In my mental calendar, there has been a date that was marked in big, pink highlighter marker. It was marked that way as a reminder to myself of a day when my personal world was shaken up to the core and I had to start anew. That day was Wednesday, May 15, 2002. That was the day that I was pulled away from my desk, led into an office, and was told by a Human Resources person that my faithful service was no longer desired by them.
Well, I now have to wash the highlight from that date on my mental calendar, for there is now a new, much more recent date that will need to be marked in that ugly, haunting shade of pink: Tuesday, June 26, 2018.
Yesterday started just like that earlier date, albeit far too quickly for my tastes. I came to work, settled into my cubicle, booted up my computer, and started my usual daily tasks. That lasted for about all of 10 minutes, for then someone I had never met before came up to my desk, introduced herself, and asked me to come downstairs to meet with my supervisor. This was a surprise for me because, for one, my supervisor is based in another town that’s a 75-minute drive away, and two, I wasn’t expecting my supervisor to be here in Madison on Tuesday.
Factoring that in, my mind started putting one and two together and came up with an uneven sum. Something was unsettling my mind and I wasn’t liking it. That uneven sum became all to even — and all too obvious — when this person and I got of the elevator and I followed her to a glass door marked… “Human Resources Department.”
A couple of left turns in the hallway, and this person (who, yes, was part of the Human Resources department) motioned me into a private office. There was my supervisor, her direct manager… and another Human Resources representative. And our conversation was one that I had been worrying about, admittedly, for a while: My supervisor, noticeably reading from notes, told me that due to work needs and departmental staff reorganizations, my position was being eliminated.
Yes, the very company that led me to take my biggest leap and move to this wonderful city 16 years ago. The very company where I’ve been a gracious worker and volunteer. The very company where I celebrated a big anniversary last September. They didn’t want me anymore… because they couldn’t keep me anymore.
Usually, when dealing with a sudden loss such as this, one goes through the progression that is the Kübler-Ross model: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. At this instance, however, my mind skipped the denial, anger, and bargaining and went straight to the depression and acceptance. Yes, I was dreading that this day would be possible, but I still wasn’t expecting it, hence the depression. And though I didn’t do anything more than just brush up my résumé, I had been pondering in recent months the possibility of new employment, hence the acceptance.
Still, though, it was a shock. A part of me wanted to have an advanced heads-up on this moment, the better to brace myself for the shock. But every shock needs to have an effect, and the effect it had on me at that moment was… just a couple of tears and a few longing, appreciative words to my supervisor, her manager, and the company as a whole. With the belongings I brought to work that morning now reunited with me, I shook hands with everyone in the room, exited the private office, went through a side door out of the building… and almost stepped on a dead bird. Yeah, a little bit of symbolism there.
A few years ago at this (now former) place of employment, a different, previous supervisor and I were going through a quarterly review of my performance. Sounds like routine stuff for you in the employed world, I know, but a comment from that supervisor at this particular meeting has stuck with me ever since: She complimented me on how much a positive effect I had on the company as a whole. That comment led my mind to a metaphoric image of putting my hands and signature on a wet slab of concrete, a la the hand prints found outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Indeed, the big thing I look back on my time at this company was having the opportunity to impress so many people, and not just with my daily duties. I willingly shared my job knowledge with teammates. I willingly (though at times tentatively) shared my concerns with my supervisors. I willingly (though within reason) shared my duties with teammates who needed some work to keep them preoccupied and not twiddling their thumbs. I willingly and without selfishness devoted time and efforts to volunteer groups both within the company and outside it. So, yeah, almost 16 years of devoted, honorable, and faithful (perhaps a little too faithful) service to this company has left a mark on many people, if not in an actual slab of concrete.
But since there wasn’t any construction going on outside the office building and no slab of concrete to place my hands in, the first thing I did before heading home was place a call to a colleague who managed one of our company’s regular volunteer opportunities, one I had eagerly and happily fulfilled for several years. “I’m sorry, I won’t be able to care for next Tuesday’s commitment,” I told her voice mail, “because I’m no longer with the company.” She hasn’t replied back yet as I write this; maybe she had the day off and hasn’t heard it yet. (She’s a work-at-home person.) It make me sad that I won’t be there to impress her with my do-gooding heart.
