Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting Fired 32 Ways: A Life Lesson

Fired, axed, canned.
Sacked, dumped and given the boot.
Shown the door and bounced out.
RIFed, outplaced, unhired, and decruited.
Given the pink slip.
Involuntarily separated and put on indefinite unpaid leave.
Transitioned out, laid off, and let go.
Right-sized, downsized, and lateralized.
Given a career change opportunity.
Restructured, removed from the talent pool, and relieved of duties.
Released, discharged, dismissed, eighty-sixed.
Given the heave-ho.
Terminated, but allowed to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities outside the company.

These things happened to me unexpectedly yesterday.

You'd think I'd be angry or depressed or fearful or some other negative emotion, but really I'm not. I might feel different if, in a week or so, I find myself with a mortgage due, bills overdue, and no money coming in, but for the time being, this seems like an opportunity for me — one I haven't had since my college summers.

Getting Fired

Whether you like your job or not, getting fired is like getting kicked in the testicles by an obnoxious child. You can't really kick back, and nothing you say or do will prevent that child from planting another crotch punt on someone else in the future. But that horrible feeling in the stomach dissipates quickly, leaving behind reality to deal with. So that's what I'm doing.

The reality is that losing that job wasn't such a great loss. It gave me the opportunity to write and edit, sure, but I wasn't doing what I really wanted to be doing, what I want to build my legacy on and be remembered for. It wasn't my life's work.

Here's another reality: After I packed my "personal effects" in a cardbaord box the size of a dictionary, dumped it in the car, and hit the road for home, I wasn't obsessing over a personal injustice. I wasn't worrying about the imminent financial struggle, the tedium and repetition of the upcoming job search, or the difficult talk I'd have to have with my sons that evening.

What I was thinking about was writing what you're reading right now.

Not an hour had passed since I was told the words "terminate your employment," and I was thinking about how to turn my bad day into a personal essay. Something inspiring, maybe. Or educational. But mostly, I was thinking about how I could write about something this personal yet still make it recognizable and true to everyone who reads it.

If you're a writer, you're already there, I'm sure. If you're anything like me, you've found your mind wandering to words in the most unseemly situations. You've found yourself listening to people at funerals or memorial services, piecing together the words and phrases you'll incorporate into a story or essay at home. You might have even felt guilty about it.

I wonder what people who aren't writers think of this, though. Do you find yourself at solemn occasions, your mind drifting to woodworking, drawing, lawn care, or whatever project you have going at home?

I think probably you do, even if you don't like to admit it.

The Life Lesson

Here's a life lesson from Logophilius. If you've already learned it, good — pass it on. If not, take it to heart now:

It's important that you recognize that what you do is not the same as what you are.

My job was what I did. It was a good job that I got to do with good people, but still it was just a job. I could lose that job, or my house, or my arm even, without losing a whiff of what I am. And what I am — as I was reminded on that ride home on termination day, at the last wedding I attended, and at my grandmother's funeral — is a word junky.

I don't particularly like salespeople, but I can understand what motivates a natural-born seller. I understand the joy that comes from playing the game, from trying to convince the unconvincible, to sell the unsellable, to figure out what makes a person tick and then put that knowledge to use to change minds. I understand the joy there because I feel it every time I sit down to write or edit or read.

Whatever you truly are  — a salesman, a teacher, a tinkerer — what job you have is only a corollary to that. With whatever you do, you'll find ways to be what you are.

So it is with us writers.

It's easy to lose sight of this, though, and to stake our personal worth on a job title, so that we think the title is what we are. And when we lose the title, where does that leave us?

Marty Muse, a higher-up at the company that oh-so-recently employed me, reminded us once that even if we do everything right, things still might not turn out the way we hoped. When that's the case, it isn't a reflection on ourselves and shouldn't affect our self-worth. It's simply a reflection of reality. Shit happens.

It's such a simple, self-evident concept, but one that isn't said often enough. Thank you, Marty for reminding me. It has helped me stay calm during these last 36 hours.

I was changed by my job, for the better mostly. But I wasn't changed when I lost that job. My situation certainly changed, but I was (and am) the same man I was when I went to bed on Monday night. I wasn't a bad employee, and I did nothing I'm ashamed of, but shit happens. Understanding that is the best defense against fret and anxiety I know of.

So to all my past and future employers, know this: You can fire me, sack me, axe me, or terminate my employment all you want, I'll still be a man of words.

And I'll still be writing.