Consequences?*

          (As flippant as this comment is, I want to clarify that of course OP has the right to decide their own risk tolerance, and how much they choose to share)
          (P.S. *badmouth)
          (P.P.S. good on OP)

      2. JSPA*

        you could join in the posting of guesses under some other name than OP of this Letter… then it would be somewhere on the list, if it isn’t already, and those with time to burn can look through the varied suggestions for inspiration?

      3. Constance Lloyd*

        I am choosing to believe it is the Pooping Pooches calendar put out by the Hawaii humane society each year and am fully content with this headcanon.

  4. Phony Genius*

    Could any of the lawyers here comment on whether the OP could sue the board member for tortious interference, since they called the references specifically to ruin their business relationships, and it worked in that one case?

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I’m curious about this as well. It seems nuts that the board member could go on a such a deliberate vindictive warpath and suffer zero repercussions. And they got a free calendar out of the deal!

    2. Velawciraptor*

      This isn’t my area of law and I have no idea what state this person is in, but from what I remember, she could conceivably state a claim, though the only damages she has would be the amount she anticipated the one canceled contract would have made her beyond the amount she invoiced at the end. When weighed against the value of her mental health and the emotional toll a lawsuit can take, it might not be worth litigating.

      However, it might well be worth a few hundred dollars to sit down with an attorney to talk about whether it would be worth it to send a cease and desist letter which might make note of the tortious interference with that one relationship.

      1. EPLawyer*

        the point about mental health is key. Sure she COULD. But then she would have deal with these weirdos more. They could depose her and spend the entire deposition arguing about why she doesn’t support QAnon. Also, the case will take a while to get through the courts.

        Sometimes its worth it to put yourself through all that. Not in this case. Completely cutting off and moving on is the best option. Living well is the best revenge — along with a calendar apparently.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          The one thing about lawsuits that gives me cause to pause is that lawsuits do indeed stretch bad situations out even longer. It’s like being caught in a trap, you cannot get out of the moment and must relive it over and over.
          I was chatting with a lawyer about a case one time. He indicated it could stretch out for years. I said the plaintiff could end up really ill. The lawyer said, “The plaintiff WILL end up very ill, that is how these stories go.”
          It’s like we have to pick between our mental/physical well-being vs being compensated for a wrong doing.

          In OP’s setting one question I’d have to ask is what legal conclusion would satisfy you the most here.

          1. Kevin Sours*

            One defamation case I’ve been following has been going on for I think three years now and may be another year before the appeals finish. It wracked up over a quarter million in legal fees (maybe closer to half a million with the appeals) in legal fees for the defendants which will be paid by the plaintiff. This didn’t cover the entire amount billed by the defense lawyers (and we don’t know how much the plaintiffs billed). This was resolved at a relatively early stage in the process and did not go to full discovery or trial.

            1. Sometimes It's Best to Walk Away*

              The company I co-own was once sued for close to a million dollars by someone with a case about as strong as the QAnon board member in this letter. It was unlikely he could win, but the anxiety, sleepless nights, and damage to my physical health (I have a serious medical disorder which flares up with stress) made it not worth fighting. We ended up settling with him before it went to trial, and the amount he pocketed as a result of his nuisance suit ended up being only a fraction of our legal bills. We lost about $200,000 thanks to costly lawyers at two firms (the first ones botched things but the second firm was fantastic).

            2. Eliza*

              I’m pretty sure I know the case you’re talking about, and yeah: even in a relatively open-and-shut case, the defendants are going through a long court process and have faced a *lot* of online harassment on top of that.

        2. Public Sector Manager*

          I agree. I have these discussions with my wife all the time. She’ll say, “that person should sue.” And I keep telling her there is a difference among having the ability to sue and having damages, proving damages, getting a judgment, and then finally, collecting on the judgment.

          I wouldn’t waste a couple of hundred dollars on sitting down with an attorney. Since OP got paid for the work that was done, OP’s damages would be for (1) any other clients who canceled (which appears to be none) and (2) what OP could have earned had weirdo McGee saw OP’s work through to the end.

          Just to get the complaint filed, it’s going to require OP to relive everything the OP has already dealt with and processed (both in living through the events and dealing with these issues with OP’s therapist). Then as EPLawyer said there is going to be discovery if the OP’s damages are not within the jurisdiction of a small claims court. Then waiting for a spot on the court’s calendar in the middle of a pandemic, and then sitting through trial. Pre-pandemic, in my county, it was taking cases 12-18 months just to get to trial. OP wouldn’t get resolution on this until late 2023. And then OP would have to collect on the judgment, which is a whole other issue.

          I couldn’t agree more with EPLawyer. Living well is far more satisfying and worth more than a judgment on this issue.

      2. BlueKazoo*

        Not my area either but I agree the issue here would be proving damages. If it sank her business then yes, definitely pursue it. But that isn’t the situation here. Litigation drags on and on and it can become a Moby Dick type quest – I’ve seen it. It sounds like the LW has moved on and is doing well (all things considered).

    3. Temperance*

      Honestly, this is probably a case where OP would do best to move on and focus on working with non-nutjobs. She theoretically could win, but I wouldn’t want to mess around with a bunch of Q-Anon nutjobs and deal with the huge amount of personal attacks and threats from rabid Qers over what little money would come from it.

      1. Excel-sior*

        Came here to say just this. A cease and desist letter might work with a well adjusted, for want of a better word “normal” person, bit then it probably wouldn’t have been necessary in the first place. Everything I’ve heard of Q-anoners leads me to believe that if anything, a C&D letter would have exactly the opposite of the desired effect.

        1. Jean*

          “Everything I’ve heard of Q-anoners leads me to believe that if anything, a C&D letter would have exactly the opposite of the desired effect.”

          Yup. Those dipshits would use it as validation that (((they))) are sIlEnCiNg tRuTh

        2. MM*

          YUP. It would likely become evidence for the OP’s involvement in The Great Conspiracy. Not worth poking the hornets’ nest again.

    4. Kevin Sours*

      Not a lawyer but followed some similar situations online and … probably not. Tortious interference requires a tort. And it’s not clear what tort was committed. Defamation is iffy because “unprofessional” is a matter of opinion and opinion can’t be the basis for defamation. The fact that the opinion is batshit is legally irrelevant. The closest I can come is “opinion based on undisclosed facts” which can be the basis for defamation in some cases and I’m not very versed in the details there.

      But it seems like the sort of cases that gets lawyers paid.

    5. Observer*

      I’d e surprised if she had a case. After all, the Board member did not lie. The OP does NOT believe in the Q conspiracies. And she will NOT try to attract or cater to the crowd that does. Nor is this a secret. So what’s the claim? No lies, no secrets spilled, just sharing of a personal opinion.

      To be honest, unless the OP really, really NEEDED the job, she’s better off this way. The client claimed that she’d shown “her true colors.” Well, that goes in both directions – HE also showed HS true colors. And if the EA’s email is any indication, the Q stuff is reflective of the whole not just a quirk or outlier for an otherwise reasonable person.

    6. OP of this Letter*

      I’m not sure if I’d have a case or not, but I would not pursue one regardless. My mental health is worth far more to me than what stood to be earned on that contract (high five-figures, with nearly certain renewal for a higher amount, and one of the anchors of my consulting business).

      1. JSPA*

        You now know that your other clients are people you want to be associated with…while the lost client is someone whose mouth you don’t want your name in (nor his in yours). Rough way to find out, but a good outcome, all the same.

