A momentary detour: roaring back to work after a sudden layoff

 
Mike Farragher
Mike Farragher "Will write for food"

With seven words uttered during a hastily arranged conference call from the corporate office, your life has detoured into the dark neighborhoods of one of your worst nightmares.

I’m afraid your position has been eliminated.

This is communicated to you in a heavy German accent, which makes the word “eliminated” sound like it was dug from the plot of a James Bond novel. You half expect your home office chair to drop when the trap door springs open below you, a maniacal laughter echoing as the super-villain relishes his upper hand.

But none of that transpires; the conversation shifts to a bloodless business transaction in which a Human Resources representative beeps in with the details of your separation  package while the document he is reading from gets dropped in your email box “real-time.” The whole thing takes 15 minutes and ends with the most awkward attempts at well wishes imaginable.

You text your wife who is pacing in the other room: “I am being let go.” The call ends and you hug briefly but your mind is not in the moment. No, the calculator inside your head is whirring on overtime as it attempts to determine just how many months the severance will last before your family of three women and two dogs are forced to live in a discarded shipping container along the New Jersey Turnpike.

It is not until later that evening when you actually have to vocalize your news aloud for the first time (instead of merely texting it) that the emotions come like a torrent of white water through an echoed mountain cavern.  A raging current of anger, grief, shock, and anxiety violently rips your boat from the anchors momentarily, leaving your hapless friend on the bar stool nearby to grip your shoulder in an attempt to shield your red-faced blubbering mess from the other patrons.

A stiff drink is called for and the stiff reality sets in.

“Thank God you have this writing career of yours to fall back on,” says the friend. But only your accountant and 90% of published authors know that the royalties from the thousands of books you’ve sold over the last year amount to little more than scotch and vacation money compared to the take-home of your day job. 

You decide not to tell your kids or your parents just yet, refusing to build “worry factories” around you at a time when you have to stay positive. Makes sense, though you’re not fooling anyone. Your kids look to you as a hero.  Your parents are the architects of your success; their Irish immigrant dreams were the blueprint and the overtime shifts and waitressing tips are the foundation and scaffolding that produced your rise in the corporate ranks. The thought of letting them down is excruciatingly painful. Despite writing two books of essays that profess your new found freedom from the Irish Achilles heel of “worrying about the neighbors think,” you are confronted by the concerns you have about how this layoff stuff will play out inside your family. You muster the courage to speak to them and when your little one shrugs and says, “this will turn out because you are awesome, dad,” the blubbering red faced guy on the bar stool makes an encore appearance.

You are a proud and vain Leo, the elder brother and cousin who swoops in to guide the young’uns from time to time. You are a contributor. You are not someone used to having others contribute to you, which is why those first few phone calls to old bosses and colleagues asking for their help are so difficult. Will they take your layoff to mean that you are no longer good enough? You are bolstered by their responses and your LinkedIn profile is soon stocked with one glowing colleague testimonial after another.

Vulnerability is not a suit that fits at first, but you soon pair it with a power tie and make it work.

You are an overweight white middle-aged middle manager. What this means is that career pursuits as an American Idol contestant or an on-camera porn star are ill-advised and soon ruled out.

What this doesn’t mean is that your best days are behind you. Your last performance reviews were outstanding and you produced breakthrough results that changed paradigms inside your company. You take stock of your accomplishments and more importantly, forgive yourself for everything you did and did not do in your last role. That clear space floats your clear-eyed confidence that this restructuring had everything to do with your company’s choice to shift focus and nothing to do with your performance. “I will not be marked down and my next employer is extremely fortunate to nab such a high performer” becomes your mantra.

That ground of being serves you well and it becomes a yardstick that measures your every thought; if your current mindset or actions do not bring you any closer to that new position, you drop them and find something else to do and be.

That’s not to say that you are immune to low moments. The emails stop immediately after the news of your separation, putting your actual significance in the business world and its inhabitants in proper perspective. The loud pulley on the flatbed that jerks your corporation’s Mercedes onto the back of the tow truck startles the neighbors, who bend their vinyl blinds slightly to survey the scene with their jaundiced eyes. The status symbol on your driveway is gone, “Mind giving me a ride to small claims court?” you joke gamely as you wave to them from across the street through a crocodile’s smile.

You are consumed in the preparation for final interviews in three different companies.

You read somewhere that Olympian athletes at peak performance still rely on coaches with sometimes opposing perspectives to make the difference between the gold medal and the bronze one. You stare at your iPhone, confronted by the calls you have to make asking for help yet again. When you push through, you are overwhelmed by the amount of people that move heaven and earth on their schedule to help you. Leaders that you deeply admire get on the line for “clearing calls” before your final interviews to sweep any dis-empowerment from your gray matter and help you paint the ‘eye black’ on for your best game face.  

The youngest daughter starts high school this week with butterflies about this next chapter in her life. You know the feeling. This new job you’ve just accepted offers more intellectual and financial nourishment than you could have hoped for and the road ahead will certainly be winding and bumpy as you come up to speed on a new culture.

You replace the Mercedes with a Lexus, paid in cash not only because you can, but because no one will ever repossess your wheels ever again. Life motors on with more horsepower and the detour fades into the rear view mirror. 

Mike Farragher's essays can be found in his essay books. For more information on them, check out www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.

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