The Timing of Life
I made a quick trip to Boston last weekend to present a writers workshop for a client. This event marked a personal milestone. Although I had been a speaker or workshop leader at several conferences, this was my first time as the only speaker.
I reflected on its significance several days prior to my flight after reading syndicated columnist Linda Arnold’s thoughts on the meaning of events in our lives.
A Personal Storm
I resonated with these words: “When you’re in the midst of a personal storm, it’s hard to see how it could result in something better for you. Nobody welcomes a job layoff, yet that could be the very thing to propel you into another career scenario.
“We tend to stay in situations that are familiar, and it can take an external event to get into action with a different path . . . I sometimes say, ‘I wouldn’t have scripted it this way.’ Yet, the end result is often better.”
This particular observation was rife with personal meaning. In today’s fast-paced world I seldom pause to connect the dots. However, when I read Arnold’s column I couldn’t help remembering what launched this adventure more than 30 years ago.
It all began the day I returned to work after a month’s leave of absence, prompted by a case of mononucleosis. It’s called “sleeping sickness” for a good reason: I spent much of that month snoozing 12 hours a day.
As the clock neared 5, I accidentally overheard one of the vice presidents asking my supervisor, “Did you tell him?”
He responded, “No, I didn’t have time. I’ll talk with him tomorrow.”
Since my supervisor and I composed a two-person department (with help from a couple assistants), it quickly became obvious who “he” was; the ominous tone told me my career there was ending.
Ultimately six weeks passed before my departure. After living through that trying time, I told a friend who called me the day she got downsized with one hour’s notice to clean out her desk: “I know it hurts right now, but believe me, you’re better off.”
Planning My Departure
While I wasn’t particularly in love with the place where I worked, neither was I ready to depart with the princely sum of two weeks’ severance (what you might call a “tin parachute”).
Still, those six weeks gave me time to reflect, have lunch with several professionals, and plan my next move. I decided that I could do the same thing on my own, with the assistance of a couple contract workers on an as-needed basis.
At that point, I mainly did public relations work for small companies and some freelance writing on the side. Then came the stock market crash of October of 1987, I had forgotten it was the largest single-day slide in history.
This crash helped dry up the bulk of my business in a few months. Bad news piled on top of bad. One company went under owing me nearly $5,000. A few others collapsed owing me anywhere from $900 to $1,200.
Staving off Disaster
After trying for more than six months to stave off the inevitable, I closed my office and took a part-time job driving a delivery truck, to make sure I earned something during the week.
My wife landed a good job that helped us to climb out of debt and keep us going during those long years I worked to establish myself as a freelance writer. Without her earnings, I’m not sure how we would have survived.
Even today I can’t proclaim life is free of stress, since constant deadlines always bring pressure. Still, it is rewarding. And it all started on the bleak day I learned I would lose my job.