A few months ago I received the proverbial pink slip from a company within the business I’ve called “home” for my entire career.
It’s time for me to come out of the closet about it.
Not only for my sake, but for the sake of the hundreds of people who lose their jobs every day and are too embarrassed to talk about it.
Call it what you want … being laid off, downsized, eliminated, fired. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, one day I had a job and the next day I didn’t.
Did it suck? Of course it did. But wailing, gnashing my teeth and inviting friends over for a pity party were never my style. And wallowing in self pity because I no longer had to get dressed come Monday morning seemed … well, uncool.
So, here comes full disclosure. Any similarities to people working or unemployed is purely intentional.
I’m not angry or resentful. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. It’s taken a few weeks for me to get to this place of peace, but it’s that very peace that has given me the courage to write publicly about it.
That, and the fact that a couple of weeks ago a 33-year-old former colleague passed away. He was a talented, courageous man who once took the risk to come out of his own closet and publish it to a national audience.
Then, just a few hours ago, I attended the wake and burial of a neighbor who was closer to me than some of my family members. He was just two years older than me.
Suddenly, writing about losing my job no longer seemed scary. In the big scheme of things, it was no big deal.
First of all, not having a job is not the end of the world. In fact, if truth be told, the day I was “let go” felt like an emancipation.
I love my life’s work and career. But I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s a Higher Power to whom I’ve entrusted my purpose. And if She thought it was time to move on, then who was I to question Her.
Three days after Emancipation Day — my first Monday where I had nowhere to go, or any reason to rush to take a shower — my new reality began.
It didn’t take long to realize that there’s a “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” philosophy around people who lose their jobs. (There’s that closet thing again.)
For the most part, people ignored me. Even on social media, those who knew I had lost my job pretended it didn’t happen. I received three messages from former colleagues, saying they were sad they hadn’t had a chance to say goodbye. A few others had wished me well as I walked out of the building that Friday a few months ago — in the nanosecond it took for the news to spread like wildfire. Other than that … nothing.
Being unemployed isn’t contagious, but some people treat you like it is. It’s as if by staying away from you, they won’t catch your cooties.
So, I started to call a few close friends and former colleagues to tell them what had happened.
“I’m so sorry!”was the most common response.
“Don’t be,” I’d say. “The door to possibilities just swung wide open for me.”
Stop talking about it like it was some cruel injustice. It happened. Move on.
At worst, it was strictly a business decision. At best a Universal gift pushing me in the direction of a higher calling. Not that I hadn’t been on purpose during my career. It’s just that the groundwork had been laid for the greater accomplishments for which I was created.
I was very much alive. Condolences weren’t necessary.
Finally, there were those who insisted on inviting me to happy hour to keep me up to date on the latest drama for your mama at my former workplace. Many complained about how unhappy they were.
“OMG, stop whining and quit,” I would tell them. It seemed much more civil than throwing the dirty martini with three olives in front of them in their face.
“Well, it’s easier to find a new job when you have a job,” was the most common response.
Translation: I get a pay check.
“OK, then,” I would think. “If I have to listen to your whine, then you get to pay for my wine.”
And so it goes.
It’s been four months since my job left me. I’ve learned quite a few things since then. Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the lessons … lessons I hope will guide you, no matter on which side of the unemployment line you stand.
Lesson 1: Be grateful for everything you have and everything you haven’t lost. Most of all be grateful for the time you’ve been given to do the things you’ve been too busy to do. It’s those things that will guide you to the next chapter in your life.
Lesson 2: Be humble. A week after Emancipation Day, I attended my 40th High School reunion. It was the place where I had meant to brag about what I had done for the past 40 years. Suddenly I couldn’t do that. Yet the overwhelming support I received when I shared what had happened to me made me realize that what I did for a living had no impact whatsoever on what my true friends thought of me. My favorite comment: “If I were laid off, I could do so many of the things I feel too trapped to do right now!” Think about it. Why wait to get untrapped? What guarantee do you have that you’ll ever get to do those things.
Lesson 3: Trust … in a Higher Power, in yourself, in your family, in the Unknown, in the moments that put a smile on your face. Know that letting go and getting out of the way of destiny will bring you one step closer to the fulfillment you seek. Notice I didn’t say the job you seek. Jobs aren’t necessarily fulfilling.
Lesson 4: Be patient. There’s no better time to trust the Force that’s been guiding you since birth than when you have no other choice but to do so.
Lesson 5: Practice being positive around those who are negative. Trust me, there will be plenty of negativity around. Get that picture of yourself living under the Interstate and eating cat food out of your head. Close your eyes. Envision a dirty martini with three olives in it. Then see yourself throwing it in the face of the doom and gloomers.
Lesson 6: Don’t Settle. It’s easy to take the first job you’re offered. Don’t do it. Don’t let fear trap you back into what you left behind.
Lesson 7: Focus. Get clear on what you don’t want so you can focus on what you do want.
Lesson 8: Persevere in finding your next opportunity, but remember to ride your bike, write your novel, have lunch with people you’ve been meaning to have lunch with, play your guitar, walk the dog in your pajamas, go to the naked beach and check in on Facebook. Most of all, waste time doing the things you love. Because the things the world tells you are important really aren’t.
Lesson 9: Stop treating yourself like you’re contagious. The minute I opened up to people and let my guard down, opportunities began to open up for me. No one can help you if you don’t ask for help.
Lesson 10: Pay your positive attitude forward to those who are not quite as positive about their situation as you are. It’s in giving that we receive.
Remember, you’re not unemployed. You’re working to put fear aside so the next chapter of your life can begin.
And that, my friends, doesn’t suck so bad.