Exactly one year ago today… I got laid off from my job.
I had just passed my one-year anniversary with the place, too (about 2 weeks earlier). I had started there as a temp replacement Admin Assistant because the regular one was going on vacation for a month. I was just tooling along for a few weeks, when I was approached by the head of the “Export Compliance” department. (Though, it would also be accurate to say I was approached by the ENTIRETY of the Export Compliance department… as it was just him.) He said he had heard that I was a pretty detail-oriented and focused guy, and he had just been approved to hire an assistant… so he wondered if I would maybe be interested.
Now, I didn’t know what was entailed in “Export Compliance”… but it turns out, it’s really just making sure the company is following all of the gazillion laws that the U.S. Government has, when shipping things outside of the country. Ever since 9/11, it’s been a growing necessity for companies, frankly. They’d give me the training and all… which wasn’t that difficult, I thought. Mostly just repetitive paperwork and “busy-work”, frankly. But it would free up him to work on the bigger, more specialized tasks for important account, while I took care of the day-to-day stuff.
It would be a permanent position, with a bit of a pay raise, benefits (medical AND dental… and it’d been a very long time since I had insurance for those!) and apparent employment security. But admittedly… none of it was the biggest reason for accepting the job. But, rather:
I would be able to tell people I work in “Exports”.
And saying that you work in “Exports”… I think we all know what that is really a euphemism for, right?
That’s right. Secret Agent.
What, you don’t see the connection? Hey, James Bond’s standard cover story was that he worked for “Universal Exports”. This is pop culture people! It’s ingrained in our psyche!
Sure, in this case, it *wasn’t* a euphemism, but I could FEEL cool, dammit!
But yeah… that was seriously the biggest attraction to take the job. That probably says a lot about me.
Still… I actually liked the work. At times, it even felt more like “Secret Agent” then I thought it would… especially the time I was subtly threatened from a man in Iran because I was “asking too many questions”. I even got to go on my first honest-to-goodness business trip (a cute little story on its own). The people were nice, and just the act of keeping mentally busy actually charged me creatively in quite a few ways. (The blogging regularity heyday of 2008 occurred during this timeframe.) I was saving money, feeling pretty good, and even having occasional random fun.
What random fun, you say? Well, I had fun planting some of the Victor Riley business cards around. I didn’t put out that many… but I figured I should stop when I saw a company-wide memo from the President that solely addressed this; saying, “for those that don’t know, it’s an anonymous way to congratulate someone on a job well-done. While such reinforcement is positive, we ask that this stop, as we have our own company methods for such rewards…” Yeah, I found it a bit confusing myself… and it appears to have been grossly misinterpreted (especially since I was actually trying to subtly and innocently flirt with the Beautiful Romanian gal from Archives), but nonetheless, I figured it may be wise to stop.
One day, another company-wide memo came out… basically saying that due to the troubling economy, the parent corporation that owned our company, was going to be cutting 15% of the workforce. I admit I didn’t get involved in any water-cooler talks with people about this, so I never heard fellow concerns or anything. I also admit… I thought I was safe. The entirety of the “Export Compliance” department was my boss and I. That was it. The two of us were doing everything, and we had more then enough work to occupy ourselves. So I didn’t get into any water-cooler talk, not because I didn’t care… I was busy getting work done. I logically figured that since that’s the situation for us… that I wasn’t going anywhere.
How wrong I was. A few weeks went by, and then came March 5th.
Earlier that week, my boss had been out of town on a multi-day business meeting… so I was covering his daily tasks as well. This was his first day back. I went in that Thursday morning like I had for the previous year, and noticed nothing different. After about an hour, I saw my boss. I gave him a quick update on the status of things, handed him a few folders that he’d need… and then he asked if I’d come over to his office for a minute. (All things we’ve done a dozen times before) I first started to raise an eyebrow when I walked in, and he closed the door. “Okay, something’s wrong here… did I mess up something big? What’s going on here?”
That’s when he brought up the memo about the 15% cuts… and that I’ve been “affected”.
To say that I was “shocked”… probably doesn’t begin to cover it. Within seconds of this news, I was given a packet of information, with forms in it that I was to sign (but didn’t have to do so right there), and 2 checks… one for the previous pay period, and the period we were in, which actually paid me for the next day, *and the next week*, too. (We were in the middle of a pay period) And another check that included 2-weeks severance, and pay for the 2 weeks of vacation I had accrued (but hadn’t taken).