Since my new job is, for now, looking for a new job, I started immediately putting out feelers for new opportunities as soon as I got back home. Well, actually, those feelers were the result of posting my sudden plight on Facebook to my friends. Literally a few minutes later, one friend suggested sending my résumé to the University of Wisconsin. I wasn’t sure if I’m Big Ten university material, but I’m not going to look at this gift suggestion in the mouth. Another friend suggested a company that is LGBT+ friendly, and those are words enough for me to definitely send my résumé their way.
There were a few other things I did after that, including brushing up my résumé even more, adding it to an online profile (yes, Male Mode Me is on LinkedIn), and message a close and supportive friend of mine. Needless to say, she was shocked by the news that I had to hit the bricks. And with that, we agreed to meet up for lunch Tuesday afternoon at a café (well, chain restaurant, actually).
A few things to say about this friend of mine, whom for the sake of reference I’ll just call J.: For one, J. has been looking for a new job herself, and she readily sympathized with my newfound unfortunate plight. Heck, she even offered advice on my résumé a while back and even brushed it up a little bit (that was definitely appreciated on my part). Secondly, J. offered quite a few bits of advice during our lunch, including mentioning several more companies in Madison I could apply to, other websites I could post my résumé on, and some mindfulness links and apps she uses to center herself (J. is really big on mindfulness and meditation, things that I need to improve on). Unfortunately, it looks as if I’ve misplaced some of the napkins we wrote those sites on, either that or they fell out of my folder after leaving the café. I’ll have to ask her to forward them to me via e-mail. Guess I should’ve recorded them on my phone’s memo app instead of taking pen to napkins.
One other thing: J. knows my male mode identity. Not in a “I know you from when you worked here or lived there” kind of way, nor a “I’ll let you in on a little secret about myself” kind of way. It’s more of a “we follow each other on Instagram” kind of way. And of a “well, my male mode name is…” kind of way. See, late last year the two of us discussed volunteer opportunities, including those I’ve devoted my time to. I suggested one such opportunity to her, and let her know that if she needed the name of who referred her, I told her “just tell them that [insert my male mode name here] recommended them to you.”
It’s those connections J. and myself have built and her fountain of empathy (and now sympathy) that made it easier for me to present my male mode side to her for the first time at our lunch yesterday. Nope, I didn’t get dolled up for her. I didn’t have the time or gumption to do so either. All I did was drive to the café in the same male-mode work clothes I started the day with, met her in the parking lot, and greeted her with, “Hello, my name is [insert my male mode name here]. Allison has told me everything about you.”
The afternoon J. and I spent was time well spent. It was also time well needed, for it helped ease some of the pain of no longer having a job and having to find a new one. J. served as a sympathetic ear I could tell my worries to, as well as a reassuring voice that reminded me, “You’re a good soul. You’re a wonderful person. And somewhere, someone will see that and want to hire you.” Or words to that effect. It made me feel a little bit better about myself. And I cried only a little bit, which was more tears than just the one or two I shed when leaving the company earlier that morning. I’m so thankful J. was there to offer a hand and words of support.
If there is one big difference between my job search of 16 years ago and my new job search now, it’s that I don’t feel as panicked about that “great unknown” as I had felt when I was shown the door back then. That’s because back then, I didn’t have any sort of network of friends or former colleagues whose advice I could fall back on. All I had was a list of quickly-assembled personal references and a family who didn’t know the first thing about working in an office cubicle. Here in June 2018, I now have an extended network of LGBT friends who can offer an emphatic ear and, as mentioned above, a possible job lead or two. I also have now-former colleagues who, even if I can’t list them as a personal reference, are likely eager enough to offer their own words of advice and support.
