22 August 2009

Yet Another Stab

       It’s been over two years since I made an entry. Why now? What thrust me in this direction? I just spent a couple of hours re-reading all of my entries and viewing the various comments. Some of the comments really surprised me after all this time. Evidently, with some of my entries, I hit a chord with some people. After reading them, there was a part of me that wished I could email them and ask what they had been up to since reading my blog. I wanted to ask them if they ever came back to my blog at a later time only to discover that I had stopped writing.

       Why did I stop writing? In 2007 I wrote furiously. There was this thirst inside of me that could only be quenched by putting words to all of the raw emotions flooding through me. Did I stop having emotions? Why did I shut down? What happened that suddenly quieted my frenzied thoughts? As I look back, I simply realized that I no longer felt creative; I had lost the desire to capture my experiences, thoughts, feelings in words. What fueled that torrid fury of creation just suddenly disappeared. I lost the impetus—the drive—to write.

       So why now? What changed in my life to draw me back to my keyboard? I guess everything. Did my life stop for two years? No. But I didn’t feel I had anything worth to say that merited the energy. In fact, I only have hazy memories of the intervening time. Yet, today, a simple phone call immediately pulled me into a downward, hurtling spiral that opened up so many other memories—emotions—from my past.

       This year has been, perhaps, one of the most difficult times in my life. In response to the general downward-trending movements in the economy, my company decided to reorganize in February. All that meant to me was entering into a frozen period of time just waiting for the Sword of Damocles to fall upon me. There is nothing so stressful than going to work each day just waiting to get “the phone call.” For three months, every single day, I had no idea if I would live to see another day of employment. Then the wait was over. My phone rang. CallerID told me it was my manager.

       You see, I work for a huge multinational company. Everyone in my area worked from a home office. Our teams were scattered all over the place. For two years, I worked like this. It was strange at first. I no longer had an office to which to report. Technology made this venue occur quite insidiously. Being able to VPN into the corporate network allowed all of us to be connected. We all were a simple ping away. Who needed phones when you could just ping someone online and get an instant conversation? Integrated audio and data conferencing allowed all of us to come together and work as a team. We could all join a meeting and share documents via a collaborative sharing application. My manager was so not a micro-manager. He left us all to our own devices, as he knew we were all good at what we did. We kept him in the loop when needed (as he put it, often enough just to keep him out of hot water); otherwise, I never had much one-on-one contact with him. He rarely initiated personal contact with me. In fact, when we did talk, I usually called him.

       Then he called. I let it ring a few times, quite hesitant to discover the purpose of the call. Needless to say, my worst fears were realized. There was no build up to the announcement; he simply told me that he had some bad news. There…the cat was out of the bag. My mind was reeling. I didn’t hear anything else he had to say. I had lost my job. Whoa, slow down…take a breath. I needed to pay attention. He told me that I would be given a 60-day grace period with which to find another position at my company if I could qualify.

       He said good-bye. I remember placing the handset back on the cradle, just staring straight ahead. I had been continually employed since 1993. I hadn’t job hunted in 16 years. I had no idea where to start. My head was swimming. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the rest of the day was a complete wash. And, to add insult to injury, I received my official notice from HR via email. The subject line: Surplus Notification Letter. They were kind enough to notify me that, due to the recent reorganization, there was no longer a position for me at the company. The document was actually 25 pages long (it’s quite amazing how the corporate entity cushions itself with legal trappings). Forms to fill out, pages to sign and notarize, specific steps I had to take to ensure my severance package (and that, in itself, was quite a joke). Gone were the days of putting in your 20 or 30 years and then retiring with the gold watch. No such thing as loyalty. What a cost-savings measure to make sure a company never held onto any of their employees long enough to invest a sizeable pension.

       I was numb for about a week. Then I pulled out my résumé. Fortunately, I had been keeping it up-to-date, so there was not an inordinate amount of work to prepare. But the employment landscape, I soon discovered, had altered quite dramatically during those 16 years. What the hell was a “functional” résumé? All of a sudden, I was attending workshops in how to “strategically” look for a new job. I laughed—quite inappropriately, I might add—when I realized just how crowded these workshops were. I was stuck in quicksand. I was so ill prepared for this journey, and my tank was absolutely empty.