      2. Observer*

        I think you are wise. This would not be an easy ride. And even the professional fallout could be bad. At minimum it would be likely to distract you from better opportunities.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    Taking this as a learning experience, what we have learned is that there is a not-insignificant faction within your field who are (1) crazy, (2) vindictive, and (3) good at hiding (1) and (2), at least for a while. This is very good to know, as this knowledge enables you to watch for it when considering future business.

    1. EggyParm*

      This right here. You’ll be able to spot the red flags sooner and back out quickly.

      I just want to also give you a shoutout OP for even having to deal with this pot of crazy stew. You’re the rockstar in all of this!

    2. Texas*

      I think it’s more that a faction of the American public is all three of those things rather than it being specific to LW’s field. (Though I wish the “Q theory” people were far more limited instead!)

      1. Teacher, Here*

        You’re definitely right that a faction of the American public is all three, but as someone who has done some volunteering in a child-services adjacent area, the overlap is STRONG there. Legitimate child-trafficking nonprofits often can’t avoid running into Q conspiracy theorists these days.

        1. Kat in Boots*

          This. You’d like Child Services to be staffed by eminently sane and reasonable people. In my (admittedly somewhat limited, but still first-hand) experiences, the opposite is much more likely to be true.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          It brings to mind the “pastel Q” phenomenon, where women in particular are targeted through seemingly wholesome health and wellness “influencers.” “Save The Children” is one of the lures, because who doesn’t want to save kids from being trafficked? Only it’s a front for Q, not for a legitimate anti-trafficking, child welfare type organization.

          1. JSPA*

            Remember Lance Armstrong hulking out at people in the cycling community who dared to question him, and accusing them of not hating cancer (and being skanks, and all sorts of other unsavory imputations)?

            When someone pulls a “clearly you love cancer / are pro-child abuse / hate being [your shared nationality] / probably kick puppies when nobody is looking,” they are warning you, “I’m a gaslighting sack of cr@p with a lot to hide.” No matter how many other people are eating out of their hands, it’s time to steer clear, with no further regrets.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Yes and no. Certainly a substantial fraction of the American public are crazy, but they mostly are pretty bad at hiding it. And more to the point, Q is a very specific form of craziness that that relates, not in a good way, to child victim services. So working in that field requires special attention to the Q version of craziness.

    3. MB*

      OP’s charity experience being in child services makes running into two Q-obsessed non-profit execs even more disheartening, as Q Anon has done horrible things to co-opt “child trafficking” in the discourse

      1. Anonononononymous*

        That’s because the people behind QAnon don’t actually give a shit about actual child trafficking. They’re just using false accusations to try to torpedo people whose politics they don’t like. I mean seriously, that pizza place DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A BASEMENT!!!

        Sorry. I kinda had a moment there. I work in a child services agency. So this is kind of a thing for me.

        1. Observer*


          Actually, *I* didn’t see any such pictures, because real ones don’t exist. But this is what I was told very vehemently by someone. The person who told me this did actually concede that nevertheless going into the pizzeria during lunchtime and trying to shoot it up in an attempt to rescue the kids that were supposedly being held there was not such a good idea.

          I avoided talking anything verging on politics with this person after that. And we haven’t been in the same space for quite a long time at this point, so it’s been easy to avoid it.

        2. GreyjoyGardens*

          Then there are the people who “call the FBI” (whether or not they really do) on sites like Archive Of Our Own because “ch*ld p*rn” is hosted there. Which it isn’t, no, your Harry/Draco fics don’t count. The FBI has actually had to say “please don’t call us about fictional material, it wastes our time going after real abuse cases.”

          1. Anonny*

            I’ve definitely seen an uptick in spurious, unfounded accusations of paedophilia. A lot of those accused are queer or Jewish, and often advocate for things like comprehensive sex ed, vaccines (apparently wanting to immunise children is ‘taking an interest in children’s bodies’), and teachers etc preserving a child’s confidence and not telling parents that the kid is gay, trans etc. It’s deeply concerning.

            1. GreyjoyGardens*

              Today I Learned that the lady who gave me a flu shot was taking an unseemly interest in my upper arm. /s

              It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious and, yes, deeply concerning on a public health level. (And the accusations of “p*dophilia” lobbed so indiscriminately give off “boy crying wolf” vibes. Real cases of real abuse will be discounted because people will say, “ok, is it a legitimate accusation or did someone write a racy fanfic again, or had the temerity to be queer in public, or something?”)

      2. Artemesia*

        I have always just assumed that people obsessed with Q type pedophilia are in fact pedophiles who are thrilled to get to wallow in this continuously.

  6. Stay-at-Homesteader*

    Seconded. I’m sorry you had to deal with this, but, dang, you dealt/are dealing with it beautifully.

  7. Ashkela*

    Oof, my spawn point is one of those and last year went through her list of folx that she spends money with – from her Girl Scout cookie dealer’s mom to her hair stylist to her favorite clerk at her local grocery store – and challenged them to admit to being into that. When they all (rightly) refused, she tried to get them fired and badmouthed them all over town. I’d already cut her out of my life before that, but my sister lives near her and heard about it… and went behind telling the folx that she was sorry and doing her best to smooth things out with employers and things.

    So glad you got out OP!

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Do-si-dos are but the gateway drug. The real menace are the Thin Mints. I tell ya, ONE bite of ONE Thin Mint and next thing you know you wake up face down in a pile of crumbs and are mugging old ladies in an alleyway to maintain your box-a-day habit.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          A friend of mine married a Finn, the two often coming to the US for visits. One visit he was introduced to the Thin Mint. He opened the package with a dubious look, took a tentative nibble, declared in his adorable Finnish accent that it was not bad, and before you knew it had eaten the entire sleeve. We explained to him that it is entirely normal to do a line of Thin Mints.

          1. allathian*

            I’m also a Finn, and I understand. We don’t have quite the same scouting traditions, because the vast majority of troops are unisex and there’s only one national scouting organization, and our scouts sell advent calendars rather than cookies (although that’s changing because the number of non-Christian scouts is increasing and our scout promise/oath no longer has any references to a deity). So I’ve never eaten Girl Scout Thin Mints, but I can indulge in After Eight chocolates (thin mint dark chocolates) until I feel sick. That’s why I limit myself to two boxes at Christmas.

            1. BeenThere*

              After Eights are a 1000% better than Girl Scout Thin Mints

              I do feel sorry for my American colleagues that are convinced I’ll love Girl Scout cookies but I was raised on Tim-Tams, you just can’t complete.

      1. Carolyn*

        I assume mother – a spawn point in a video game is where you come back to life (or are “born”) after dying

      2. Also Confused*

        In gaming, it’s the place where you restart from after dying. Since they’re referencing a person, I’m guessing this is a parent?

        1. Sam*

          It’s also the place you start from at the beginning of the game, which makes a bit more sense. Technically in a lot of games it’s a renamed re-spawn point after you die. (Which is not a distinction anyone normally nit picks, I’m just trying to help the comment make sense!)

      3. Ashkela*

        My mother. She has done a lot of things that has led to me not referring to her as such anymore. Since I was a C-section, the Tumblr joke about not being birthed, but removed is stuck in my head. Hence ‘spawn point’.

      1. Dr. Nick*

        From context, I believe Ashkela’s “spawn point” is their biological mother. Perhaps similar to calling one’s biological father their sperm donor?

      2. Ashkela*

        My mother. She has done a lot of things that has led to me not referring to her as such anymore. Since I was a C-section, the Tumblr joke about not being birthed, but removed is stuck in my head. Hence ‘spawn point’.

      1. Ashkela*

        My mother. She has done a lot of things that has led to me not referring to her as such anymore. Since I was a C-section, the Tumblr joke about not being birthed, but removed is stuck in my head. Hence ‘spawn point’.