Sure on the plus side, I now had a couple thousand bucks in my hand… but the security, the certainty, the hoped-for plans I had for that year (like getting an apartment), were out the window. (Not to mention, this wasn’t that long after the “2nd-date Denial”… so I *really* wasn’t having a good couple of weeks.)
One thing I think I’m pretty good at… is staying calm when I have every reason to NOT. Yes, I was sad and even hurt to be tossed out like this by the company (I could tell that my boss did NOT want to be doing this, and I even had that confirmed later. I had made his life and job a lot easier, and was the reason he could take Fridays off. He just walked in that morning and was told by the higher-ups that he had to let me go… right then)… But I do have my pride. Even if I don’t like the work I do… I like to do my best at it, anyway. So, I asked if I would be allowed to finish out the day. My reasoning: I will never have it be said that I left people in a lurch. Even when having no reason to do a good job… I do it anyway. I like to think I’ve got some integrity, and I prefer to live up to that. (Even though I can hear my dad’s voice saying, “To hell with them” if he were in that situation… just one more way we differ.)
My boss actually said that… no, I wasn’t allowed to. In fact, my computer was going to be locked out by 11:00am. He said not to worry about any of the work on my desk…In fact, I could even leave now, if I wanted, and not wait until then. All I had to do, was just gather up my stuff when I got back to my desk.
This wasn’t right away… because my now ex-boss directed me to the conference room across the hall… where another gentleman was waiting, one I’d never seen before. He was an outside guy… a “career transition” counselor that the company hired that basically helps prepare us for the new job search. (Keep in mind, this is all MINUTES after getting the can in the first place) He gave me more packets of information, and how he’d be working with me in the coming weeks to help in this time, etc… Everything seemed to move so fast… because it was. This was the highest level of efficiency I’d seen in a long time… and thinking back on how that all tooled along, and how I wasn’t allowed to finish the day, and whatnot… everything was absolutely set-up with the expectation that I was going to take an absolute nutty. Sure, maybe *some* people might (I wasn’t the only one getting cut that day… I even found out later, to my surprise, the hot Romanian gal got cut too!), but knowing how *I* am, and how I’d rather stoically bear it, Clint-Eastwood style… it did feel a bit extra degrading, being “processed” so quickly.
Still… to my ideals, I don’t want to leave people in a lurch. So, yes, my boss said to not worry about the unfinished work… but I did finish up a few in-progress things on my desk. I separated into two piles… the finished and the unfinished (even put sticky notes listing them as such), I clearly laid out the folder I made called, “How To Do My Job”, with all the procedural things that I had detailed out (in the case that someone would one day have to cover for me, and not know exactly what to do), and then gathered up my belongings.
I had to be gone by 11am… but I had everything gathered up by a little after 10. I wasn’t going to be allowed multiple trips… only one. My security pass was taken, so one time was going to be it. Now, I don’t know what would have happened at 11am, had I stuck around… if I was going to be actually escorted off the premises or not. But as I was finishing, I looked up and saw the other people in my section going into the Marketing VPs office, quietly and quickly. I had a few duties that I did for that department, and as such, was considered a part of Marketing. So, I could guess what that impromptu meeting was about. As I had no more reason to stick around… stuff gathered up, everything I needed off my computer is off… I wasn’t going to get to say a polite goodbye. (Like I said, it was set-up like I was going to take a nutty.) Even my boss’s office was closed, so I wouldn’t even get one final handshake.
Then… came the most stereotypical, clichéd situation I can recall being part of, in about 10 years. That being, the “long walk”… we’ve all seen it in movies and shows… all the cubicle-possessions, calendars, desk-food stash, stress relievers, small decorations, etc, gathered up in one medium-sized box, carried with both hands, and walking it all out to the car for the just-revealed final time.
I honestly felt like I was in the beginning of a bad comedy film.
The sun was bright and high in the sky… not normally a time of day in which I experienced that parking lot… as that was usually the growing light of the morning or the fading light of the evening. The concrete was dry, and large piles of snow still scattered around the outlying areas of grass.
I got into my car, and before I turned the key to start up the engine and drive off this lot for the last time… something went through my mind. And I said to myself something that I think a lot of people feel when having major news thrust upon them in such short burst of time. When events unfold through no workings of your own and a rapid confusion seems like the only reaction you’re capable of…
“What the Fuck just happened?”