Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tales of Employment - The Layoff and the Bicycle

Photo: Jonathan Maus - Bike Portland
I had this bright idea back in 2011 that I would write a series of blog posts entitled "Tales of Employment". I kicked it off with one of my favorite stories from my teenage years, and then I never wrote another entry on that theme. Honestly, I only have about two other stories off the top of my head that are worth telling, so here's one of them, about two and a half years later.

I was reminded of this story just recently when I bought my wife her (much belated) birthday present: a new bicycle. She had been talking about how she wanted one for some time, so I figured that it would make for a good gift. Unfortunately, I had to wait until I had some money to spend. Luck also favored me, as I recently got a raise (expecting a back-pay check next month) and I was able to get one for myself as well. When I got mine, I rode it back from the bicycle shop, and my mind flooded with memories. Since I basically live in the same area in which I grew up, it reminded me of riding with my friends when I was a kid. However, it also reminded me of the day I got laid off from my dotcom job.

I worked a lot of different jobs before I became a teacher, the last of which was as an Assistant Product Manager at (At least, I think that was my job title - we're talking over thirteen years ago now.) I had been working there for about a year, as I had quit my previous job at LookSmart. (There is still a but I don't think that it has any connection to the company for which I once worked.) Basically what I did there was write a lot of copy, and I created pages for the merchandise section of the store. I'm sure that I did some other stuff, but my memory is getting hazy.

I'd probably never say it back then, even though I was thinking it, but my salary was ridiculously high considering my skill set. I'm pretty sure that they figured this out as well considering that I'm pretty sure that some of the folks who were hired after me weren't making quite as much. Still, I guess I must not have been a completely useless twit, as I survived the first big round of layoffs that the company had. The way I remember it, there were a few people trickling away from the company at first, one after another. Each time they laid a few people off, the CEO would make some kind of a speech about how we "finally have the team we need". Then there was a big cut - maybe about a third of the company. After that, there were a few more, and then one day...

At the time, I was living out in Martinez, California (that's the left side of America, for you non-'muricans) and the company was (still is?) in San Francisco (in the North Beach area). It would take me about an hour and a half to commute there by BART. Fortunately for me, I got to telecommute three days a week. I usually would go into the office on Mondays and Fridays. I suppose that I should have suspected something when my boss, Victor, (who was a cool guy - no knocks on him) emailed me to make sure that I was there on Friday, as there was going to be a "meeting".

Turns out that the meeting consisted of me, Victor, some other guy (can't seem to remember who - but I remember there being somebody else) and the CFO. They gave me a folder and let me know that they were letting me go. In the folder was all kinds of information about how to continue my health benefits and contacting unemployment. Plus, they gave me another two weeks pay. (And once again to Victor's credit, he even managed to hook me up with some freelance work for the company for some time after I had officially made my departure.)

This was a crappy day for me. Not long before that, Kirsti and I had bought our first house, so worries about paying the mortgage sprang instantly to mind. Plus, I absolutely detest job hunting. Something about it just feels so degrading, especially when I have to pretend that I care about stuff that I don't care about - because the truth is that I just wanted to make some damned money. It took me about a month until I finally got my first teaching job - but that's a story for another day.

The things that I remember are as follows:

1. I was listening to Weezer's "Green Album" when I drove home. I can never hear the song "Island in the Sun" without thinking of that day. I also can't think of that day and not think of this song.

2. I spent so much damned time looking through Craig's List trying to find a job, and I started falling into despair when I simply wasn't qualified for any of them.

3. It was a real blow to my self esteem. I'm intensely self-critical, and it basically made me feel like I was completely worthless. Even though I have the Most Supportive Wife in the World, I still couldn't shake the feeling that I was pretty much useless, and I dreaded the thought of working in something as horrible as retail again. (I'm okay now, folks. Teaching is the only job where thoughts of doing it until retirement don't scare the hell out of me.)

4. I knew that I would be stewing on it and slowly driving myself crazy if all I did was sit around the house. After doing a bit of job hunting online the first day, I went out on a long bike ride. (See! There's the bicycle connection.) I rode and rode and rode all over the town of Martinez. Also, it was in June, so it was hot, and I was sweating like crazy. I essentially rode myself to a point of exhaustion, as that was the only way I'd ever be able to get some sleep.

When I went for my first ride on my new bike, I remembered that day. It reminded me of what great exercise riding a bike can be, and what a great way it is to clear my head.  Even more importantly, it made true the words of Aeneas, as written by Virgil in The Aeneid: "haec olim meminisse iuvabit" or “Maybe someday you will rejoice to recall even this.”

That's a good thing to keep in mind the next time I'm faced with a hardship.

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