Since this #ThrowbackThursday follow-up falls on Thanksgiving Day, I should talk about something I’m always thankful for, both as a man and as a woman: I am thankful for having a steady job. Yes, I mentioned it in passing in yesterday’s post, and I know not everyone, for one reason or another, shares the same work situation as I But I am thankful for the privilege to utilize my work skills (such as they are) at a place of employment 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
As I mentioned back in August, my current place of employment is the reason I now live and work in Madison. Before that, I spent 12 years living and working in Green Bay, the last 8 of those working at a… let’s just say it was with a Fortune 500 company in a much-maligned industry (and an industry that everyone will need in their lifetime). Until that last year with them, during which I took on a much more challenging position, I had felt a sense of pride working there. That last year, however, I felt overwhelmed trying to master (without too much success) the new duties, new work atmosphere (it was a move to a different department), a more stringent set of goals, and a much more demanding supervisor (boy, was she a battleaxe).
With all that, I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me that one morning in mid-May when, instead of heading to a team meeting, my supervisor asked me to follow her into an available office, where someone from Human Resources was awaiting us. The HR lady made me a proposition: Accept a layoff and a 14-week severance package, or stay on and try to attain a modified yet still-too-difficult production goal and risk being fired (without severance) if I didn’t reach it within 6 weeks. After being told of this either/or deal, I naturally went through the Kübler-Ross model of dealing with loss: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But after a 48-hour window to think about it, and factoring in my job abilities and the attitude of my supervisor (who clearly did not want me on her team any longer), I accepted the layoff and severance and ventured into the great unknown that is searching for gainful employment.
Though having 14 weeks of severance pay is a slightly soft pillow to fall on, it didn’t ease the panic I felt while looking here, there, and everywhere for a new position. Getting a fare share of rejections, dead ends, and missed opportunities didn’t help, nor did the fact that, well, 14 weeks isn’t forever. That meant that getting a new job was of the utmost importance to me. One bit of advice I learned during that search was that the number of hours per day you worked before losing your job should be equal to the number of hours you put in per day looking for a new job. For me, 40 hours/week hunting for a new job also included an infinite amount of overtime.
As that summer went on, I grew accustomed to not having to head to that old, demanding job or that old, demanding (and demeaning) boss any longer. It didn’t make me any happier that I was looking for a job, but it did make me realize that sometimes losing a job can be a good thing, as my search would eventually prove. It helped a little bit that I forced myself to devote time to my job search (it was an urgent matter for me, after all). It also helped my psyche that I did take some time to enjoy the summer. For one thing, the search coincided with my 15-year high school class reunion that August. Yes, if you’re wondering, I did indeed tell the truth about my job hunt. One thing I discovered that reunion weekend was that I was becoming much more conversational, and I’m certain it was a direct result of all the job interviews I had under my belt.
Though meeting up with old classmates didn’t totally erase the fear and urgency I felt, that activity away from the job search really did help me mentally. So did something else I treated myself to: The Major League Baseball All-Star weekend, which was held in Milwaukee that year. No, I didn’t go to the actual All-Star Game itself (which was a bit of a relief in that it ended with such controversy), but I went to the FanFest exhibition the Sunday before the big game, as well as the Futures Game of minor league players and the Legends/Celebrities Softball Game at Miller Park. Kevin James made one heck of a diving outfield catch in the latter game. (I’m not joking, it was an incredible effort on his part.)
Eventually, the blood and sweat I put in, as well as the self-confidence I gained, led to the employer I now work with and the city I now call home, Madison. My longevity here has also led to building a camaraderie with quite a few colleagues (this person in particular). I hope those connections will come in handy, since… well, nothing lasts forever, and that includes your job. It’s been 13 years, but the memory of being laid off and shown the door from that old job, and the stress and uncertainty that followed, still linger in my mind. Those memories and that stress resurface whenever I have that fear or concern (unfounded or otherwise) that I’ll have to leave my employer, brush off my curriculum vitae, and start all over again. That feeling came back early last year when I was thisclose to having my position eliminated, and it resurfaces whenever I see the subject line “Organizational Announcement” on my company e-mail and the news that someone is no longer working there. But if it happens to me, at least I will know what to do and how to proceed — and how to conduct myself.
At this point, I should cite the inspiration for this post came from something John Jannuzzi wrote for Man Repeller. Until very recently, he had been a writer for GQ. And it was very recently that, in the same way I was 13 years ago, he was called into a conference room, was introduced to a Human Resources rep, and was laid off with severance. Now, John is settling into the world of looking for new employment, searching for possible freelance writing opportunities, keeping an eye on his bank account and credit card, wearing old t-shirts and sweatpants on a regular basis, devouring cake, binge watching Netflix, and hearing positive thoughts in the vein of “You’ll be fine” and “Have you thought about traveling?” and “Something better is out there for you.” All that and the uncertainty of the unknown and the need to, as John puts it, “add more sand to the hourglass.”
John Jannuzzi adds, too, that “there’s an odd pleasantness” that comes with not having to go into an office. I admit I had that odd feeling as well after I started my job search. It was a feeling of, “Yeah, I don’t need to worry about getting decent and being late for work; I’m already working.” Okay, my job title was technically “job seeker,” but still… He also talks about that fear of the unknown that awaits him and that need “to act as if that hourglass is already empty.” That was the attitude I forced myself to follow as well, acting as if my bank account was down to its last dime. That fear of the unknown and that acting of semi-desperation can be a powerful motivational tool for someone on a job hunt… within reason, of course, as it doesn’t automatically mean one must prostitute himself or herself to a line of work they will never love or appreciate just for the sake of putting food on their table and keeping a roof over their head.
In short, John Jannuzzi generally takes a positive tone in his post. Yes, being out of work sucks, but he seems to be taking it with grace, optimism… and caution, because wallowing in self-pity and self-doubt (which I confess I subjected myself to early on in my job search) is not the right way to go. Being out of a job is sad and discouraging, yet it can be a positive if you take the right attitude and make the right moves. It may be a difficult attitude for some (including me) to emulate, but if I ever find myself back on the bricks, it may be the proper route to go. Seriously, go check out John Jannuzzi’s Man Repeller piece; it’s a moving yet positive read. Onward and upward!