I teach almost every day; but I learn almost every day too. As I brainstormed about lessons worth sharing with you, I stumbled upon a memory that stopped me in my tracks. Oh yeah, the day over $1500 in cash got stolen from my safe. That day officially sucked.
Imagine a big, heavy, black safe with a squeaky fold down panel. The little slot was just wide enough to allow the therapists enough room to drop their envelopes at the end of their shift. In the envelope were the credit card slips, checks and cash from their day with clients. We usually had +/-10 therapists working every day, so we had to do bookkeeping, every day. And it turns out I had a bad habit. I liked to keep cash in the safe for ‘a rainy day’. Well one day it rained.
It was a very normal afternoon. My lovely administrative assistant, Diane, was finishing up the receipts from the morning. She recently had graduated from St Mary’s college where she had studied Elementary Education. She was planning to teach pre-school or elementary school. She was terrific with our clients and to this day has a warm and caring heart.
As she went to retrieve the remaining envelopes, the phone rang. She rolled her chair back over the plastic mat to the phone/appointment book area and scheduled the next available session. We don’t know if it was a few minutes or a few hours til we both realized the door to the safe wasn’t locked. It was a quiet time of day. Just a few therapists working. No deliveries had been made, no wandering clients behind the front desk. We both raised our eyebrows and then carried on as normal. Whoops. Honest mistake. No biggie.
Til the next morning.
At first I questioned myself. Did I take that home? Did I have a big bill recently? Did I spend that cash on something? No. No. No. But it was gone.
So I asked Diane. She felt horrible. She was noticeably shaken, so I comforted her by saying, “Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll turn up. I’m starting to think I’m the crazy one.”
But I wasn’t.
I asked employee after employee, they had no clues.
I finally exhausted all my logical answers & resigned myself to phoning in a police report. I couldn’t believe someone had stolen money from the safe. No one on my staff would be capable. Or so I thought. If the culprit was one of my staff members, then I wanted to scare the bejesus out of them. I told the police I wasn’t hopeful to see the money again, but I did want to send a message that this wasn’t okay.
So the police interviewed everyone who worked that day. They came up with nothing. The police took finger prints from the safe. Of course, the only prints on the safe were from me and both my administrative assistants.
I was sad. I was angry. I was making myself cuckoo asking the question, ‘Did this really happen?’ Until about a month after the incident.
A letter arrived in the mail. It was not a normal looking piece of mail. The address on the front of the envelope was typed funny. The stamp had been taped on and there was no return address either. So, despite my initial thoughts of the Anthrax letters, I opened it.
It was a confession letter. All typed, with no signature, it read something like, “I am so sorry but I did it. I went to my priest and he said I needed to write this letter and pay the money back.” It was actually a long letter, and I don’t remember all the details, but there it was in black and white. The guilty party was confessing! I wasn’t crazy. Someone in my office had stolen cash out of the safe and was now confessing. Anonymously, but at least there was the proof.
As you may have guessed, I never saw a penny of the money repaid to me.
I never knew who wrote the letter. But at that point, I didn’t really care.
I wanted to get the lesson out of the situation and move on. And God knows, I no longer stashed ‘rainy day’ cash at work.
You’d think that was the end of the story, right? Well the Universe wasn’t done with me yet. I added my own fuel to the fire with my next decision.
As an owner of the business, I felt as though there needed to be some closure to the issue. This is awful to say now, but I felt like I had to fire someone. Something had to change. There had to be a consequence.
A lovely young lady had been working with me for several years. She started with me while she was in high school. Over the years, she got married, had her first child and continued to work part time hours as an administrative assistant. Sweet Juliana, I often called her “J”, had moved with me thru 3 different office locations. Eventually she learned so much about the benefits of massage that she decided to go to massage school. At the time this inexplicable incident took place, she had already graduated and was working with me as a part time therapist.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit, I considered her the weakest link on my team. She was brand new and working the least amount of hours. I thought I could probably move her clients relatively easily to other therapists. I didn’t consider the loyalty. I didn’t consider the friendship. I felt pressure to respond to the crime that had been committed. The more time that went by, the more it seemed likely that I was just going to roll over and do nothing. So, to serve my own ego, I made Juliana the sacrificial lamb.
I sat down with J and explained. She had been working during the time that the money got stolen. I really didn’t think she had done it. I didn’t think anyone on the staff was capable – til I got the letter. I told J that I didn’t even care if she had taken the money. I still loved and respected her and appreciated our long history together.
She wasn’t having it. I could see by her face hurt, angry, appalled, shocked, embarrassed and, on the inside, furious. She left without another word. Her husband was in the office a few days later to pick up her check. He made it clear that he couldn’t believe I would accuse his wife of something so awful. He hissed, “You know she would never do that.” Yes, I knew. But I didn’t know what else to do.
Needless to say, I felt terrible. Even writing this story today I feel the sadness I felt so many years ago. In hindsight I realize my ego took over. I thought I had to prove I couldn’t be taken advantage of without someone paying a price.
I lost something even more valuable than the money that day. I lost my longtime friend. I lost a loyal co-worker. This is a young lady who had bent over backwards to help my business succeed in the early years. As I tried to explain to her why she was being let go, I was mostly trying to buy my own story, ‘Look, business is business, it’s not personal.’ But it was personal.
J’s family is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. There is a saying there, “Monkey doh si his own tail” Meaning people often don’t recognize their own faults. And I didn’t at the time.
This was a not just a lesson about not keeping cash in the safe. It was a lesson about recognizing my own ego. A lesson about learning, we don’t always get the bad guys.
As I mentioned, in time I was able to forgive the culprit, even forgive myself, and move on. Although I have to admit, I do smile and shrug my shoulders when I remember the Law of Karma. In fact I feel like it’s a little wink from the Universe when I remember, at the end of the day, whoever it was, has to live with themselves.