This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on May 17, 2006.
When I tell people I “lost my job,” I get a sympathetic look and an expression of
concern. The word “lost” is a euphemism that is designed to soften really bad news, like death. It is appropriate for death, but not for a job. It doesn’t ring true for a job. A job is just a job – until you lose it.
I know how to get to the office, I know where my desk is and how to turn on my computer. I know where the bathrooms are and I know how to sign in – and out. Losing something implies that we can’t find it. I was told, in quite surreptitious ways, to get lost.
After almost ten years at the same job, I got the boot. Getting the “boot” seems more appropriate than “lost.” I’ve heard about people who got the boot, right before they were to retire, and lost their pension. I know about down sizing and massive lay-offs. I used to think those people should have seen the writing on the wall, that they should have done something before they lost their jobs. Then I found out that sometimes the writing on the wall is written in invisible ink, and you just can’t see it – until you are shown to the door.
My ouster (also better than lost) was preceded by a process that I naively believed was “change management.” I stood with my little break-out group, in front of a flip chart, armed with several felt tip markers, during our change management training. Buzz words like: “opportunities” and “challenges” were flying around the room. We thought outside-the-box as hard as we could, but no one answered the question in all our minds: will we still have a job when all of this is over?
Another part of the change management training was designed to teach us to relax and to focus on the positive things in life. The trainer asked each of us to share a happy moment that had happened in the last 24 hours. A pregnant woman said she felt her baby kick, a man described a tender moment with his mom. Everyone laughed when I said I was grateful that I finally found a plumber who fixed the leak in my toilet. I should have known then that the final laugh would be on me.
After we were trained-for-change we got the new “org” chart – a flow chart with tiny boxes cascading down the page, all linked together to describe the chain of command (no, I am not in the military). Some people panicked when they saw that their jobs were no longer on the chart. Others gasped when they saw who would be their new supervisor. My job was still on the chart, but another department was added. Not to worry, I told myself - I’m still a contender.
Then I was told I had to apply for my “new” job and that the boss was recruiting “outside” (code: younger) candidates to compete against me. My boss asked me for the web address of a professional organization I belong to, so she could post my job on their site. Perhaps the handwriting on the wall wasn’t invisible after all, I just didn’t want to see it.
After the change training, the org chart, the boss’s request for help in advertising my job to competitors, and some other things that are not fit to print, I got the message. It was time to get out of Dodge. As with many of life’s unexpected surprises, this one turned out to be a change for the better.
Rather than becoming a casualty of change management, I have chosen to be liberated by it, and I count my blessings every day. First, there are the twice monthly checks from the Employment Development Department. Second, I have the opportunity to re-invent myself and start something new. Third, I know I did my best at my former job and left it in better shape than I found it. Fourth, I can sit at my computer and look for a new job. Last, but not least, I don’t have to wear pantyhose.
I was handed a great big lemon and, after I figured it out, made lemonade. I now manage my own changes, and know that I have a lot to look forward to. Since I lost my job, I have gained much more than I lost, and for that I am grateful.
Kathleen Vallee Stein