  8. KimberlyR*

    Holy crap, these people are really just…not right. I can’t believe one of the references was also on board crazy train. Good for you, LW, for getting the help you need and working towards a better place mentally! And good luck with your NICU graduate-sending continued good health to them!

  9. Hex Libris*

    I’m so glad you have and are seeking good sources of support. Having a brand new baby (never mind a NICU baby!) strains so many of our resources in really profound ways.

    And boy, having that person out himself as a Q believer to the point where he was willing to cut ties with someone whose work was excellent enough to provide references for… that’s an association you certainly don’t need, and someone who’s going to keep shooting his organization in the foot.

  10. Meep*

    Well, this just confirms for me that QAnoners are a hateful bunch of cultists all around. At least you have a reference to NOT use moving forward.

  11. idwtpaun*

    Since the board member was devious enough not to reveal their views to the other 5 references, I’m curious to know how they and the 6th reference recognized each other as fellow Q-cultists. Do you think there’s a secret sign? A codeword? It is disturbing that people who sincerely believe in something so divorced from reality can fly under the radar with clients and other associates.

    And just to make sure I say so explicitly: I’m so proud of how you handled everything, OP!

    1. Lance*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the ‘political beliefs’ comment sparked a response from the (ex-)reference to dig in further, and find someone who shared their (horrible) beliefs.

    2. Lobsterman*

      Qbaggery is complicated enough that it’s easy to drop a reference that a nonbeliever wouldn’t catch.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        In-group dog whistles are ubiquitous, and usually innocuous, and often unconscious. Most of the time it is stuff like using a turn of phrase from your favorite show, outing you to fellow fans of the show. I spent twenty years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I have moved on to other things, but I will occasionally be talking with someone about something entirely unrelated and some expression they use makes me ask if they are in the SCA. I don’t claim 100% accuracy, but it is pretty close.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      This is the thought I had. I’m grateful to the five sane references, and honestly being shot of the QAnnon guy is in the long run a good thing. I just wish the QAnnoners would crawl back into whatever cave they were living in before.

    4. pancakes*

      The letter doesn’t suggest there was a lot of secrecy around this, let alone devious secrecy. To the contrary, “[a]lmost as soon as I sat down, this client started discussing QAnon in earnest and just…laid into me. It became extremely clear that he, too, was a supporter/believer/whatever and that he and the board member had likely had an extensive chat about those of us who aren’t.”

      1. idwtpaun*

        I was going off this quote: “The fifth had a lot of questions for me, and I had to clearly spell out what the potential client had said to me before they understood”. To me that implies the board member called the references and didn’t say, “OP disrespected the great and powerful Q,” but rather hid behind “OP is intolerant and discriminated against our organization”-style language specifically because they wanted to dupe other “non-believers” into siding with them.

        I’m making assumptions, of course, and probably “devious” was too strong a word, although I meant to be a little funny by using it.

        1. OP of this Letter*

          Yes, this. He absolutely did not out himself in any way to the other references. And because logic was out the window with #6, there wasn’t really an opportunity to ask how he knew. But it’s one mystery that’s been bugging me! I think Richard Hershberger above has the best explanation.

          1. coffee*

            I think Richard is bang on the money, and I also wonder if the QAnon community is, internally, setting up its members to behave in this way. This would lead the two of them to be expecting this behaviour and it not being at all mysterious to them.

          2. Thornus*

            There are enough code words that that’s probably how it was done. It could have been as simple as “We laid out a plan we would like to see OP implement, and OP didn’t trust in the plan.” Give a slight pause right before “trust in the plan,” and it’s enough to encourage other code words linking to QAnon while sounding innocuous enough to refer solely to just internal strategies.

  12. CatCat*


    I hope you billed him for your time at the in-person meeting he called.

    Glad you aren’t working for that nutjob anymore. Good riddance.

    1. Aldabra*

      Ooh that’s what I was just about to say! If this ever happens again, stop them at the beginning and say “from this point forward my billing rate increases to $500 an hour (or whatever is a lot in your world) then you can sit there and enjoy making money while being yelled at!

      1. OP of this Letter*

        Brilliant! I wish I had thought of that. I didn’t even bill for the meeting because I just wanted to be paid and be done with it, and I figured he’d balk at that even though it would have been completely reasonable.

  13. Deanna*

    I’m sorry you have such as bad time with this company. They sound like a bunch of lunatics and you are better off without them

  14. AnonInCanada*

    Excuse me while I pick my jaw off the floor. What the bleep have these people been smoking? Are they still in Dallas waiting for JFK Jr. to show up?

    I’ve read enough about them and their conspiracy theories to make me wish they can be forgotten, except the fact some of them can be dangerous. Thankfully you’ll now be able to distance yourself from the crazy and you did get paid for what work you did for them. Don’t let them take up space in your head. Be free from the cray-cray and know you’re a much better person than they are.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I did hear recently that there were still some QAnon people in Dallas, waiting. Can’t confirm, but I do believe its possible.

      1. DallasbutnotJR*

        It’s true. I’m in Dallas and my husband works downtown near city hall. He sees them all the time.

        1. Stitch*

          They’re starting to talk David Koresh stuff. I think it’s only a matter of time before there’s some serious deaths linked to this stuff.

          1. pancakes*

            There already have been. The guy who killed his own children (Matthew Taylor Coleman) is one example. It’s a bit out of date now, but the 2020 article by Lois Beckett titled “QAnon: a timeline of violence linked to the conspiracy theory” is a pretty good collection of others.

          2. InsufficientlySubordinate*

            We were at a convention at the Dallas hotel (masked) many of them were/are staying at, and several our people got harassed about using the hand sanitizer stations, and in the elevator about the usual nonsense (mask-wearing), until the hotel cracked down after the organizer complained.

      2. pancakes*

        There are lots of publications that report on this stuff. Being there in person isn’t necessary to confirm.

    2. Stitch*

      So I was in a bookstore just down the street when that guy shot up Comet Ping Pong over similar conspiracy stuff. I was just trying to buy Christmas presents for my nephew and was totally freaked out (the block locked down). These people are completely totally dangerous.

  15. animaniactoo*

    Man, LW. I just want to give you a hug and say there’s no way to always avoid having crazy affect us – emotionally, professionally, etc. But you have come out of it well and my personal takeaway – at least that particular crazy was only present with ONE client. One, given our current climate, seems optimistically small to me. (Maybe I need a mental/emotional recalibration right now?)

    Congrats to you and your husband, enjoy your kiddo, gl with everything.

  16. CR*

    I remember vividly how I felt the first time I got fired (also because of a crazy board member!). I have never considered myself a particularly “high achiever” (since I work in the non-profit field), but I truly felt like my career and my life were over and that I was worthless. I really emphasize with you, OP. It was so devastating. I’m glad you are doing better.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One of the first jobs I ever had fired me. It was a crappy place with crappy management. It finally went under years later. The same manager tried to hire me back the following year (seasonal work). It was so freeing to say NO.
      But yeah, it rocked my boat at the time. Overall, it had zero impact on my ability to get jobs.

      Take heart in what his employee told you, OP. She knows first hand what is going on. It was very kind of her to send you an email. It will take time but this guy’s beliefs will not serve him well as he feels free to alienate person after person. It is very likely that others around you know him and know where things are at. These people will just shrug off the whole firing and be totally fine working with you.