       The weeks flew by. There was nothing locally. Hell, there was nothing nationally. All of the positions posted on my company’s Intranet were totally out-of-reach. What was actually rude was to find my title out there posted (one of 47 positions in that category). But when I read the description, all of a sudden my job description required all of these new technical certifications. I had become obsolete. That directly affected my marketability across the board as I faced this same situation with every other company that had openings in my area. It had become an employer’s market. Companies could now command top-notch requirements at high school graduate’s pay. Oh, I was very qualified at what I did and was damn good at it. But everyone changed the rules. Despite my college degree and years of experience, I was reduced to barely even qualify for a glorified secretary position.

        Those 60 days were speeding by. I had nothing to show for it. However, not all was lost. I actually had a friend that had worked for the company for 30 years (started right out of high school and worked her way up). With two weeks to go, she called me up and told me that her department had just been authorized by HR to open up two positions. She encouraged me to go online and view the posting and said that she felt I could do this job with my eyes closed. It was true, I had all of the necessary skills, but it was in an arena vastly different from where I came. What the hell, I had nothing to lose. I posted for it. In three days, that hiring manager called me at 1600 and indicated that he read my online résumé and asked me if I was interested in interviewing for the job. Like I’m gonna say no??? He said that he would have to interview me later that day as he would be going out of town the following day and would not be returning until after I was off the payroll. He was on the West Coast, so he said he would call me at 1900 my time.

        At 1845, I brought a large bottle of cold water into my office and just stared at the phone. I hadn’t been in an interview since 1992. During the time leading up to 1900 I put pen to paper to justify how my experience spoke to the specific job skills they were looking for. I even came up with a few important questions. While I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, I wasn’t willing to take a job for which I was not prepared and qualified. It turned out that I was going to be tag-teamed interviewed with another manager (ah, the glory of the conference call feature). The interview went surprisingly well. I had a solid answer to all of the questions and received thorough answers to my questions. I was intrigued. All of a sudden, I did want that job and I knew I could exceed their expectations. 45 minutes later, I hung up the phone.

        I leaned back in my chair afraid to breathe. My heart was skating across my chest. Here it was approaching 2000 and there was just no way was I going to calm down and relax by my normal bedtime. As 2200 approached, I was sufficiently relaxed to sleep, sort of. When I walked into my office the next morning and logged in, I felt as if I was in limbo. Only three more days to go before I was unemployed. There really wasn’t anything for me to do. I had already turned over all of my responsibilities to other folks. The phone was quiet all day and the only emails I received were the inane corporate-wide announcement-type memos. The day crawled by unmercifully. After the requisite eight hours (at the height of my job, I never worked less than a ten-hour day), I logged off.

        Do you know what the first thought I had when I walked out of my office? I just simply wanted to roll a fat number and get high. Hadn’t thought about doing that in quite some time. Ever since the employment environment changed to requiring random drug tests, I quit smoking pot. What a sad state of affairs. Well, the point was moot; I certainly didn’t have any stash. At that moment, I fondly recalled what I told my son he had to give me as a retirement present—at least a quarter-pound of fine golden buds (oh, excuse me, my son once corrected my vocabulary on this subject. It was no longer buds vs. shake; it was nuggets vs. shwag. Gone were the four-fingered lids, and certainly gone were the four-fingered lids for $20…LOL. Anyway, I digress).

        The next morning my manager called me and let me know that HR had contacted him. That hiring manager decided to extend me the job offer. I was as much in a state of shock as I had been almost 60 days previously when he announced my lay off. I could finally exhale. My new position would become effective the day after my 60-day grace period—a seamless transition. I would begin a serious training program almost immediately. The amazing part was the fact that I would continue to receive the exact same salary and would still be an at-home employee. With the exception of a completely new job experience, absolutely nothing would change.

        Well, I have been in this new position now for seven weeks. It’s going to be an intensive job—a lot of hard work and long hours, but what a joy I feel in being able to get up in the morning and look forward to walking down the hallway to my office. The sword has been removed. No, the market has not suddenly changed for the better—there are far too many people without jobs. But I can face each day with a little bit more security than I had before.

        Oh, and about that phone call I received today that started this writing frenzy—recalling this incredible experience gave me a chance to put those all-of-a-sudden tenuous emotions welling up inside of me on hold. That story will have to wait for another day. Suffice it to say, it feels really satisfying to be able to sit at my keyboard again and be able to tell my story.©2009

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