It also helps that these connections are just an e-mail or social media click away. Though there was an internet back in 2002, there was no such thing as a Twitter or Facebook where others could provide immediate support, nor there was a LinkedIn where I could easily network with those who knew me and my work. My online job search was comparatively primitive back then, though at least sites such as Monster and HotJobs (remember HotJobs?) were there to be an accessible stepping stone. Those online searches worked, for it helped lead me to my now former place of employment.
Having a close support group to fall back on can only go so far, however. I headed back home late Tuesday in a torrential rainstorm (very apropos for my day; the thunderstorm in the early morning, in retrospect, was a bad omen). Tuesday night, I hopped back onto my laptop computer, submitted my résumé to a couple of companies, sent a couple more e-mails of gratitude to old colleagues… and started to feel a heavy sense of gravity settling in. It hit me that I didn’t have to go to work the next morning, not because I didn’t have to… but because I couldn’t. It’s that dread that led to a not very comfortable sleep, with me drifting awake around 3:00 this morning.
So, as soon as I hit the “publish” button on this post, it’s back to my new reality of looking for new employment. There are quite a few options out there for me, and right now I’m actually optimistic about the chance to find that new opportunity. Where is it? Obviously, I do not know yet, which adds to that sense of uneasiness. Many forks await on the road ahead of me, and I hope that the one I take won’t lead to a dead end.
A few closing thoughts: First, will this new job search mean that I’ll have to step away from this blog? Well, I’ll still be here, although perhaps not as often as I have been of late. I’ll still try to post something new once a week. But please forgive me if you’re sitting at your computer waiting for my next blog post, don’t see anything new, and start wondering, “Gee, Allison, where did you go?” Don’t worry, I’m here; just wish me a whole lot of luck.
Secondly: You’re probably wondering if the supervisor who had to let me go took a demeaning tone of “take your severance, get the hell out of my sight, and get the hell out of this building.” In other words, kind of like the supervisor who let me go from my previous place of employment 16 years ago. On the contrary. My now-former supervisor had a grim face. So did her manager. And the HR person in the room with us. And their voices verified that grim feeling they had. It didn’t feel like they wanted to let me go, rather they had to eliminate a position, if not more than one… and one of them happened to be mine. It’s that mournful demeanor they had that’s helping to prevent any animosity I have toward that company. Well, in truth, I don’t have much animosity toward them at all. I’m proud of the work I did and the bonds I built there. I just wish I had the chance to say a formal, personal farewell to them. (Side note: There’s always the possibility that I can come back to that company should a favorable opportunity arise, but I’ll have to do so through the “front door” and not any internal back channels.)
Thirdly: Three years ago when I recalled my last job search on this blog, I shared a Man Repeller article by the writer John Jannuzzi. Around that time (November 2015), John had just been laid off by GQ‘s publisher, Condé Nast, and shared his thoughts about an immediate future of sitting on the couch in old clothes, watching expenses, binging on cake and Netflix, and finding something to do. Oh, and looking for that next job opportunity. John generally had an optimistic feeling about his plight then, concluding that while being jobless sucks, “it’s only temporary.” Sure enough, looking up John Jannuzzi’s name this morning, I realized he has found employment since then: Work for Twitter Moments, freelance articles for GQ and others, and (according to his official Twitter bio), editorial work for Bonobos. He looks to be back on his feet and on firm ground, an outcome I hope to have as well, albeit in my own pencil-pushing industry. (Side note: Man Repeller has a separate article about how to get over getting fired. I didn’t get “fired” personally yesterday per se, but I should take some of that article’s advice.)
Finally: Circling back to my friend and our talk yesterday (which was the best 3½-hour lunch I’ve ever had), J. offered a quote from the spiritual teacher, former academic, and (for better or worse) researcher of psychedelics, Ram Dass. The quote is one of several he is famous for, and it’s one I’m trying to take to heart:
“The next message you need is always right where you are.”
Really? Right where I am? Hmmm… I hope my glasses are strong enough for me to read that message. Heck, I may need some help interpreting it. But I hope it will be a good message… one that will direct me to a great destination.