Saturday, April 14, 2018

Ch-ch-ch-changes

When I was in my very early 20s, I worked for a German-born retired USAF general who owned a small international marketing company. One time, I left work a few minutes early for an appointment. The next day, I saw a note on his desk that he had written to himself: "Claudia left at 4:56 today." He was probably my weirdest employer. He paid me next to nothing and routinely referred to me as his sexetary. But then he would do outlandishly generous things, like taking me to lunch at a fancy restaurant or buying me crystal for my birthday each year. Thanks to him, I actually own a lead crystal ice bucket - not everyone can say they own one of those.

I've had the good fortune to have some very nice employers over the years. For some reason, though, I keep thinking of a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol. (Hey, I didn't say that I was a sophisticated movie-goer here!) The bookkeeping rats urge Bob Cratchit (AKA Kermit the Frog) to ask Ebenezer Scrooge if they can have some more coal for the fire. Scrooge flies into a rage and asks the rats if they'd like to be "SUDDENLY UNEMPLOYED!" The rats, in turn, break out into a Caribbean-style dance and start chattering about a heat wave.

Why am I thinking about that goofy scene? Well, because (as of yesterday) I am  . . . SUDDENLY UNEMPLOYED. I am still reeling from the shock of it. My emotions were (and are) all over the map: fear, worry, sadness, and stuff I can't even articulate. I mean, I've always had a job. I have been working steadily since I was a teenager. I think the last time I was unemployed was in 1988 when I was a student at Texas A&M, and then a brief period after the mister and I moved to the Midwest in 1995.

My career path has been interesting. I started as an administrative assistant at a local IT company in 1996. Later, I transitioned to the company's web development department and eventually got into project management. In 2010, the web department (which had been spun off as a separate company by that time) was sold to another local IT company that specialized in web hosting and managed services. Fortunately, I was offered a job by the new company and worked there until 2016, when the owner sold the company to a very large IT company. In 2017, the very large IT company sold the web development division to a small marketing agency. Got all that?

I was excited to get into a new field and to learn about content marketing (in addition to continuing to serve the clients that were part of the acquisition). I did everything I was asked to do. I earned two HubSpot certifications. I wrote blogs to support the company's inbound marketing campaigns. I managed web projects. I trained clients. Plus, I liked my boss and my co-workers (I still do, honestly). And then, suddenly, I was sent packing. I can't say that I took it well. I cried all day and I'm pretty sure I still have more tears to shed. It's hard not to take it as a rejection of me as a person instead of simply "we can't afford to pay you anymore."

Of course, I have to be very careful about what I say next. It's very easy for me to go down a path of being very angry. So, I am trying to stay positive, focus on the future, and hope that a great opportunity comes along. Why was I let go? I was told that the decision was purely financial (my salary was not huge, but I'm assuming that I made a bit more than my much-younger co-workers), so I'm trying to take that at face value. I was told that there was nothing I could have done differently and that I didn't do anything wrong. I keep thinking about how I worked with some of the same clients for a decade or more. I have to think that some of them may wonder where I am. I feel bad about that, like I've let them down in some way. 

Just recently I told a friend that after being acquired three times, I sometimes wondered when my luck would run out. I was hired by each company and held onto my job even when others were let go. It's kind of like when my husband hit a deer a few months ago. We live in an area where it happens pretty routinely. His number was just up. It was his turn to mangle a deer. Now, my number is up (not for the deer thing, though, I hope).

We're snowed in (yes, in April - Mother Nature can go suck an egg), so I've been working on my resume and gathering references. One positive thing is that I've managed to build a good network over the past 22 years and am reaching out to people who have offered to help me in my job search. Several have agreed to serve as references. I filed for unemployment this morning (for the first time in my life). As if getting fired isn't enough of a blow to the ol' ego, the unemployment forms just about finished it off. "Were you fired for stealing? Were you fired for drug use?" Geez.

What makes me sad (well, almost as sad as being unemployed) is that it just feels like loyalty doesn't mean anything anymore.  You can check your work emails on nights and weekends. You can beat the drum for the company. You can do everything you've been asked to do and more. But in the end, it won't save your job. And that's a tough lesson to learn.

Telling my daughter that I lost my job was almost as hard as absorbing the news myself. She is a very empathetic kid and I knew it would make her sad to see me down in the dumps. I assured her that it's my job (ouch) to worry about this stuff. I will do my best to make sure that very little changes in her world. I assured her that we'll still have her birthday party as planned. I did her laundry while she was at school yesterday (I normally make her do her own laundry), so that's one little bonus for her. I have more time for her, at least temporarily (I hope).

When I posted a note about my job search on Facebook, my friends were very supportive. According to them, I'm talented and smart and lots of other adjectives, too. You know what? They're right. I may not have tons of confidence when it comes to my appearance. I worry that I'm not a great mom. I certainly have my insecurities. But, I am confident in my ability to do a good job, wherever I land. They say that integrity is what you do when no one is looking. I'd like to think that I have integrity. I'd like to think that I've developed some valuable skills over the years. Plus, there has to be some employer out there who wants to hear my terrible jokes all day long.



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