There is a wonderful German word “schadenfreude” which literally means “harm-joy” and describes the feeling of enjoyment when you hear or see others’ misfortune. I was thinking about this sensation in the context of the pain when you have been let go from a company (or if you have struggled at a company and left on your own) and how you feel when you later hear about difficulties that have ensued since your departure.
I was thinking about the complexity of schadenfreude in the context of professional life– namely because the company is different than your coworkers which is different than your manager or anyone else you may have interacted with at the employer. So for example: if your boyfriend dumps you, it’s a one to one thing. So the schadenfreude is yours for the taking and you can fully feel free to hate him and gleefully rejoice when his next girlfriend dumps him. Or when he gets herpes. Or when his next girlfriend dumps him after giving him herpes. Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever you want here.
But it’s more complicated when it’s a company because while you may sometimes feel a lingering twinge of bitterness, it can be hard to direct the negative feelings and you have to temper the schadenfreude because you know that there is impact on people you have cared about.
If you have been following this blog, or if you just look back to a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I was let go by my last employer in a cost-cutting measure. I don’t necessarily think it was purely just cost-cutting if I am to be totally honest, but if I keep my mind on track and focus on the quants, I can agree that things weren’t going well and it made sense to get rid of me and perhaps some of the other team members (if the focus was on sustaining a bare necessity staff, essentially).
Because I left with a certain amount of knowledge, background and experience and frankly, because the team is down two headcount, it is not surprising that some things are tough for my old team right now. I don’t feel happy about it– I mean, I feel like I’d be a sadist if I said that I am pleased by the difficulties currently experienced by my former colleagues.
But I think what I do feel is some sense of vindication and perhaps the right word is validation: that when you exit and things become tough, others realize the contributions you were making and what they lost when they cut you loose. I was telling a former coworker that the best case scenario is that you leave your role and all things go to shit– not because you wish it but because it would truly demonstrate your worth to the company and it’s kind of a final “eff you” to however shot the final bullet.
I guess, then, if I go back to my comparison of work to a relationship: it’s less about feeling happy when your ex experiences pain. The schadenfreude of work isn’t like that. It’s more like recuperating from the trauma of the breakup, working out and getting really hot and then seeing your ex and knowing that he’s feeling pretty bad when he fully comprehends what he has lost.