    2. OP of this Letter*

      Thank you for this understanding! I know it sounds a bit nuts to put any stock into what this person thinks, but it was just a very jarring experience. Also, you can be a high achiever and in the non-profit field! :)

      1. Boof*

        Nooooo it doesn’t matter how crazy having someone tear you apart to your face and reject you (even for completely stupid reasons) is going to hurt bad, particularly if you’re blindsided. We’re just social creatures we’re designed to want to get along with others*.
        *various exceptions apply

      2. JSPA*

        Psychology, memory, awareness, esteem–those things don’t switch on and off like a light switch. (Well, they do for some people…but that’s considered a flag for damage or dysfunction, not a common state of being.)

        You had an entrenched image of him as a reasonable person, a valuable client, and someone whose opinion mattered. The rejection hit before your brain could possibly have laboriously reset those defaults.

        Of course it hurt! If you wanted proof that you’re functioning essentially normally–that goes in the “confirmation” column.

      3. Eliza*

        There’s an old quote I remember that goes something like “The most respected man in the world still cannot be completely unaffected upon learning that he is despised by a street urchin.”

        Mind you, I’d rate the average street urchin’s opinion more highly than this guy’s, but the concept still applies.

      4. Ellie*

        Hey, I had some nutter pull his car in front of mine, block me in, get out of his car and start screaming, rip the side mirror off of my car with his bare hands, and then drive off into the night… I didn’t know him from Adam. Hadn’t done a thing to attract his attention, no bumper stickers, nothing. It rattled me for days. Intellectually, I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong (and why would it matter if I had? He was so over the top), but we’re hardwired to get upset when people scream at us. You’d have to be hard as nails not to be.

    3. ferrina*

      Yes! I was technically laid off (new dept head was restructuring the team and had no need for my skills), but it shook me really hard. And that wasn’t even close to a pandemic, and there was no baby involved! It really can take some deliberate rebalancing.

      Thank you for the update, LW!

  17. Meghan*

    Bravo, OP. What an odd and stressful journey. Glad you’re through it. It can be helpful when the trash takes itself out, but it sucks that it was so harmful to you, your business, and your health.

  18. No Shame in Crying*

    I was fired from a job once. It was completely mortifying, even though I had an inkling it might happen. I sobbed uncontrollably. Everyone involved knew EXACTLY why I was crying and was very gracious about it (both the firing and the crying; one boss even gave me a hug). You handled yourself extremely well, OP, and let that embarrassment go- crying in that situation is understandable. (I’m not saying that in every situation crying at work is okay- just that in extreme circumstances, it’s fine not to be embarrassed about it.)

    1. Ex consultant*

      I agree. I got fired from a position well into my career, and I walked out of the meeting in tears before it was even over. Then when a very kind colleague came to my office to see if I was okay I burst into tears again in front of him (he backed out of my office like Homer Simpson into the bushes). I was so embarrassed; I don’t cry easily at all. But it’s totally understandable. I’m not exactly a high achiever and the job really wasn’t a great fit for me, but I felt genuine grief that I had to process and it took a long time. I did heal, though, and have long since moved on to a great job. I wish OP healing and happiness.

    2. OP of this Letter*

      Mortifying is the perfect word! I’m sorry you went through this, too, though I’m glad you at least dealt with some gracious people.

      1. No Shame in Crying*

        To clarify: it was mortifying to be fired, not necessarily the crying, because, like I said, everyone was nice about the situation. I also was not used to being reprimanded and had never been fired before; I even had glowing reviews from this company. It was a one time incident that got me fired; it’s been almost 9 years, so I’m behind it personally and professionally, but it shook my confidence and even today, I still get pangs of paranoia in some situations.

        I don’t want to “normalize” crying in the workplace, but at the same time, I don’t want it stigmatized- I strongly feel that crying is a form of communication and if a coworker or employee is crying, especially when you know it’s work related, after that person has calmed down, it’s worth talking to them about why they couldn’t verbalize how upset by that situation they were.

  19. bluephone*

    “I’ve recalibrated my work/life balance and am actively working on why my identity is so wrapped up in being a high-achiever.”
    That’s great to hear and I’m sorry it all went catty-wampus but seriously: why are you so upset over losing the “respect” of a clearly insane and stupid person? Be glad you no longer have to deal with him in any capacity, lest his delusions and stupidity eventually rub off on you, and move on with your life.

    1. StellaBella*

      Came here to say this to the OP. These people do not deserve your respect at all, they are insane cultists who, I hope, one day wake the heck up to reality. Well done overall OP and good luck in your future.

    2. Jacey*

      As someone else who deals with anxiety, I’d guess it’s not a conscious, reasoned choice on the OP’s part to be upset by these people. Plus, being berated by someone, regardless of how wrong they are, feels awful in the moment.

      1. pancakes*

        Right, but at some point trying to both-sides a topic like this should involve conscious, reasoned choice. My reading was that the letter writer asked herself, “Was I actually close-minded because I couldn’t ‘see the other side’?” after she was well out of the meeting, not just during the horrible moments this guy was berating her.

        1. PT*

          Also because a lot of us are taught to be Good Students and then Employees which usually means doing what we’re told and what makes our bosses happy, even if whatever that is is stupid (like participating in theme days or ice breakers or filing papers by their color instead of what’s printed on them.) So when being a Good Employee is completely incompatible with Doing What Makes Your Boss Happy because your boss is incompetent, a bigot, a nutjob, abusive, negligent, or corrupt, because you are a conscientious person, you still feel as if you did something wrong, because you’re “in trouble” at work. Even if you objectively did the right thing.

          1. pancakes*

            That was more or less my point, that a retrograde mindset isn’t mutually exclusive with anxiety. It’s a separate problem in itself. I want to add, too, that those of us who weren’t encouraged to adopt these views were also taught to be good and conscientious students and employees. We weren’t raised by wolves, or in the proverbial barn. The mindset that unthinking subservience and eagerness to please are “good” really doesn’t need to be more normalized than it already is!

        2. Jacey*

          I agree with you that there is a need for conscious reasoning! But I think the OP wasn’t in a place to do that when the thought about “were they right” was crossing their mind. Even if it wasn’t in the moment of confrontation, OP was still dealing with anxiety influencing their thoughts and feelings. I often find myself holding two totally opposed views at the same time: the calm, reasoned view I know is aligned with reality, and the terrified, anxiety-driven mess of a view I feel in my gut.

    3. PNW Forester*

      It’s not rational and that’s why the OP recognized it and is working on it in therapy. As a similarly anxious human, I COMPLETELY empathize with the OP in this situation as I’ve been in situations where I shouldn’t be upset about losing the respect of someone who doesn’t deserve it, but I just am, anyway, and it takes some work to deal with that. OP is doing great.

      1. Observer*

        This. I’m not personally highly anxious, but I’ve got several people in my life who are.

        The OP recognizes that this is not rational and is doing some good work from what she says. I say bravo to her for recognizing it and getting the help she needs.

      2. OP of this Letter*

        Thank you! Yes, it’s absolutely an anxiety-based response and I am very grateful for the therapist who has helped me so much. Man, I love therapy.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      There’s also an element of powerlessness here. Firing can cause us to suddenly remember all the ways we can be vulnerable to what is going on around us. It can be raw and jarring.
      It’s a moment in life but not all of life… at the time of firing though, it can feel like our whole world just collapsed.

  20. Sparkles McFadden*

    Sounds to me like you did extremely well in a tough and crazy situation.

    I think you are being too hard on yourself for not seeing red flags. Folks like this client have been wearing their disguises for a very long time. They’re all thrilled that they can now be openly vile, so they’re spewing years of stored up hatred all over anyone and everyone, trying to punish other people for being kind, caring and not angry…or something. I don’t know as they make no sense to me at all.

