“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
April 26, 2019- Brentwood, Tennessee
At 5:25pm, I squeezed Nathan’s hand as we made our way across the parking lot. I had traded my typical stay-at-home mom uniform of comfortable clothes for a dressy top and skirt. Silently, we crossed the now-empty courtyard toward the private doorway to the Human Resources office at Financial Peace Plaza. More than seven years had passed since I sat and waited for my spousal interview with Nathan’s then-potential employer whom I had hoped would offer my husband a job. This interview stood in stark contrast to the first.
That interview I was invited to; to this one, I invited myself.
It seemed only right that I would be there, since this company had been such a critical part of both of our lives. There was no way I was going to stay home. After almost 16 years of marriage, Nathan wasn’t surprised I was willing to walk in to the appointment uninvited. “Audacious” is how he described it. Nathan opened the door and we walked in together.
So many things had changed. What was the same, though, was my absolute confidence in Nathan. In 2011, I knew they would be foolish not to hire him. In 2019, I was convinced they were fools to let him walk away.
This is how I remember this scene. Nathan and I were ushered into the conference room together. Rick Perry, a long-time team member in the Ramsey Human Resources department, Director of Culture, took a seat diagonally across the corner of the massive conference room table. We took our seats. It was a large room, but I remember feeling like the table swallowed most of it. I placed my purse down. Next to me was Nathan. His hands held a small, simple, notebook. I jokingly referred to it as his magic book. It held scribbles on everything from sermon notes to work team meetings to unintelligible-to-me web developer jargon. Nathan carried his notebook in a leather case he made himself. Clean, understated, and functional. It didn’t look remarkable on the outside, but don’t let the appearance deceive you. The inside is invaluable: that magic book and Nathan. In my recollection, Nathan had another book on the table in front of him: EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches. Nathan disputes this. He says he left it at home.
He’s probably right. If it wasn’t there physically, we had it on our minds. Over the last week, both of us had re-read it and highlighted portions we found applicable to this current situation.
This one in particular was on my mind: “A simple principle we use to ask if, when making this decision, the move causes you to lie or hide the truth (which is a type of lying). That seems so obvious but when there is a large stressful situation that can be made to go away by sweeping it under the rug it is tempting to do so, even for those among us with the most integrity.” (Entreleadership, p 70)
I had highlighted this one as well. “If you discover a character flaw like an integrity problem or stealing, the team member has to leave immediately that day.”
If they were surprised to see me, they hid it well.
Armando Lopez, the Director of HR, greeted us warmly and sat next to us. We chatted like old friends as we wondered at how many years had passed since Nathan first was hired. I retold the story of how reading the EntreLeadership book had made me want to start my own business. “You should!” Rick encouraged me. There was a brief lull in the conversation, and then Armando guided the discussion toward the reason we were there on a Friday night at 5:30. The feeling in the room shifted from small-talk to serious. “There aren’t many names that cross my desk that surprise me,” he said, “But yours did, Nathan.” The sadness in his eyes looked genuine. He continued, “I have to ask, is there anything we could have done to avoid this outcome?”
Nathan and I looked at each other in bewilderment. I gestured widely and haltingly said, “This whole situation.”
Armando continued, “I ask because sometimes, as you know, we have information you aren’t aware of. Would it have helped to bring you both into a meeting with some more people and give you more information?”
I briefly exchanged a glance with Nathan and answered first, with no hesitation. “We’re confident we know the truth and that we’re making the right choice.” I looked at Rick and Armando, and back to Nathan and added, “I’ve never been more proud of my husband.”
Rick and Armando both quickly affirmed they, too, were proud of Nathan.
In retrospect, I wish I had pressed them on this. What exactly were they proud of? If the Human Resources team was proud of Nathan, why had Nathan been told by a Board member, Nathan “knew what to do. . .,” insinuating that Nathan’s questions of their handling of a situation meant he should leave? Armando’s words caused us to wonder if he knew all the details involved in Nathan’s resignation or if this was just one more attempt to confuse the facts.
Nathan weighed-in next. I wished he was more firm, but that’s not his style. He was gracious, but clear. He couldn’t stay. He shared several examples of culture shift and business decisions that made him uncomfortable. When he finished talking, Rick passed a paper to Nathan.
