Day #2 of being without a full-time job. How am I fairing? Ok.

Well, it’s something I think we all picture or imagine: what would you do if you left your job? What would you say? How would you act? For many, I think it’s all about the circumstances. If you were leaving on your own to pursue a dream or start a new job, you’d probably be pretty damn happy. What if you fired though? Well, I’ve always pictured what it’d be like to leave my now former job. I somewhat hate to admit that I’ve spent the past four years at a job I really disliked. You probably are asking why did I stick around in that case. Why didn’t I jump ship to a new job while the economy wasn’t so bad?

I entered the job market straight out of college in 2006. Besides internships, I didn’t have much work experience so I felt very lucky to have come across someone willing to hire me with no real experience beyond an internship or two. I had told myself after my first day of working that I wanted to spend at least 3 years in this position, even though I knew it wasn’t truly for me.  Maybe I’m just old school but I really don’t get or like that people feel it’s ok to get a job and then quit it a year later. I think the economy has taught us a lesson that it’s probably not a great idea to uproot yourself so easily and quickly from a job. I think the issue is that none of are really doing what we want. We’re working to pay the bills and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we’re not all that happy at the end of the day because we’re spending a good portion of our lives doing things and dealing with people we just don’t like.

So, yesterday I got the news that I was being laid off. Yes, after 4 years, 2 months almost to the day, I was being “let go”. The reason? Money, the economy, with assurances that it wasn’t my fault and I’m a nice guy. Some people seem surprised by my lack of a big reaction. 4 years? 4 years, 2 months at the same job and suddenly I’m “let go”? Shouldn’t I be angry, raging, cursing and ripping the company and people who’ve done me wrong?  Strangely enough, I just don’t feel the need to. I did my job and probably gave it more than I knew I was going to get out of it. I worked overtime, but never got paid for it. I’d take an unreasonable request and would suck it up and try to deliver. I took what I felt was a bland approach to the product and put a lot of personality and uniqueness into it. But still, I was laid off, let go, after 4 years, 2 months.

It seems a bit unreasonable. Someone asked me did my employer have no sense of loyalty. Isn’t that a strange thought? Remember when it used to be that the worker had to have and demonstrate unquestionable, unshakable loyalty to the job and being willing to die on the sword for the boss and the company? The longer you stayed in the position, the more your loyalty seemed to be accepted. You did have to ask or beg for raises; you were given a “nice job” or “way to go, fella” for even demonstrating a bit of ingenuity and extra effort. Nowadays though it’s the worker who’s being screwed over. Who cares if you’ve given the company years of your life even when you should have departed for bigger and better things; who gives a damn how or what you contributed to making things better than they were when you first arrived; really, who cares about the worker anymore?

I really don’t blame the economy. I think it’s become the crutch used for a few bad employers to play dirty and act unbecoming with an excuse to hide behind. How would you picture your last day at work after you’ve spent 4 years, 2 months in the same position? Well, here’s how mine went. I was told to expect my boss to arrive at my apartment around 9 or 10 in the morning to pick up my work computer and other materials and supplies. You see, we’d been forced to work from home which, when the decision is made for you, isn’t really an ideal situation because your employer will no doubt come to wonder if you’re really working or not (here’s a secret: working from home isn’t a picnic. It’s usually more work and you don’t end up saving more money).

So, here I’d been “laid off” or “let go”, such nice and pleasant, “awwww”-inspiring terms, and 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. came along … and I was till waiting for my boss to arrive. I had things to do. I needed to get started searching for jobs, getting things in order, and so waiting around when your position has been cut just doesn’t make you feel any better. Around 11:40, boss and sidekick arrive. I have to stand by and brief them on a few things and details and they begin carrying things out. Then I’m given a speech about how I should go about searching for a new job … from the guy who cut my job. Seriously. There was no, “Hey, you know, thanks for sticking around as long as you did and for the work you’ve done. You really made a difference.” No, words of reassurance, no nothing. Just a handshake, a request from me for a written letter of termination and a written recommendation and that was that. Yes, 4 years, 2  months of grunt work and unnecessary headache ended without much fanfare as if I’d done absolutely nothing over the years and was a complete and total stranger.

There’s more to the story but honestly, does it matter at this point? This experience taught me a lot: I was very foolish to accept the first job that came my way right out of college. Some don’t think so, but I do. I took it knowing it meant I’d have to move from an area I liked, that I’d be isolated and alone, that I felt completely awkward being the youngest person working in the office by 20 or so years and the only minority. The first day of work I remember getting into my car and seriously folding over, laying my head on the steering wheel and whimpering like a baby. I knew I’d made a mistake and that I’d really f*cked up by settling for something just because I was afraid nothing better would ever come along to me.

I’ve since learned that perhaps it wasn’t even my talent that got me the job but my fear of being unemployed, period. As I say, I’d never worked before and having spent my whole life in school with the intention of graduating and making it into the real world, I graduated without really knowing anything about what I wanted to do. I had an idea – I knew I wanted to do something in the magazine industry, but that’s like saying you have a craving for something sweet. What exactly are you craving? Candy? Ice cream? Cake? It’s taken me 3 or 4 years to know that sure, I’m a decent designer, I can mimic the best of ’em. But I’m an exceptional designer – that’s where I thrive and shine.

In a way, I feel like I’m experiencing my second graduation. It’s an odd circle I’ve just completed – 4 years in college, 4 years of being schooled by the real world. I know now not to settle just for anything; why should I? Why should you? I think work needs to be fulfilling. We can all make money and be happy. That kind of work takes more effort and personal investment, but it’s a price worth paying. Even with a lack of a salary, I’m hopeful. I see this as a much needed reset button being pressed. I’ve gotten 4 years work experience at one job – how many people in their 20s can say that? I have a portfolio of work worth showing and experiences I can rely on and speak of.

Today as I literally closed the door on my job and 4 years, 2 months worth of mostly tiring, ill, unflattering memories I sighed a breath of relief. I’d survived. I’d fulfilled my promise to myself to hang in there 3 years and even gave it another year and two months on top of that. The last month of the product I helped create looked really good and personal and to me, is a good note to leave on, even if some feel otherwise due to different tastes in and with design. I know that what I produced can’t and won’t easily be duplicated and that’s comforting, too. I’m glad it’ll be different and that my personality, style and personal touches I’d labored over will be written over and gone. I want people to be able to look back and say, “Well, that’s what HE brought to the table. He was different – that was his style.”

I think about that Shakespeare quote of “Parting is such sweet sorrow” and smirk a tad bit. There’s nothing really sweet about this whole experience but I’m glad that, unlike some, I didn’t get the news of being laid off and yet had to work for weeks if not months longer, glaring down the final day. Tomorrow morning, everything will be part of the past and I’m going to do what I should have done 4 years ago – look for work. But I’m going to look for something a hell of a lot better – better pay (I didn’t even make what an entry-level person working full-time in my field did, even after 4 years, 2 months!); something with better benefits; and call me silly or jaded, something more fulfilling and dare I say it … FUN.

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