    Best of luck!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      There’s also the fact that people rub off on each other. The old saying, “watch out who you hang out with.” Angry people can infect others with anger.

    2. ferrina*

      It sounds like the LW knows that. I know the dichotomy waaaaay too well- your brain knows that you had no conceivable way of knowing, but your guilt makes you blame yourself. It can sometimes be an unconscious way of trying to wrest back control of an incontrollable situation- “next time this won’t happen because I’ll know how to stop it!”, rather than “wow, that really sucks, and that could possibly happen again.”
      Really, the take-away should be “wow, that person is really something else, and I missed that because I am sane and rational, and I do not speak Conspiracy.”

    3. Ellie*

      Yes, red flags are easy to see in retrospect, but spotting them in advance is really tricky. Some horrible people are really great at compartmentalizing their issues, so unless you say or do something that trips into them, you’re not going to know.

    4. RB Purchase*

      I also want to note that sometimes the realization that you were “fooled” into believing someone was a reasonable professional, only to realize at a very tense moment that you were totally wrong, can also be extremely jarring and harmful on your mental health. People like this can make you question your own, real, reality and that might also be a reason OP had such a hard time getting over this firing!

      But you aren’t stupid or foolish for believing someone you have a professional relationship with to be a reasonable professional! I totally agree with Sparkles – OP might be a little too hard on herself!

  21. Not a Name Today*

    I’m so proud of the OP for handling this situation in the most professional way possible! (not counting the calendar, but in the world of revenge, that is fair)
    It can be difficult to come to terms with the reality of the working world. There are CEO’s and powerful executives that have failed up into their positions. Either they have nothing but charisma, or they have friends that are putting them in strategic roles to benefit the collective. I’ve seen vile, violent, fraudulent, repulsive people in powerful roles and it kinda breaks my reality to understand how the world can let them succeed.
    These people feed off of making people suffer, and they succeed by pushing people down. Dear OP, you did nothing wrong and these monsters would have found another reason to abuse you if the Qanon thing didn’t emerge. I hope you can find peace in knowing that you are talented and these villains attacked you because you have integrity and they knew they could not control you. You are the hero in this story.

  22. Dinger*

    > How could I not have seen (invisible) red flags with this client?

    this is so true, sadly. people you never thought ill of turn out to be infected with this insanity and it’s such a shock.

    1. Olivia Mansfield*

      I have a former coworker who is way off the deep end in the Q-anon stuff. I worked with her a few years ago, and I knew she was moderately conservative, and I saw that she had a tendency to get waay bent out of shape about changes . . . but I don’t think I would have foreseen that she would become a total conspiracy wingnut. It makes sense (kind of?) in retrospect, but I wouldn’t have seen it coming.

  23. Thomas Merton*

    “I’m crying because I’m so sad that idiots like you have so much power in this world.”

    1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

      Oh lord, I try to avoid indulging in too much schadenfreude/feeling smart and smug when it comes to QAnon believers, but this quote made me snort. “But, when the prediction failed to materialize, on account of JFK Jr. having been dead for decades, many stayed on in Dallas in the hope of bearing witness to a great reveal that will never come.”

    2. pancakes*

      If the nut job’s EA has been waiting to see how it all unfolds before forming opinions about her boss or her work, she has bigger problems than a lousy job.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Millenarian cults have a very long history in the US. As do conspiracy cults and anti-intellectualism. Sadly, QAnon is nothing new.

  24. MrsThePlague*

    Honestly, in my mind I wouldn’t even consider this ‘being fired’. You were torpedoed by a completely unknown and unknowable outside force. Like, if you were driving down the highway, following all the rules, being an excellent driver, and some maniac t-bones you. It wouldn’t even a little bit be your fault, and even your insurance company would recognize that!

    1. B*

      I don’t know what industry OP is in, but when I hear “client” I think “customer.” Hard to be ‘fired’ by your customer. I get that rejecting a contractor or cancelling a work order can be analogous to being ‘fired’ in certain contexts. Just an odd way to look at it, IMO.

  25. Bookworm*

    My goodness, OP. I’m so sorry you had that experience but am glad you got out, got the support that seems to help and that you’re doing better. Thanks for the update!

  26. Sean*

    This is all kinds of crazy bananas, OP, and I’m glad you’re on the other side of it. My 2 cents that may or may not be of help: since you’re a consultant, try not to look at it as being fired — your business relationship was severed, which to me is a different category than firing an employee. It may be a difference without a distinction, but when I was freelance I had a few client relationships go south and I always looked at it more in that vein to keep myself from spiraling down that path. Either way, you’re better off without either of these whackos in your life, and I hope you and your family are doing well!

  27. Librarian of SHIELD*

    The last couple of years has taught me that there are people in the world whose good opinion is not worth having.

    Unfortunately, so many of us (paricularly women and AFAB folks) have been trained from a very early age to equate our own value with other people’s approval, so even when we hate everything this person stands for and don’t want anyone to associate us with their beliefs, it can still be a serious hit to the emotions and self esteem to lose someone’s approval.

    OP, you have handled this marvelously, and I’m so pleased that you and your spouse have been able to refocus on the relationships that truly matter. Please know that you’re not alone in your feelings about this, so many of us would have felt the same in your shoes and we all want you to be happy and healthy.

    1. Abogado Avocado*

      x 1 million!

      LW, please know you are amazing! Sounds like YOU fired the crazy client, not vice versa, when you told them you’d get them any unfinished work and an invoice ASAP. Sounds also like the crazy client wasn’t expecting anyone to stand up to their BS and may have been disappointed they didn’t get to continue to rake you over the coals because you weren’t “open” to their weirdo views. Librarian is right: there are people in the world whose good opinion isn’t worth having. This former client is among them.

  28. Wine Not Whine*

    So I’m going along reading this whilst eating my lunch (seriously, you’d think I’d know better by now, but it’s been a long week this morning) and mentally applauding how well you handled things. Yeah, wow, what a jerk, at least you got paid…
    And then the calendar.
    And now I’m wearing my lunch (dropped-fork splat) and wiping my streaming eyes after a soul-cleansing gust of belly laughs.
    Rock on, OP. You’re gonna do just fine.

  29. HolidayAmoeba*

    Good for you realizing that your anxiety was at play here. It can really drag you down in the moment when you don’t realize it.

  30. The Pied Piper*

    “My perfect employment record was tarnished!”

    Just came here to say your perfect employment record is intact. You got fired by a QAnon conspiracy theorist (I’m thinking other words, but I’ll leave it at that). I’d consider that an excellent mark in an employment record – you didn’t quit because you had no idea they were Q because it’s often kept under wraps, you didn’t keep working for said Q – you were determined to be not suitable to work with Q. That’s a compliment in my book – hell no, I’m not!

    1. Hei Hei, the Chicken from Moana*

      Also, I started as an assistant at a non-profit 25 years ago and am now only a senior mid-level manager. I am an abject failure by your standards but I don’t think you’d actually think that of professionally if you worked with me. TL;DR – give yourself some grace; which you have by addressing so many things. Hugs.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, you sound like a nice person. I seriously doubt you would tell a recently fired friend that their perfect employment record was tarnished. If you can’t say it to a friend, then you should be fair and not say it to you either. This is just a good rule of thumb for a lot of the crap we tell ourselves.

  31. JA*

    I used to work for one of these guys. He owned a consulting business and was to say the least, unprofessional. He could not help himself, he had to talk politics ALL DAY LONG. And frankly, some of it was outright sexist and racist! I was in more than one client meeting where he immediately brought up the election at the time and would say, “just whatever you do, do not vote for [name of whichever candidate he hated that week].” I was mortified every time and the clients were often uncomfortable.