“A wise man wrote these words a long time ago.”
I read the words on that paper:
“My life is a gift, with which I serve the Giver, steward what is given— my family, talents, time— and guide others to recognize His immense creativity and generosity. Nathan Fritz 3/2/12”.
It was the mission statement Nathan had written during his first 90 days with the company. Rick continued, “I believe you’re following your mission.” He stood up, shook Nathan’s hand, and excused himself leaving Armando with us to go over the final paperwork. The words Nathan wrote were true, but we found out, after a conversation with another friend who had just resigned, that Rick had said those exact same words to him.
We found out later, Dave had stood before the entire company days after Nathan’s resignation and referred to people who had recently left as having no backbone and believing lies.
So, maybe those words shared at the exit interview weren’t as heartfelt as portrayed?
A handful of papers later and then it was time. Armando took us up to the third floor and buzzed us into the office area that had been deserted at the end of the work day. He shook our hands and wished us well. Then he turned, walked out the door, and left Nathan and I alone to gather what remained of his personal belongings and to say, “goodbye” to the empty workspace where he had worked for over seven years.
With just Nathan and I in the room, the only sound was the HVAC fans. Any other time, you wouldn’t hear them, but today their sound filled the room. I wandered around the room and took a few photos while Nathan wrote a web developer joke on the white board.
He moved a sign from his now-empty desk to John’s. “Nathan is not working on the refactoring”. I swallowed the lump in my throat as I thought about John who had sat next to Nathan for six years. Nathan was going to miss him. I would miss that for him. I prayed John would understand and that he would still want to be Nathan’s friend.
It felt like watching something die.
It felt sad and heavy like a funeral for someone who had died unexpectedly. I thought back to how we had taken a leap of faith when we accepted this job and how we were taking an even bigger leap with leaving it. When I later asked Nathan what he was feeling during this moment, he noted realizing how quickly his presence there would be erased. For over 7 years, he invested his best in this organization and it only took a few minutes to gather up his things, leaving no trace he was ever there. Leaving that note on the white board was one last attempt to say, “Nathan Fritz was here.”
There is something in all of us that desires to leave our mark on a place.
The truth is, even if Nathan’s name is rarely or never spoken again, his fingerprints are all over his former team. He left part of himself in the code he wrote. He left part of himself in the people still there. In a poetic twist, Nathan actually did leave something there. Instead of putting it in the canvas Aldi bag he brought to carry out his personal items, Nathan forgot that his ewok figurine was on John’s desk.
I had read an article when we were first contemplating our move to Tennessee. The author had interviewed someone who was in the middle of planting a new church. She said they were so far out on a limb with Jesus, but that the view was amazing. I’ve never forgotten those words and I’ve seen them ring true. There are some things you can see more clearly when you’re standing on that limb. Rick was right. Nathan was staying true to his mission. In EntreLeadership, Dave Ramsey writes, “Integrity also means consistency. If you react the same way every time in every similar situation, you don’t have to put your company values in a brochure, because your team sees them lived every day.”
I was proud of Nathan’s integrity. Sadly, we had come to believe this was not a value that was consistently embraced across the Ramsey organization.
A few minutes later, it was our turn to walk out the door. One more ride in the elevator. One more reminder of stated core values. One in particular stood out to me:
“Righteous Living. We believe character matters all the time.”
It’s a value we still believed, but had been heartbroken to suspect, some in leadership didn’t. We continued through the lobby, and then, for the first time, instead of walking out the “Team Member” exit, Nathan led us straight out the main doors.
We left behind a place that had been a home for us in many ways. It was the right choice. It was the hardest choice. Wade Mullen says, “Many people want to continue to enjoy what the abusive community produces– things like teachings, works of art, or services. By doing so, they provide the nourishment that the abusive community needs to grow strong.” (Something’s Not Right, p 181)
We couldn’t be a part of it any more even though it meant jumping with no safety net. We hoped it would make a difference.
“No one leaves home unlessWarsan Shire, Home
Home is the mouth of a shark
You only run for the border
When you see the whole city running as well”