Losing Your Job Sucks….But It Won’t Always

Posted: September 20, 2009 in Miscellaneous
Tags: , , , , ,

Yeah, I know, three posts in one day.  What can I say, I am in a blogging mood.  The winner (loser?) is you!

With unemployment inching toward double-digits, I feel very fortunate to be employed right now.  And (knocking on wood!) I do think my position is very secure.  That said, you just never know.  I know many of you have either just lost a job or know somebody who has just lost a job.  I’ve been there.  It was early in 2001 when I got that bad news.  I want to share that tale with you now.

I was working as an industrial engineer at a manufacturing plant.  Sales had slowed to the point that it was clearly beyond the traditional seasonal patterns.  We had laid off some floor workers, but for some reason (I think mostly because I was very naive) I wasn’t really worried…yet.  I arrive at work on a Monday morning, and walk into the plant with my boss.  We have a conversation, nothing out of the ordinary.  I go to my desk in the office we had out on the plant floor.  All of the sudden, the head of the tooling department starts moving his stuff into our office.  When I ask him what’s up, he informs me that he is no longer the head of the tooling department.  He was now just another manufacturing engineer in our department, but he was just happy that he still had a job.  I knew we didn’t need any more engineers.  So I went from not worried to scared shi…..well, let’s just say that I was really scared!;)

Anyway, at that point, I still had a job to do.  Auditors from the corporate offices had come down to the plant to check out my time study work for the company incentive plan, and I had to get them started and communicate to the line supervisors why there were strangers hanging out around their work cells with stop watches.  I take care of that and go back to the office.  I have a conversation with the other manufacturing engineer in our department, and we are both pretty convinced that we have at least one engineer too many and somebody is not going to make it.  Well, my boss walks into the office and says that I need to go with him to the HR department.  My heart instantly sank!  I knew exactly what that meant.  I was absolutely devastated.  Then we make the trip to talk to the H.R. director, and she confirms what I already know.  I had been let go.  She goes on to tell me what I am sure was important information, and probably even good advice thrown in, but I really wasn’t in much of a mood to listen.  I just wanted to say my goodbyes and get the heck out of there.

When I leave the HR office, I am shadowed by my now former boss.  I realize that I am going to be escorted.  That’s probably just standard protocol, but I didn’t like it anyway.  I had work with many of these people for over 3 years, I thought the least I could do is shake their hands and wish them luck.  But it was clear that wasn’t going to be allowed to happen.  So I try to shake hands with anyone I happen to pass on the way back to my office, grab what little stuff that I had there, walked back to the factory entrance, shook my former boss’s hand, thanked him for the opportunity to work there (while probably secretly wanting to go all Milton on the place and set it on fire!), and headed back to my apartment.

Reflecting back on that day, I do have some thoughts.  I was let go on a Monday.  I will never forget that.  Is that common?  I don’t know whether to be upset that they made me go through another Monday morning, or to be happy that they didn’t ruin the prior weekend.  Also, I wasn’t “fired”, my position was eliminated due to economic reasons.  But I think having your position eliminated due to economic reasons pretty much feels just like getting fired.  I also remember thinking a lot about the people who weren’t let go at that time.  I remember making comparisons, and trying to figure out why the company felt that the people they kept were more important than me.  Stuff like, “They kept that ditzy operator, but they let me go!”  That really wasn’t fair, that operator never did anything to me.  And who knows what grounds the company based their decisions on (I would have almost certainly been making more money than her, so that would be one rationale).  At the end of the day, the who’s and why’s didn’t change my circumstance anyway, so why was I dwelling on them?

Moving on, when I went back to the apartment, I pulled myself right back up by the bootstraps and got to work finding a new job!  Um, well, I wish I could say that.  What actually happened is that I moped.  I moped around for two days.  I didn’t even tell my parents until two or three days later.  I mean, I felt low.  There are things that suck more than losing your job, but losing your job has got to be pretty high up there on the list (is there a list of things that suck?  If not, there should be!).