  32. I'm just here for the cats*

    How did I miss the original letter?? I don’t think I could have forgotten it!

    OP I am so sorry that your one client turned out to suck and caused you to doubt yourself. I am glad that with your husband’s support and your therapist you are getting better and are able to see how utterly ridiculous they are being. I hope that you can laugh at this.

    Also, kudos for sending whatever you sent! That took guts. The only better thing would be if you signed up for some sort of magazine subscription in his name

  33. Something Anonymous*

    Letter Writer, you didn’t get fired! Do not frame it that way. The client relationship ended. If he outed himself that hard as a Q-bag, would you have used him as a reference in the future? He did you a favor by outing himself. It can be jarring, especially when you think you know someone, but be happy that client is gone.

    1. Ellie*

      Yes, you weren’t fired for your work, you were fired because you’re not QAnon. That’s not that different to being fired because you won’t sleep with your boss, or because you’re the only atheist on the team, or the only gay person, or a hundred other reasons. It’s not a legitimate reason to fire someone. Don’t think of it as a firing.

      1. allathian*

        Agreed. And while being fired as a vendor if you run your own business can sting if the client is a big one, few businesses have only one client, and at least your livelihood won’t be completely jeopardized by getting fired as a vendor, as opposed to getting fired by your employer. Of course it’ll sting a bit, but you won’t lose your salary (and especially health insurance if you’re in the US).

  34. Sam Yao*

    Yes, this. I recognize the exact tailspin LW describes, especially as mine is also closely tied to work. I am so impressed by LW being able to utilize all of the tools available to her, from scripts (I would never have remembered that on the spot, ESPECIALLY while crying!) to a good therapist. I think you’ll be just fine, LW.

    1. Sam Yao*

      And this was meant to be a reply to HolidayAmoeba’s positive comment on the LW’s working with her anxiety.

  35. Caaan Do!*

    I just want to add to everyone here saying you are awesome, and I wish you all the best with getting the anxiety under control again.
    Let’s hope the EA gets some valuable advice here too and escapes from that mansion of hornets.

  36. AsherCat*

    OP, I totally understand where you’re coming from. The only job I’ve ever been fired from a coffee shop job I had when I was 17 (I’m now 37), and it was over a misunderstanding. And it haunts me to this day! I also struggle with having my identity wrapped up in being a high achiever. I’m so glad that you were able to find a great therapist and work through these issues.

    Also your calendar gift is amazing, and I died laughing at that bit.

  37. Jingle all the way*

    Just here to say I’m impressed by how well you handled all of this.

    And I too used to be unbearably wrapped up in who I was as a high achiever at work, and had a nervous breakdown. Thanks to therapy, and recalibrating my perspective on my work, I am much happier and even more successful at work. So you too can do this!

  38. Dark Macadamia*

    This is WILD.

    I love the mental image of #5 being vaguely confused/skeptical, slowly coming to understand, and then just exploding with outrage.

    It sounds like you’ve managed the shock of this whole situation really well (that’s amazing you were able to recall and use a script while crying unexpectedly!), but keep in mind that the QAnon stuff is NOT normal, so it’s completely reasonable for you to not be on the lookout for it in your everyday business dealings. That red flag is waving so vigorously it’s hard to see.

  39. Renata Ricotta*

    Just want to say you handled this all perfectly and dodged a major bullet with the sixth reference, BUT I one million percent relate to feeling awful and demoralized and embarrassed by such an interaction, even if it is completely clear the other person was in the wrong and the whole situation was bonkers. I’m so glad you identified that as an anxiety response and not based on the reality of the situation!

  40. Malarkey01*

    Good for you for handling this so well and ridding yourself of a contact you really don’t want- even if it didn’t seem so in the moment. More importantly congratulations on your NICU grad! Sending the very best wishes!!

  41. PrairieEffingDawn*

    This update is amazing in so many ways but I wanted to mention to the OP that I am also the mom of a fairly new NICU-grad and empathize so much with the ripple effect of anxiety that comes with it! I am glad to hear you’re feeling better!

  42. Jacey*

    OP, you ROCK! Major congratulations on not only navigating a crappy, bizarre situation with a lot of grace, but also figuring out what role anxiety was playing in your reactions and doing the work to take control out of the anxiety’s hands and back into yours! Thanks so much for sharing your update, and happy holidays to you and your family :)

  43. Pam Poovey*

    I want to know what the calendar is, but I also don’t want LW to out her identity unnecessarily.

    1. Jean (just Jean)*

      We can have the same amount of fun by imagining the calendar ourselves and the Q-Anon hysterical response.
      – Royal Academy of Sciences?
      – National Academy of Sciences?
      – American Chemical Society?
      – ACLU? Mother Jones Magazine? Other assorted skeptics and/or rationalists? Various political parties?
      – Or, a calendar entirely devoted to the beauties of organic fertilizer…?
      Hee hee, ha ha.

  44. Mystik Spiral*

    Oh my, when I got to anything Q-Anon related being ““excellent, well-reasoned” strategies presented by board members” I almost laughed out loud right in the middle of my office. Holy crap.

    Don’t feel bad about missing red flags with this nutjob, OP, some of them are very good at hiding it in certain situations. My mom, while ultra conservative, is fine to talk to, and sometimes even about politics! But I had to hide her on Facebook because the stuff she posts there (forwarded memes usually) is so horrid I just can’t look at it if I want to have a relationship with her.

  45. Wait, is this a thing now?*

    OP- You’re amazing. I am an infrequent reader of this blog, so I missed your first letter and boy did I need to see this. I have gone through something recently that is a little similar. I”m not in the same field, but I also work in the nonprofit sector. A board member who is rumored to support QAnon recently targeted me because I had different take on a couple of initiatives (aligned with the majority of the nonprofit’s board). He defined our conflict as ‘political differences.’ He and some of his friends targeted me, tried to get ahold of my personnel records, and he even contacted the recruiter that placed me in this position to get ahold of my references (but fortunately did not get their numbers). I’m no longer with this organization, mostly because of this. Reading your letter and updates has given me some much needed perspective that this is, in fact, crazy behavior and I’d never judge someone for being subject to it. Also, the calendar idea is awesome.

  46. Goldenrod*

    Honestly, OP, I know it’s hard to see now but….not only should you NOT be ashamed of being fired, you should be PROUD of it!

    In this case, being fired is a badge of honor – and even more so because you handled it so well.

    You have not a single thing to feel bad about and deserve HUGE PROPS for handing such an insane situation so gracefully.

  47. generic_username*

    Bravo LW. It sounds like you dodged a bullet with the client who fired you (and honestly, if they hadn’t ended your contract during that meeting, you likely would have after giving the meeting some thought so I would barely even count it as being fired!)

  48. HugeTractsofLand*

    I’m so proud of you OP, AND aspire to be you! You sound like a rockstar, but I’m also glad that this crazy experience could lead to a better work-life balance. Take it easy on yourself, and just know that this pandemic has brought out the wackness in everybody…steady people are feeling abnormally shaky, and unsteady people are getting downright unhinged.

  49. Chauncy Gardener*

    “Oh, and I also anonymously sent a very…interesting novelty calendar to the board member who started all this”

    *chef’s kiss*

  50. Observer*

    I have to say that I have some sympathy with #5 reference. I probably would have reacted similarly a few years ago, and I know people who would react this way now. Not because of anything the OP did wrong, but because it’s just SO HARD to wrap your head around the lunacy underlying this. But once you are forced to recognize that this trash is REAL it’s extra infuriating because it kind of blows up your idea of a world in which people who are board members of respectable institutions are at least somewhat reasonable. So, you get that enraged reaction.

