Thursday, November 20, 2008

It's Lemonade Time

I was let go on a job once in 1986, and then again twenty-two years later... in fact, 2008 - just this week. It's not that I haven't changed jobs in that span of twenty-two years, but it was always a decision on my part and not something in which I had no control. Being let go brings about an odd mix of feelings.

There were certainly differences in the two scenario's. Twenty-two years ago I worked for a company that gave me ample notice that it was coming, sufficient notice to start making plans and to get ready. They also offered a decent severance package. This week I went into the office on Tuesday and was home at noon. No notice. Certainly no package.

While I've been adjusting to the various emotions that come with being let go, and trying to put panic aside, I remembered a college paper I wrote following that layoff twenty-two years ago, and I dug it out. I'll share it here.

Here's the full text (3 hand-written pages), retyped so as to be readable...

Turning a Lemon into Lemonade

Most people look at a layoff as a terrible, drastic, and uprooting experience in their lives. I, on the other hand, have squeezed the lemon to make lemonade. I have turned my layoff into a new beginning, a new opportunity.

In January of 1984, I began working for a large, independent oil company here in Houston. I was a secretary for the Property Acquisition and Planning Departments. Faced with an upcoming divorce, this job turned out to be my only security in this unstable world. It provided a steady income, friends, and the belief that I could make it on my own. It gave me the courage to go on with my life and seemed, at that time, to be the only thing I truly could count on. My job was my rock, my life.

One day in July 1985 with no forewarning whatsoever, a bulletin was posted announcing the unanticipated and petrifying fact that the oil company was for sale. Suddenly my security was being threatened. Who’s going to buy us and what will they do?

Bulletins were posted regularly, each one spawning new rumors. Who’s evaluating us now? Where are they from? Will they keep us as employees? Some of the employees hoped the French company would buy us, others hoped for the Australian company, but all employees hoped for the company that would keep us most intact.

Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. There was a feeling of panic and uncertainty in the air, but finally, an agreement was reached. Monsanto Oil Company would be sold to BHP Petroleum (Americas) effective December 20, 1985.

Relief swept over the office. The question of who would buy us was answered. It was the Australian company, a favorite of many of the employees. For the first time in months we were able to smile at each other. Soon we would all know the fate of our jobs.

Unfortunately, soon was not nearly soon enough. Again, days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months. The rumor wagon began rolling again, only this time it appeared more frequently. The atmosphere was one of dreaded anticipation. I was on the verge of losing my security. What would I do? What could I do?

Bulletins, again, appeared regularly. To my disappointment, they rarely answered my questions or eased my fears. One bulletin claimed that over three hundred would be laid off.

I was overwhelmed with panic. I knew that I did not want to be a secretary for the rest of my life, but what did I want to be?

Several days passed as I began searching for an answer. I realized then that there were many directions I could take at this point in my life, but as long as I let panic dominate my thoughts it would be hard, maybe impossible, to concentrate on only one direction. What I had to do was take charge of the situation. I had to make some real decisions and set some goals. What I had to do was squeeze the lemon.

On May 8, 1986, the inevitable layoff came. I was in the group of people laid off, but I had a smile on my face. I smiled because I was no longer feeling despondent. Instead, my life was moving forward.

Time again to squeeze the lemon. What do you do to turn negative situations to positive? Any tips you care to share?