Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Best Worst Day

My friend and former colleague, Chris
 happily holds friend and former colleague
Liane's baby at our 2nd anniversary of
 termination celebration.  
In the fall of 2009, we knew something was up. As we headed into the holiday season, there was an air of nervousness, the collective holding of breath. Of course, we had not been singled out. On October 28 the NY Post heralded the news: Time was about to layoff 400-500 employees.
   My little editorial group in Birmingham had been established in the spring of 2007 as a cost-savings outpost to the larger custom publishing unit in New York. We handled the overflow of work, but after the mortgage crisis hit in 2008 and more general economic woes began effecting every industry work stopped flowing, let alone overflowing. Still, we thought we might be safe from the onslaught. Out of sight, out of mind.
   As the days ticked toward November, whispers and closed-door meetings sent waves of paranoia and panic through the ranks from Manhattan to Birmingham. I tried not to worry, sought counsel from those who might know what was going on, focused on the work at hand. We had magazines to produce and deadlines to meet, despite the uncertainty. And I had other, bigger things to worry about: My 93 year old father had suffered a stroke and was in the hospital.
   I spent the last week of October sitting in his hospital room at UAMS in Little Rock, waiting for doctors and physical therapists to provide some insight on his condition as my Dad drifted in and out of consciousness. We watched the World Series together (Yankees v. Phillies). While he was still quite lucid, he spoke of his days as a soldier, fighting in the Pacific Front during WWII. He recounted stories made familiar to me over the years. My Dad was a survivor and, during that week, I thought he might pull through this latest set-back, just as he had all the others. He seemed surprised to still be alive.
   "I don't know the meaning of all this," he told me. "But I'm beginning to believe that everything happens for a reason."
   I laughed.
   "Really, Dad?" I said. "You're 93-years old and you've just now figured that out?!"
   He smiled.
   Dad was in stable condition but still hospitalized when I made the six hour drive back to Birmingham the following week. I knew an announcement would be made about the layoffs, but I still hoped my little team would be spared.
   On November 4, word came down that a number of people in our New York office had been let go. As we gathered the news through our East Coast colleagues, we thought maybe the worst was over. That afternoon, however, we all received an email about a required meeting the next morning in our boss' office.
   Over my 20+ year career in media and marketing, I'd seen companies come and go, departments reorganized and down-sized, jobs eliminated. Somehow I'd managed to stay ahead of the axe, nimbly jumping from limb to limb as I built my career. Seeing a white 9" x 12" envelope with my name printed on it was surreal. Surely there'd been some mistake. But there we were staring at our packages and there was no denying the truth: We'd been job eliminated.
   There was some small comfort in the fact that we all went out together. Our team had been formed almost three years before, and we were friends as well as colleagues by now. We were a little family, helping each other through difficult situations in the office and outside it as well. We made each other laugh. Pissed each other off. Celebrated birthdays and births. Praised each other and gave critiques. The dissolution of our department was the end of an era. None of us knew what we'd do next. For all the foreshadowing, no one had a Plan B. My colleagues and I had worked hard, often spending nights and weekends away from our families in the name of "doing whatever it took to get the job done." For this we were repaid with a standard 9"x 12" white envelope—the contents of which detailed the terms of our severances.
   The next day I sat at my desk, finalizing layouts for the last magazine I would helm for Time when my sister called from the hospital in Little Rock. Our father had suffered another stroke and passed away. I left my desk, walked into a colleague's office, closed her door and sobbed.
   On that day—or even the day before it—if anyone had tried to tell me that these tragedies would effect immense good in my life, I would have probably punched him. I could see no possible silver lining. I could not foresee all the good that would come out of losing our jobs: The resetting of goals and values; the difficult process of taking a step back, to move forward.
   In the months that followed, our lives—in different orbits—unfolded. Although I could not recognize it at the time, 11/5/09 was not my termination date, but the start of my Do-Over Life.
   Yesterday, my former colleagues and still-friends convened at my new-old house for lunch. There had been no big reunion plan. Yet our gathering happened like a scripted scene from a movie. By "chance" we ended up together on the (almost) 2nd anniversary of our termination from Time. Each friend has journeyed forward towards goals that she might not have reached if things had remained status quo at our former employer. Liane's baby is now over a year old and she's steadily freelancing. Stacy just had baby number two, and has launched her photography career. Chris has a great job in Texas, close to her family—whom she missed—and is dating a great guy there. Thames, who also freelances now, had to leave early to pick up her two children from Mother's Day Out. Jeanne's career has barely missed a beat. (And me, well, if you read this blog then you know what I'm up to.)
   As we sat down to eat, I raised my glass in toast: "Two years ago today, we lost of our jobs...and it was the best day of our lives!" Everyone laughed, but only because they knew it was true. As my Dad said, "I'm beginning to believe everything happens for a reason." (Well, actually Dad, I've known that for a while.)

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