    1. OP of this Letter*

      I have 100% sympathy with Reference #5! Because the board member didn’t say what my “political agenda” was, #5 was thinking that *I* could be a Q supporter or other extremist. She said after that none of it made sense but she’d had some people in her personal life that had surprised her during these times with their views. I’m honestly more surprised at the other 4, who really did do as Alison predicted and just chalk it up to an unhinged person on the other end of the phone.

  51. Lab Boss*

    Out of six clients, one was a nutbag and one wanted to do some due diligence, but ultimately supported you. That means four out of six were so confident in continuing to work with you that they thought a negative phone call was simply laughable, not even worth the time to ask you for clarifications. That speaks pretty highly of you.

  52. The Smiling Pug*

    Yikes, I’m so sorry that you had to experience this, OP. However, I’m glad of the work-life balance that this brought you.

  53. Mayor of Llamatown*

    I heard a statistic recently that 15% of the country believe in Qanon (THIS IS BAFFLING TO ME).

    1 out of 6 is about 15%, so it seems like this was very representative of the makeup of the U.S.

    OP, you should be proud of how you handled an awful situation, and be glad you are rid of a terrible client. His loss.

    1. scribblingTiresias*

      If it helps you feel any better about it, some percentage of that number is probably ‘people who will say anything to make the phone surveyor shut up without hanging up’, trolls, and people who didn’t understand the question.

    2. OP of this Letter*

      Well that is just assinine! 15%?! I’m not sure why all this stuff keeps surprising me, but it does. THEY ARE AMONG US.

      And thank you!

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      In the early 2000s, I read a really useful blog post that listed the percentages of people who believed in various conspiracy theories and other wacky things. (This post focused on data from the US, but there would probably be similar results in any country.) The most popular theories (such as the moon landing) had about 25% and it went down from there. So I concluded that 15-20% or so of the population are always going to believe in any far-out theory, no matter what it is. And it’s not necessarily going to be the same people for each belief, though there’s always going to be some overlap.

  54. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW, I just want to add my voice to the chorus of “so proud of you! GO LW!” You are decompressing, getting therapy, spending time with Awesome Husband and Daughter, and in general doing the very best you can in getting over this mess.

    To have QBert’s assistant call you to basically apologize is the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t be surprised if QBert has a bad reputation more than he thinks. It super, duper, sucks to get fired and/or miss out on a job you loved and wanted, but no doubt he would have shown his true colors sooner or later. There are plenty of other jobs out there – assuming you are not in a super-niche field – and when you are ready, chances are you will get a job that’s even more awesome.

    Let me tell you about another piece of Bad Parental Advice ™ that comes down the pike (and a very good reason for many of us to keep parents on an information diet as far as work is concerned): “Getting Fired Is A Disgrace! A Shame! It’s Always Your Fault!” My own parents were “lifers” in their jobs, and since they were in education (Mom a teacher, Dad on the admin end) they had tenure. So to them, getting fired was The Worst, like only criminals get fired. I think a lot of parents who came of age in the 70’s and earlier feel this way and drill it into their kids that getting fired is shameful and bad. IT IS NOT. Yes, it’s shameful if you got fired for stealing from the company till, but if you got fired because QBert didn’t like your politics, well, that’s on HIM. You, LW, are as innocent as a lamb.

    “Getting Fired Means You Are A Bad Person” is bad parental advice along with “Just walk in and ask for a job” and “Show gumption” and all the other fun stuff Alison gets to hear about.

  55. OP of this Letter*

    Thank you all so much for the amazingly kind responses to my update! I am bookmarking this page and coming back to it whenever I’m feeling down about myself. I’m sincerely misty-eyed (and I really am not a crier, I swear!) by your support.

    I am going to try to respond to people individually while my little one naps, but I wanted to answer a few things I saw come up.

    This is the post I was referencing for the crying reaction: https://www.askamanager.org/2018/05/ive-been-crying-in-front-of-my-boss-are-phone-rejections-more-respectful-and-more.html. I said, “Please excuse my tears, this is just a physiological response to my frustration. I’m able to carry on the discussion.” Then I went right into logistics while taking some deeper breaths between sentences. I read Alison’s advice so avidly that most of her tips are at the ready for me! She’s saved me from so many potentially terrible situations over the years.

    I would sincerely LOVE to share what calendar I sent, but I think that would just be outing myself too much. Honestly, I wondered if I’d receive negative feedback for that piece, so it feels nice that it seems most people think it wasn’t TOO horrible of me.

    I’ll be here for a bit if anyone has questions!

    1. North Wind*

      Have to admit I googled “revenge calendar” and while I didn’t find much calendar-related, “revenge gifts” was an interesting rabbit hole to go down :).

      I do understand you keeping it to yourself, OP, really wise. Have a great holiday season.

  56. Falling Diphthong*

    LW, today’s xkcd cartoon is about how someone online criticized Megan’s taste in movies, and she kept coming back and dwelling on it, and then it turned out her critic was a murderer. But still! That he dismissed her taste in movies had really gotten under her skin.

    Your desire to have the conspiracy theorists recognize your rational points is totally human.

  57. Sharpieees*

    Apropos to everything and nothing…….what is happening to us? I’m understanding less and less about our world every day.

  58. learnedthehardway*

    OP – Try to focus on the 4 references who are sane, and the 1 reference who realized that you were correct.

    Also, please consider that while this was a horrible experience for you to lose this client, that it may very well have been a blessing in disguise. This kind of person is a nightmare to work for. Their own EA reached out to apologize for their nightmare boss. That really, really says something (VERY NEGATIVE) about the kind of person the EA supports, that the EA feels compelled to say something about them.

    I’m glad that you were able to get support for your shattered confidence, and trust that you will eventually realize that you are strong enough to weather these kinds of crazy setbacks.

  59. Interviewer*

    A friend of mine got married a few years to someone whose last name starts with Q. She now has a bunch of monogrammed things, and over the last year or so, people out in public have quietly complimented her – “love your t-shirt” or “great backpack” – or they’ll give her a knowing smile or a wink. The light bulb finally flickered, though, and she’s not wearing her Q stuff any more. She’s incredibly sad about it, but she does not want to give anyone the wrong impression.

  60. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Thanks for the update, OP.

    The thing that upsets me the most is the 4 references who just shrugged it off. Either they don’t see the whole Q thing as worrisome, or they have to deal with so many Q-adjacent types that their norms are off. Is the proportion of these loons higher in your geographic area, or in the nonprofit spheres that you work in?

    1. OP of this Letter*

      So my understanding is he did not divulge anything about QAnon in these calls. Which is why he made ME sound crazy–he wasn’t revealing his own crazy. He cited that I let my politics get in the way of my work without saying what “my politics” were. It was discussed upthread how the 6th guy might have come to realize it was QAnon, but I won’t ever know for sure! So basically, the first 4 references just heard an unhinged guy ranting and didn’t ever question my integrity.

      Someone else also mentioned upthread that the proportion of QAnon-ers in child welfare-adjacent fields is alarmingly high. I work with a broad range of specialties within the nonprofit sector, and this is my first experience with this sort of thing!

      1. Zona the Great*

        Oh I can’t tell you the number of classmates I had in undergrad studying Elementary Education who were open active racists. We lived and taught in a city and region that was very very diverse and the fact that these people were going to be my peers was tough to swallow.

      2. misty*

        could he have had not idea it was qanon related until you mentioned it?

        then he was all into it with the original message.

      3. JSPA*

        There doesn’t have to be a set call-and-response code.