Eventually I did somewhat get over it, and started searching for a job.  I hate that whole process.  I mean, the whole point is to be judged.  And who likes that?  Of course, I look for industrial engineering jobs.  Get some interviews.  Don’t get any job offers.  Why not?  I think it is because truth be told, I really didn’t like industrial engineering.  I tried to feign excitement at each interview, but I imagine the interviewers could pick up on my lack of excitement.  Maybe that lack of enthusiasm was why I was let go in the first place.  So why was I trying to get another job just like the one that I didn’t really like very much in the first place?  I think it just was easiest.  I had an industrial engineering degree, that’s the field where I had all my real job experience, and gosh darn it, a man’s got to eat, right?

It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it was very fortunate that I wasn’t hired.  Eventually it dawned on me that applying for positions that I really didn’t want was pretty stupid.  And that I had been presented with a perfect opportunity to pursue things that I really did want.  The first thing was that I had always thought about going back to school to get a MBA.  I always also thought, though, that I didn’t have time.  Well suddenly I had all the time in the world!  So I enrolled in school and got that masters degree.  I also figured out that if I was going to make a career change, then there was no moment better than now.  My sister-in-law was in the actuarial profession.  I decided to research that, found out it was very math-oriented and paid really well.  There was also a rigorous testing program to get certified.  But on the flip side, as you passed exams, generally you would get raises for each one.  That is something that appealed to me, a quantitative way to get more pay as opposed to what often seems to be an arbitrary process of performance reviews as the only way to get more pay.  I decided what the heck, I am going to go for it.  I officially “retired” as an industrial engineer, I was now going to be an actuary!

First thing I did was started the test taking process.  I managed to pass the first exam.  I started getting the revised resumes out there.  Was the process now fun?  Not really.  But I was at least excited about the end goal.  Got an interview in Birmingham.  Don’t know how much it helped, but this time I wasn’t feigning enthusiasm, I actually was enthused!  It’s too late to make a long story short, but I did get the job.  And I enjoy it very much!  The work is great, and the people I work with are even better!  Honestly, my co-workers really fall into two categories:  people I like and people I just don’t know that well.  I have yet to meet anyone at the job that I dislike or who annoys me.  Five years later and I still like what I am doing.  And as much as this may surprise you that I say this, Birmingham really is a great city.  I don’t like the government, but I do loves me some Birmingham.  Great job, great place to live.  I am truly fortunate, and I do not take that for granted!

So really, getting fired (oh, I’m sorry, having my position eliminated due to economic reasons) was the best thing to ever happen to me, even though it certainly didn’t seem like that at the time.  I would have never changed careers had I not been let go.  I would have dreaded going to work every day, but gone anyway.  Get money, get paid, live for the weekend.  My life is so much better now.  Getting fired (I mean, having my position…ah, forget it!) is not the end of the world.  If you get fired, for whatever reason, things couldn’t have been going that great where you worked anyway, so they are really doing you a favor in the long run, even though it may get bad in the short run.

Do I regret not starting off in the actuarial profession in the first place?  Common sense may say that I should say “yes”.  But I don’t really regret it.  In fact, I think everyone should work in a manufacturing plant at least once in their lives.  If you want to see all the diversity America has to offer, work in a manufacturing plant.  You will meet people of all races, classes, educational backgrounds, etc. if you work at a manufacturing plant (you will learn that some of the smartest people around may only have GED’s).  I not only got to work at a plant as an engineer, but I also worked on the line at another plant as a summer job while I was in college.  It was an educational experience to say the least!  Besides, there is a lot of cool stuff that you get to do in plants that you sure as heck don’t get to do at an insurance company!  Can any of my co-workers say that they have operated a standup forklift?  Or how about a mig welder?  Or what about a freakin’ blowtorch!  I bet they can’t, but I can!

Well that’s it for now (you say, ‘It’s about time!, I say ‘Shut up!’).  Probably won’t have much of a post next weekend, so I am making up for that now!  Will be watching movies all weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival!  I will probably just make a short post about my thoughts about that when I get back from that.  I am sure you will all be waiting in anticipation for that!

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