        Could be as simple as saying “I followed the breadcrumbs” or “no coincidences, right?” or “I did the research” or “it just dropped” or any other phrase that’s completely normal, anodyne neutral to someone who’s not a Q insider.

        Hear what might be one; respond with another; repeat until you’ve confirmed you’re working from the same lexicon.

        (Those of us who pick up odd turns of phrase without understanding where they come from sometimes find ourselves in the twilight zone after we obligingly parrot the “right” pattern through sheer pattern recognition. Awkward. Possibly dangerous. To the point where I’m happy to forego the impression of watching the right TV shows, if it means I also don’t get mistaken for a fringe theorist by others of that ilk.)

  61. Taxidermybobcat*

    OP – just wanted to say…people deal with anxiety in different ways. Let’s compare and contrast:

    You dealt with the anxiety by having some self-awareness and working towards growth with trustworthy people.

    The as*hat that severed your working relationship dealt with his anxiety by living in total denial and willingly diving headlong into a dangerous cult, and violently verbally abusing people who disagreed with his position.

    I think you’re doing really, really well.

  62. OlympiasEpiriot*

    Actually, no, I didn’t remember this letter.

    Or my mind blanked it out.


    Just WOW.

  63. Oui Mango (dairy free)*

    We are living in a strange world during some extremely strange times. You did well, OP.

    Even the little pettiness of the calendar. *chef’s kiss*

  64. El l*

    Life is too short to work for people like the client who fired you, or the interviewer.

    They fear other people exploiting them…because that’s what they’d do if the benefit or their personal fear was enough. And they use well-adjusted language (“you’re closeminded”, “you let your politics dictate a response”) to convince themselves that you’re the bad guy or at least on their level, rather than grounded and sane.

    You could never have avoided a confrontation with either of them. It was only a matter of time.

    Best of luck!

  65. cwhf*

    Brava, OP. You displayed true heroism and class and living well is the best revenge.

    I would love to know what calendar that was…for a “friend.”

  66. Kevin Sours*

    While it’s hard to think about in the moment, I just want to highlight how abusers deliberate weaponize our basic decency and sense of etiquette against us. You can, and should, walk out of a meeting rather than sit there and take it on the chin. I know it’s rude, but they are counting on you not to be rude to allow yourself to be a target.

    I can’t speak to the realities of consulting and what you need to do to maintain clients, but once you’ve decided you can’t or don’t want to keep the contract what do you have to lose? Just say “I’ll send the final details via email and we can discuss them when you are willing to be civil” and walk.

    1. North Wind*

      This x1000.

      And I don’t think I would consider myself in a normal category of “fired” if I would end up firing the client myself (which after a conversation anything like that I would do). But even if you know you’re in the right it is really upsetting and confronting to be in that situation.

      I have fired a client for being abusive and it was very stressful, even though thankfully none of our conversations were in person. If I endured that face to face I’d be a bit shell-shocked viscerally even if intellectually I knew I was right.

      Huge kudos to OP for handling all this so well.

    2. B*

      Jean Paul Sartre: “Never believe that anti‐ Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.”

      (PS. Before anyone asks, Qanon is inherently anti-Semitic.)

  67. Mr. Random Guy*

    Since OP of this Letter can’t reveal it, I will imagine it as a My Secret Boyfriend Obama calendar. Yes, that is a real thing, and it’s what it sounds like: pictures of Barack Obama accompanied by phrases a boyfriend might text. OP, as someone who had a boss with wild political views, I can assure you that you will eventually laugh at these guys and their opinions of you, if you aren’t already. Kudos to you for your success with therapy (not always easy to do) and best wishes.

  68. LouAnn*

    I, too, had a stellar work record and my last toxic job pushed me over the edge. My boss had the news on in her car when we were on our way back from a lunch meeting where I told her a lot about why I was unhappy at work, and there was a story about a mass shooter on the radio. I said it was terrible, and that it behooved us as a society to find out what is going on in these people’s minds that would make them bring a gun to work. She interpreted that as I was unhappy at work and unless she found out why I was unhappy, I might do the same. I was called into HR for threatening workplace violence! It was horrible, just horrid, the worst thing that ever happened to me at work, to be thought of that way, and also fear of being fired, then blacklisted for being a danger to others. Good for you for finding the balance in life. It took me several years to get over all that happened to me at that crazy place.

  69. TIRED*

    There’s a joke in here somewhere along the lines of “5 out of 6 dentists recommend….” Because you’re always like, really? why is that 1 dentist refusing common sense? Bravo to the OP. And middle fingers to the Qcult.

  70. Andrea*

    “How could I not have seen (invisible) red flags with this client?”

    It happens. I just found out that the esteemed colleague I’ve closely worked with for a decade, whom I’ve always known as a decent and caring person, and for whom I have the utmost professional respect… is against the covid vaccine. Smugly so. Because it’s a matter of principle for him and it’s clear he thinks this makes him super interesting and edgy.
    So don’t feel bad or silly about it. It’s amazing what can fly under the radar…

  71. Nela*

    All is well that ends well OP, though I’m sorry you had to endure that terrible meeting :(

    Consultants and clients break off engagements all the time, for different reasons. It’s not a stain on your reputation or your perfect track record – this jerk did you a favor. Imagine having to continue working with him knowing about his crazy beliefs. You’d probably want to break that off anyway.

    I had a similar jarring situation years ago that ended with a shouting match. My therapist and my lawyer said to not look back on that manipulative, paranoid bully and to focus on new clients. I blocked him on all communications channels and went on to rock my career.
    In a few years time you will barely remember your embarrassment about being “fired”.

  72. Hapax Legomenon*

    It’s understandable that it feels horrible to be treated that way by a former client. But the fact that you are committed enough to truth and decency that you stood up against Qanonsense even though it caused this fallout for you is a strong recommendation to everyone who rejects that toxic delusion.
    Also, until I started looking for revenge-via-novelty-calendar options I had no idea there were so many humping wildlife calendars.

  73. MCMonkeyBean*

    Wow, what an ordeal, but I think you have handled this all really well.

    FWIW, I 100% would have cried in that meeting as well. This guy called you into his office just to yell at you and make horrible accusations! Even if he’s clearly in the wrong, that would pretty much always bring me to tears.

    It’s not the same thing but I spent a summer in college canvassing to raise money for the DNC and even though it was not one of the talking points the woman at the door just went off on me about abortion. I was at that time far too afraid of being seen as rude so I stood there and took it for a long time. At one point I was starting to tear up and she calmly said “oh, are you crying?” sounding kind of apologetic… and then just continued her rant. I finally mumbled something about needing to go talk to other people and then went and cried in my car for like 10 minutes until could pull it together enough to go knock on more doors.

    Even though, as others have pointed out, you really don’t want that guy as a client anyway and at least 4 people find you so valuable that they didn’t even question your integrity for one second when they got the deranged phone call–I totally understand why that meeting would rock your confidence. I am so impressed that you were able to do the hard work to get back to a good place mentally and to work on your work/life balance. I wish you and your family all the best!

  74. Anya the Demon*

    I’ll think I speak for everyone, when I say we all need to know what this novelty calendar was that you sent him!

  75. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP you can’t just leave us hanging like that! What on earth is the “Interesting novelty calendar”????

  76. Anonymous Bosch*

    Calling someone “close minded” for not being “open” to QAnon cr*p reminds me of those people who claim that anyone who is intolerant of racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, misogynists, etc., is a hypocrite for calling themselves an open minded or tolerant person.

    As the late Supreme Court Justice Jackson once wrote, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. In that vein, there is no reason to prove how tolerant or open minded you ae by hanging out with KKK members of QAnon nutballs.

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